Like in Russia, shopping for groceries has been one of the more challenging things. As a consumer, when I know the language written on packaging, I like to look at ingredients, calorie content, and the like. By the time I left Russia, I knew enough of the language that I was almost back to how I shopped in the States, but in Korea, I am starting from scratch. As I am just learning the alphabet, it is difficult to sound out the ingredients, let alone understand the words I’m sounding out. Yet, through it all, I have managed to avoid mistakes similar to those I made in Russia. When I bought milk, I actually bought milk … But a whole new set of issues has arisen.
So far, most of my grocery shopping has been in large hypermarkets, comparable to a super Wal-Mart. Finding products in the store can be a challenge, simply because the place is huge. Also, signage in English doesn’t always lead me to the right place. I saw a sign that read “Fresh Dairy” and in the case under the sign were processed meat products. It made me wonder why they even had English signage!
Surprisingly, through it all, one of the most confusing things has been the produce section of the grocery store. In Russia this was a bit confusing as well, but in a different way.
Generally in Russia there were loose bins of produce, whether it be apples, potatoes, carrots, bananas, etc. Like in the States, you grab a plastic bag and fill it with your selected amount of produce, but unlike the States, the produce is not weighed by the cashier at check out. Instead, you should take your produce to a scale – sometimes there is a person to weigh and label it for you and sometimes you have to weigh and label it yourself. Overall, the Russian system was only a bit intimidating, with the major question being, do I need to weigh this myself or is there someone to weigh it for me?
In Korea, at a hypermarket, things are a bit different. Almost all produce is pre-bagged, though there are some loose things – like potatoes, occasionally onions, and the like. The loose produce obviously needs to be weighed, and there is a woman who will weigh it for you. The pre-bagged produce with prices is also no trouble. It is the pre-bagged produce without prices marked that is the confusing and intimidating part. In Russia, these needed to be weighed along with everything else, so that was my assumption. In order to avoid the confusing ordeal of being at the cashier and having to go get something weighed, I went to the lady by the scale and gave her my pre-bagged broccoli. She took it, walked over to where the broccoli was displayed, and put it away.
Because I was a bit embarrassed about this result, I didn’t go pick up the broccoli again. I just decided that I didn’t really need it and continued walking around the produce section a bit thrown.
The next time I went to the grocery store I found things were not as confusing as I had made them. Anything pre-bagged with a UPC has a set price and the cashier just scans it like any other product. It turns out in this case that my experience in Russia actually hindered my understanding.