I'm not sure how to say this without sounding a bit off in the head, but supermarkets are really fun. Really.
Since we embarked on this adventure two months ago we've covered four countries, seven major/semi-major cities, and some greater number of smaller towns and villages. One of my (our) favorite things to do almost before anything else (though we really should start prioritizing "learning to read the transit tables" as that seems to be somewhat worthwhile) has become wandering through the aisles of whatever grocery store, bodega or farmers market we can find. It's interesting for all of the best reasons: people watching, getting your head around what delightful new oddities each place has to offer and putting together picnics (hello, budget travel!).
People watching is one of my favorite things in the world. Watching people hem and haw over whether to get white or wheat bread, swoop in and nab the last chocolate ice cream, or manically sort through to find only the best apples just heightens the regular people watching suspense. I can't help but feel that I'm probably one of the better characters in this show as I putter back and forth, forlornly trying to decipher the things that don't make themselves obvious (produce is my friend here). In addition, it's fascinating to see where the emphasis is put in a grocery store, and in what ways things are organized. I, for one, would never really think to tuck the potato chip section in next to the cat food, but apparently Waitrose in Glasgow would. It just messes with your head to be looking at sea salt and vinegar chips but smelling kibbles and bits.
The oddities bit is a newer hobby. The intrigue for me here is not only what's inside the packages, but the packages themselves. Design both good and bad, some that would (or do) fit in unnoticeably on an American shelf, others that would stand out like a sore thumb. Orange kiwi juice, a sickly yellowish color with all of the kiwi seeds on the shelf in Holland. Eggs on the dry goods shelf...everywhere but America (including at the dollar store). Soft cheeses in far greater abundance than hard cheeses, which seem to come most often in pre sliced packages of about 6 slices. Most places even tend to have a gluten free section (a fact that pleases Casey) that stocks at least a bread or two, as well as myriad snack like items:
Inserting ourselves into the simple (mostly) worldwide human function of acquiring food (no matter the size or style of the shop or market) puts us under the control of different senses. Beyond the tangle of indecipherable words are the familiarly enticing fruits, the yeasty smells of the bakery, the questionable condiments. While I'm not very good at decision making anyway, it allows me to marvel like a little kid at all of the options - often expressing wonder at something completely mundane to a person who lives nearby. While we certainly aren't the first travelers to do this, it tells us more about what makes a place unique than any of the major attractions ever could.