Monday, August 20, 2012

Supermarket Shopping In Brazil- My Embarrassing Moment!

‘I REALLY should have picked up a basket’ I thought to myself, as I looked down at the small mountain of shopping in my arms. ‘If that delicious packet of wafer-thin-ham slips any further, there's no way I’m going to be able to pick it up. Not without dropping at least half my shopping’. 

I’d now moved into fifth place in the supermarket queue, and I was hoping I’d be able to get everything onto the conveyor belt sooner rather than later. The only thing in my way were those four other customers, and the only thing stopping them from moving any further was, of course, the checkout woman.

"Hiya, have you got a club card!?!"
On this day my checkout woman looked like some sort of Brazilian soccer mom, she looked like she was prone to aggressive outbursts, and she’d obviously modeled her hair on George Washington's.

Just moments earlier she’d been scanning food like her life had depended on it. Had she kept this pace up, she would have definitely reduced the queuing time for everyone by a good few minutes. She might even have been in line for employee of the month; with her framed picture placed by the supermarkets entrance, welcoming customers into the store.

But this just wasn't meant to be.

She had stopped, mid-scan, to turn around and have a good old gossip with the elderly checkout woman sat behind her.  It’s not like soccer mom was oblivious to everyone standing there waiting for her to finish talking, she blatantly just didn’t give a shit!

Nobody said anything to her of course, because at my local supermarket this type of thing happens frequently.

“I love the customer service here in Brazil, especially in the supermarkets”….has said nobody. Ever.

I should point out that I absolutely love Brazil, but one thing I generally don’t love is its customer service at the supermarket....well actually, if I'm being honest, I don't love it in most places! 

In my mind, this is what
those Coke bottles had become.
My arms began to buckle under the weight of my two litre sized coke bottles. As soccer mom laughed like a dirty aunt at something the old woman had just said to her, it looked like time wasn't going to be on my side.

I might have been close to the checkout, but experience has taught me that, over here, this doesn't necessarily mean I’m going to get served anytime soon. I was once second in line when the woman on the checkout invited her friends to push in front of me and get served first. I was not impressed! 

Another reason I could be in line a lot longer is because sometimes a product doesn't scan properly. When this happens, on goes the light to call the till supervisor over to do a price check, which is fairly standard in any supermarket of course. But because my local supermarket is HUGE, the till supervisors wizz around it on roller skates.

When I first moved over to Brazil, I thought roller skating till supervisors were amazing (I even wrote a blog on them, it's right here: shopping.html). Well two years on, the novelty has worn off a bit! These roller skating women will come over, pick up something with a dodgy bar code, then glide off into the depth of the isles, not to be seen again for a good few minutes. 

To my relief, today was my lucky day, and just two minutes later I was stood face to face with soccer mom.

She smiled at me.

I smiled back in surprise. She seemed friendly, she must have been new. Her friendliness made a change from that other sour faced cow with a mono-brow I’m usually served by.

An old picture of me and a roller-skating
till supervisor!
A minute later soccer mom interrupted my packing to let me know my groceries had come to 40 reais. “Obrigado” I replied.

She didn’t acknowledge me saying this to her. She was already inspecting the light fixture above her head (She was obviously bored, and didn't care who knew it!). So I put my hand in my pocket to pull out a note.


There was absolutely NO money inside my left pocket. I began to panic ever so slightly as I dug deep into my other pocket, only this time I’d managed to pull out a 20. ‘A 20? Shit! I still don’t have enough’.

I again rummaged around, and then decided to pull everything out of both pockets….just in case there was actually another 20 in there disguised as a receipt. I actually knew there wasn't, but I was hoping another 20 would magically appear. As I did this, six empty Halls wrappers and my bus card fell onto the floor.

Soccer mom was too engrossed by the lights to notice. I bent down to pick my rubbish up, and could already feel the embarrassment burning into my face, which was now turning a deep shade of red. There was no way of getting out of this I thought, as I sighed in defeat.

I stood back up and sheepishly looked at this woman, explaining to her that I only had 20 reais.

I was now positively glowing, and I could feel the sweat beginning to build on my forehead. I wasn’t looking my usual sexual self!

How I felt
What I feared!
I’d underestimated soccer mom’s reaction. I expected her to get angry. But instead of standing up on her checkout, grabbing me by the hair and 

swinging me round, (Miss Trunchbull style), she calmly told 
me not to worry. I just needed to select the things I wanted to buy with the money I did have.

I was relieved, but she’d now given me a tough decision to make. Ten seconds later I’d made up my mind. I knew it was going to be hard to leave the supermarket without those Frosties and fizzy cola bottles, but I had no other option (I know, sometimes I too am surprised that I’m still single!).

I’ll just call over the till supervisor, she said, pushing the button to light up her checkout number.

So at my local supermarket, cancelling transactions has to be done by the till supervisor. I have no idea why checkout operators can’t be trusted to do this themselves…but they can’t. And at this moment it meant my embarrassment was going to be prolonged A LOT longer.

As soon as that light went up, soccer mom carried on where she left off, looking up at the light fixture; like some sort of human moth.

By now my face was a little less red than it was before, but it was a whole lot sweatier. I looked over at the guy in line next to me; he was wearing a tight white tee-shirt that probably looked good on him a few years ago (before he’d discovered those pizzas he was waiting to pay for!). He was also sporting an EPIC Freddie Mercury mustache.

I gave him an embarrassed smile.

He returned this with a glare.

What I could see in his eyes was a man who had resigned himself to spending an extra five minutes of his life waiting unnecessarily in line, because I’d stupidly forgotten to bring enough money to the supermarket with me.

We waited.

Then we waited some more.

It took the till supervisor 5 long minutes to get herself over to the till. I know five minutes might not seem like a long time, but it definitely felt like it. I could hear plenty of sighs from the people behind me in the queue who were becoming frustrated, a lot of tuts and people commenting on how ‘the foreigner hasn't got enough money to pay for his shopping’. AWKWARD! Luckily I had my mobile phone with me, so I could at least pretend to distract myself, although my bright red face betrayed how embarrassed I really was.

Of the seven people who were previously waiting at this checkout, by the time this woman had managed to skate over, there was just myself and the Freddy Mercury look-a-like still standing. Everyone else had wisely decided to move to a different line, one that was moving.

As I was handed my change and receipt, I got out of the supermarket pretty quickly, having learnt a valuable lesson:

Always bring enough cash with me to the supermarket!

I’d be very interested to hearing other people’s opinions on supermarket shopping in Sao Paulo!


  1. MOAR. I like your posts.

  2. I never did any grocery shopping while I was in Rio. I did notice a line of 15-20 waiting in line to checkout, once when walking by the grocery store. I had no clue where the next closest grocery store was, but knew here in the US, if there was a line like that, people would walk out to go to another store.

    1. I know what you mean, I'd do the same in the UK. But over here if you walk into a different supermarket, that line will probably be just as long!!!

  3. Can someone tell me if they have shopping carts in Brazil like in the USA, with a sit for the baby in the front? The foreign exchange student we had 28 years ago is having a baby and I wanted to know if I should send her a shopping cart cover, since I make them.