Why I Dislike Supermarket Shopping in Portugal

Today is our food shopping day.

It’s one of my least favorite activities in Portugal.

Not because of the quality or the prices.

But, because:

We have to go to three supermarkets to get everything we want. (Castelo Branco has neither an Aldi, Carrefour, or Corte Inglés.) The bulk of our shopping is done at Auchan, which carries most — but not everything — we need. Next, it’s off to Lidl for their freshly bottled orange juice, freshly baked cheese sticks, and best cuts of meat. Finally, homeward bound, one of us runs into Continente for freshly bottled grapefruit juice–it’s the only store locally that carries it.

Shopping in the supermarkets is like an obstacle course. The aisles are narrow to begin with. People abandon their carts in the aisles, while they go off elsewhere looking for whatever. In other aisles, are clutches of two, three, and four people just standing there gossiping and blocking the aisles. If not customers, it’s employees who ignore the fact that their trolleys for stocking shelves leaves little room for passersby to do their shopping. Meanwhile, the stockers are oblivious, chatting with co-workers.

Am I the only one who’s bothered by people — customers — picking up fruits, vegetables, breads, and other foodstuffs … squeezing them, sniffing them, then putting them back?

Too many items are without prices. I picked up a super double pack of Dolce Gusto coffee capsules (they’re recyclable now!) because the price listed on the header said €14.99 for 64. With smaller size boxes of 16 capsules costing €5.50 or more, €14.99 is a pretty, darned good price! Except that it rings up, instead, as €17.93. In what I think is my very best Portuguese, I tell the cashier, “Mas a placa indica que o preço é €14.99.” Rather than make a fuss, I say that I don’t want it, thank you, and tell the cashier that after I’m checked out, I’ll deal with a supervisor. The people queued up behind me to pay are getting fidgety. “But you can’t come back into the store with the cart after you’ve paid,” explains the cashier, who is now getting frustrated herself. “Não se preocupe”, I assure her, “eu não vou.”

There’s never enough cashier lanes open to serve all the customers. How many times have I wiggled my way to a line, only to see the green “Aberto” light turn red “Fechado” just as I’m ready to unload. And even if everything else has gone well, I still have to deal with those cantankerous credit/debit card machines. Sometimes, they work perfectly. Other times, whether I swipe, insert, or magically wave my card, the “reader” just won’t cooperate. The cashier asks my permission, “Com licença,” to try it herself. It’s still won’t work. So, she calls over a manager, explains the situation, and hands my card and the wad of receipt papers to her. “Amazing!” I say to myself, as she hands me another receipt to sign. Reminding myself never to use that cashier lane again, I wonder how many forests have been cut down to merit all that paper.

I wait for my shopping companion in front of the store. He’s the cook in our family and always takes much longer than me to make sure that he’s got everything detailed minutely on his telephone app. Asking him to watch my cart (please), I march back inside, heading to the end cap of the coffee and tea aisle where I had found my great bargain on Dolce Gusto Sical. Aha! Just as I thought: the only sign indicating the price is hanging from the top of the top shelf, clearing showing the cost as €14.99. I politely interrupt two employees discussing whatever, and ask one to accompany me to confirm the price. The scans my Sical and €17.93 digitally appears on the screen. Then she scans other varieties on different shelves, which come up as €14.99. She tells me that “these” boxes of coffee are €14.99, but those — including my Sical — are €17.93. “But how is anyone supposed to know that?” I respond anxiously and with a bit of consternation. She shrugs her shoulder and smiles at me. Remembering all the items I had wanted to purchase until I asked and found out the prices (no, they weren’t marked), I contemplate going to the management section and making a stink. But I’m too annoyed at the moment and know that I would trip all over my limited Portuguese if I did–especially if asked a question. Knowing other opportunities would arise where I could vent my frustration, I turn and walk towards the exit. Nodding to nobody, I realized how the patience of the Portuguese was beginning to take hold of me.

Unloading the cart outside in the parking lot, I curse silently and wish I had a camera with me. Cars are parked diagonally in vertical spaces–one is even taking up three spots by parking horizontally. And several others are sticking out because they haven’t been pulled all the way in to the spots. I take all this in as cars careen around the lot at near highway speeds.

Do you recognize the man in this picture? I bet I could learn a lot about supermarket shopping and patience from him!

May be an image of 3 people, food and indoor

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