I love clothes shopping. Furniture shopping. Decoration shopping. If I'm out and about on my own, I can endure the roughest shopping crowd. But grocery shopping awakens an anxiety within me about being crammed together with people and my all-time-most-hated-thing.. inefficiency. (Yeah, that's kind of a big one from someone who worked for the federal government for 10 years and lives in Brazil. I'm kind of punishing myself with inefficient systems). Which brings me to shopping in Brazil. I try to do all of my grocery shopping around 8am on a weekday when the crowd is at its thinnest. I live in dread of my husband asking me to pick something up when he returns from work. The store is an unbearable place for me at that time. So let's talk about shopping in Brazil:
No one bags their own groceries. It's always been my habit to grab a bag and start tossing my items in to get through the line quicker. It's very rare that I see anyone bag their own items here. Sometimes there is a bagger with the cashiers, sometimes the cashiers bag everything themselves. What it so odd to me is the way customers will stand in front of their items, unmoving, while the cashier swipes their items, issues their change, and then bags everything. I want to scream, "You know, she could be ringing up my items right now if you'd just bag your own!" But I can't translate that correctly, so instead I wait my turn.
Baskets are strewn everywhere and carts get pushed behind the line. This is even odder to me. When a basket is emptied, instead of fitting it into the stack of empty baskets next to the register, most customers haphazardly toss their basket on the floor. By the time I reach the register, I find myself compiling four or five different stacks of baskets, none sitting neatly in the one underneath it. It's become an incurable habit for me. I find my eye twitching every time I see a crooked basket. Likewise, instead of pushing shopping carts past the register and out the door where their brothers wait neatly, customers push their empty carts behind them, back into the store. I scratch my head until it bleeds when I see this. Why do these carts get pushed back into already cramped lines? With everyone behind the customer now struggling to get out of the way of the cart? I'll never know.
People will push their way to the front. Brazil exists in a world of organized chaos. But this phenomenon is not constricted to supermarkets, since it happens anywhere a queue would normally form. I can not count the number of times I have been waiting to speak to a store employee or pay, only to have someone step directly in front of me, cutting me off. Or to have been waiting to enter my son's school, only to have someone push their way in the door. I don't think this is people being intentionally rude. I think this is a cultural norm in Brazil (at least the secluded rural-city where we live). I think the belief is simply, "I need to enter this place/be waited on/pay, so I step up to the counter." In my American mind, I'm clearly in queue. But in the Brazilian culture, I'm not in a hurry to be seen. I haven't been able to overcome this cultural issue, which will forever feel rude to me. And I'm certain that even four years from now, I'll be pushed past, quietly waiting for an opening.
A million attendents. Now retail stores are a whole different ball game, and I really think they have the shopping experience figured out. Enter any given store and an employee will be on you like white on rice. I wonder if this service was started as a way to detour theft, but regardless, it's awesome. I never have to search around for someone to help me. Although admittedly it was a little jarring at first, especially if I was just browsing or checking out a store I hadn't been in before. And I really enjoy window shopping. But during the many times that I've entered a store with a screaming toddler, knowing that I'll be immediately approached and can yell, "Curtains! I need curtains! Long ones, cream colored!" is heaven. And it's even better when I can sit back and enjoy a handful of options being brought to me rather than having to search them out.
Ticket to pay, then receive your items. This was another thing that took getting used to, but now I quite enjoy. Once you're finished shopping, the attendant will gather your items and issue you a ticket. You take the ticket to the designated cashier area and pay while your items are bagged. So instead of lugging all my items to the register and them being scanned and tallied, it's done while I'm walking toward the cashier, hands free to search through my wallet for the correct change. Or more likely, to death grip my toddler so she doesn't run away and destroy the store.