Supermarket Sweep

Posted: September 2, 2010 in Shopping
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Korea, of course, has supermarkets to cater for the needs of consumers. The average supermarket puts some western ones to shame with the diverse array of products that it will have in stock. Everything from pizza to peondaeggi (silkworm larvae), tampons to Tiger Balm, plus a wide range of furniture, foods, clothes and electronics fill the shelves and the aisles.

However, unlike a trip to a supermarket in the western hemisphere, in Korea it’s considered a family outing. All walks of life are seen there, from the toddler to the ajuma, a woman of a certain age.

Rarely do you find an out-of-town site dedicated to a superstore, you are more likely to come across one tucked in amongst residential and commercial buildings.

Arriving at a store on foot during peak times you could find yourself face to face with the store traffic controller. This supermarket employee stands adjacent to a pedestrian crossing waiting for the lights to change before running into the middle of the road to usher people across. Any cars encroaching onto his territory may be held at bay simply by the power of two luminous sticks brandished at them Even when the streets are clear with no sign of vehicles, failure to comply with the traffic controller’s commands invokes a torrent of stick waving.

Depending on the extent of your shopping, you can choose a trolley (cart) or basket. All these goods carriers are sanitised and, what’s more, sections of stores are dedicated to sanitising them by the emission of ultra violet rays.

Large bags are not usually allowed into the shopping utopia and you are encouraged to place any personal bag into a locker. You may find that you are placing them beneath a dog box – a potentially airless coffin with the amenities of a newspaper; so the dog can check its horoscope for the day and have the convenience of a toilet at the same time (see Aww cute puppy). Naturally, the possibility of your secured bag being marinated in urine adds to the thrill of shopping.

The extent of goods on sale at some of the superstores is so great that it needs two floors to be displayed. Getting from one floor to another is usually made accessible by a magnetised escalator – for the trolleys not someone with a steel-reinforced hiking stick. The set up of the store itself should be familiar to all, but by attempting to cram as many items as possible into the space available it is somewhat more confined than in most western countries.

When you enter into the shopping area, you are welcomed by a bowing Korean wearing a suit. It is then that you become a participant in the rat race. At this point, peripheral vision comes in useful; as people and carts come from all directions. Similar to the driving in Korea, expect to find abandoned trolleys strewn around the aisles complete with babies and random shopping items. Having to push these obstacles aside as you do your shopping perilously lengthens the time spent away from the locker dog’s ever-more weakening bladder.

Your mind is distracted from this concern by loud voices echoing through the store from employees advertising the latest offers of the week. There are also the inviting smells from a mini street stall type restaurant filling the air, enticing customers to sit down and place an order.

You may have heard that it’s not a good idea to shop when you are hungry, drunk or high, because you could end up buying items that you don’t really need. Well, the hungry part of this advice doesn’t quite apply to shopping in South Korea. One of the delights here is shop assistants offering a range of foods to try – everything from tofu to deep fried pork loins and oriental tidbits you may never have heard of before… As you watch hungrily, locals will flock to a sample stand and consume the latest offering in the blink of eye. The speed of consumption being aided by many diners enjoying more than one tasting. . It’s likely at these events that you will be caught in the bustle of the crowd and left frustrated that as if by magic you were transported from the front to the back of the queue. Regardless though, there is a constant stream of free food on offer in bite-size portions.

Apart from food and household items, a large number of stores sell pets. Many sell rabbits, gerbils, hamsters as well as turtles, stag beetles and hedgehogs and some creatures you would normally endeavour to keep out of your home rather than invite in. All are desperately young and in need of a looking after, the ideal time for them to be bought.

From observing Koreans and their families you get the feeling that they feel comfortable in a supermarket. Full massage chairs are usually sold in the stores and you’ll find them being tested by the older generation. Sandals and shoes are habitually taken off in order for the body to receive the full revivifying effect of the chair. As you shop you’ll see customers push trolleys around with children asleep inside the main compartment. I have been unable to find out if they are their children or if they were on special offer.

A lot of the outlets are home to food courts. Places with an assortment of families, and a popular haven for people of all ages. To order you must first look in glass cabinets at weirdly lifelike plastic food. Upon making your choice you make a mental note of the number and move onwards to the cashier to place your order. You then wait until your number is called from one of the many different restaurants, advising you that your meal is ready. When sitting within the banquet hall don’t be surprised to see children playing amongst one another in a wild, arena-like playground. They are most probably thankfully enjoying what little time they have away from their education.

Eventually you arrive at paying for all the items you’ve chosen. The set up is exactly the same as at home. The Korean checkout girls are equally as efficient – I have yet to see a man working the checkouts – and similarly trying to get one last sale out of you by proffering a carrier bag or two for your goods. Notwithstanding the familiar feel to all this, don’t be fooled into thinking that the shopping experience is finished once you have paid. Whilst you are still bagging your items, the next customer in line is being dealt with and confusion may arise when they start bagging items which look surprisingly like yours.

Leaving with the goods you actually purchased is always a bonus when shopping in Korea.

© John Brownlie 2010

  1. This has definitely sparked up an thought in my thoughts. That is a amazing web site submit.

  2. fatman4545 says:

    I used to go to a little “Lotte Super” and they actually delivered my groceries for me. That was a while ago, and I don’t think the big ones like E-mart or Home Plus do it. But that was a god send cause I always hate carrying my groceries home.

    And ah yes, I love the traffic controllers and the lovely dances they do. It always makes me chuckle.

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