Life in Prague is full of little quirks that my born and bred American soul was not used to. Grocery shopping has proven to contain many subtle cultural cues that I deftly try to grasp.
• You are expected to bag your own groceries, either in bags you brought yourself, or by buying a plastic one right before it’s your turn in line. You do this while the cashier scans your items and throws them to the other side of the counter at the speed of light and then demands your payment while you are only halfway through fumbling with your groceries and stuffing them away. Then they begin right away to scan and pitch the next customers groceries over the scanner while you embarrassingly try to get all yours out of the way and off the counter. No mercy. Each time I shop I get anxious while waiting in the check-out line. I won’t lie. And each time, my face gets hot and red as the cashier glares at my dumb, slow American hands thrashing about trying to control my groceries.
• Shoppers use baskets when shopping. Occasionally you’ll see someone with a rolly hand cart (much the same concept as the rolly backpack, remember those??) Carts are a no-go. There is a queue of them outside the store, though, and to use them, you have to pay (I’m not sure how much, probably ~ $1). All for the best though, as the Czech rapidity and fondness of walking in front of others, cutting people off, and bumping into you when you are in their way wouldn’t mesh well with large, bulky carts.
• They also don’t mesh with the amount and schedule of grocery shopping here in Prague. Pragians (and I think Europeans in general) do their grocery shopping on a daily basis, usually on their way home from work in the evening. Enough for tonight’s dinner and perhaps some for tomorrow. They want their food fresh and recently bought. A hand-basket of food is a perfect container for the size of a daily grocery shopping outing. What a difference from the American idea of shopping as little as possible by stocking up as much as you can with no regard to the lifespan of food. It’s been one of the most remarked thing within our program, we’re always exclaiming with shock about how often we need to hit up Billa and get more food. We seem to be always out and we could always use another trip to the store.
• There are grocery stores in a lot of the metro stations. Small ones, mid-sized ones, and even full-fledged large stores. This is convenient for city dwellers. It’s a great relief to be able to pick up ingredients for tonight’s dinner right after getting off the subway.
• The Bread! EVERY store bakes their own bread, fresh, daily, and incredibly. Yes, EVEN the tiny metro stores. EVEN the tinier stores selling baked goods and espressos to go in the metro. Even the giant department stores. Even the food cart esque kiosks outside and around various squares in town. It is amazing and it is delicious. The crown jewels of this is that every piece of bread I’ve had has been fantastic and cheap. I’ve taken to buying rolls at 4 crowns (about 20 cents) each instead of loaves that require cutting. They are WARM and soft and seriously good. The modest, medium sized grocery store I shop at has probably 15 different varieties of baked breads and pastries to buy right in the entrance of the store. I can’t overstate this enough, it is fantastic.