Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Supermarket Sweeps

At the end of this week, I'll have been in Prague for a month. It is amazing how quickly four weeks have gone past, and how dramatically the tide of emotions has ebbed and flowed. I always difficult to establish a routine when I first start living abroad. Sadly it can't be put down to jet lag - it's a 'me' problem.

There's simply so much stuff to get used to - at the macro level you have to deal with the newness of the living environment, the work environment, and the cultural environment. At the micro level there's the currency, the transport networks, the language, finding your way around, the food, and the shopping experience as a whole.

So unfortunately the whole concept of a Bohemian lifestyle has to take second place to the realities of the mundane. Grocery shopping is the most challenging of the mundane activities! At home you know where to go for what, even to the extent of generally even knowing which aisle to head for when looking for specific commodities.

Prague isn't short of grocery shops. Quite the opposite. On my street in Vinohrady, there are at least a dozen mini-markets, ranging from cramped, stacked and dingy to cramped, stacked and well lit. These are all little independent shops, mostly run by Vietnamese immigrants, with an extraordinary work ethic. They open at the crack of dawn and close late into the night. They have the freshest vegetables and fruit, and stock a wide range of exotic and not so exotic foodstuffs. And racks and racks of booze! Choosing between them is impossible so I use them all - and if I can't find something in one I move onto the next one. I maybe misguided in my approach - they are probably all owned by the Vietnamese mafia!

The local Czech run stores, or Potraviny, follow a similar pattern. They all stock pretty much the same stuff, it's just easier to find in some shops than in others.

There are some megastores around - there's an InterSpar across the road from the office and a Tesco supermarket near the Mustek metro station which sprawls over five floors. And then of course there is the M&S food section in their shop in Wenceslas Square.

But the real problem is universal. In Zurich, I got by because, although I don't speak German, my French and Italian was good enough. But here in Prague, being unable to speak or read the language, I am totally reliant on the pictures on the labels. OK, M&S is an exception as all their foodstuffs are imported and have Czech stickers plastered all over them, and that big Tesco does have a few brands I recognise. But familiar brands often get renamed in different countries, so sometimes buying groceries is a bit of a lottery - and the little stores pretty much only stock Czech brands.

So far so good. I'm beginning to get a grasp of which yoghourts are the creamiest, which are the most delicate crips, and which cold meats, local cheeses and sausages taste the best.

But that's part of the adventure and the learning curve - and going four weeks without poisoning myself makes me believe I might just live through this whole new experience!

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