Before studying abroad I thought grocery shopping would be the least of my worries. However, I soon found out that there were MAJOR differences between the way Americans and Brits food shop. After a solid four months living like an Englishwoman (way to formal, but it has a nice ring) I learned a thing or two about why I was in such shock and awe. I even took friends and family who visited me to the grocery store on field trips so they could try and spot the differences. Here are a few of the big ones:
1. Why are there no carts?
Brits shop very differently from Americans, especially when it comes to food. Living in a flat in England really taught me how to live and eat like the British. I had to walk 2 miles one way to the store. Needless to say, I was not carrying a cartful of groceries that distance. Overall, I liked food shopping for small quantities a few times a week because I found that I ate healthier and learned to use what I bought.
2. Why is meat so effing expensive?
I found it crazy that two small chicken breasts were about $10. In the states we’re able to buy bulk trays of chicken breasts for less than that, so confusion was an understatement. However, I discovered that the chicken was organic or natural — the packaging even states the town in England from which the meat came from. This goes for fruits and veggies too — (except they were much cheaper), more variety, and better quality than in the US.
3. The American section is super offensive, but also super comforting
With items such as flaming hot Cheetos, pop tarts, pancake syrup, mac n cheese, pretzels and Hershey bars, what’s not to love about the American section? Until you compare it to the rest of the store…In comparison the American section is literally larger than life, especially the chip bags. Also, some of these foods I have never even seen or heard of before and the Twinkie is still going strong. As stereotypically American as this section can seem, there’s nothing quite like buying mac n cheese at 9 pm to cure a bout of homesickness.
4. You have to pay…for a plastic bag??
Europe as a whole is more eco conscious than the US. To promote reusing bags, stores charge about 10 cents for a plastic bag. This is no problem if you forgot an ingredient or made a quick pit stop. However, a reusable and very sturdy bag is around $3, which saves you $$$ in the long run to spend on impromptu trips. FYI, they’re starting to impose bag taxes around the U.S. as well.
5. Hard liquor, in the grocery store
The answer is yes. England (and the rest of the EU) does not have as strict of alcohol laws as the US does because it is part of their culture (alcohol used to be the only safe way to consume liquids). Drinking ages are lower and so are DUI stats. Therefore, all types of alcohol are readily available. There are certain precautions, such as security sensors and required ID checks. So yes, you can buy the champagne you forgot to get for mimosas even if brunch is at 11.
6. You expect me to buy and eat eggs that have NOT been refrigerated?
Absolutely. Basically, we wash and sanitize our eggs in the States, which makes it necessary to refrigerate them. In the UK they don’t do this so the eggs do not need to be chilled. According to the LA Times, it’s all about salmonella. Additionally, British eggs are all brown, not the white ones most commonly found in the US. As one of my friends once asked, “Do British chickens sound and taste the same as US ones?”
7. So. Many. Prepared. Meals.
The first thing you see when you walk inside? Mass amounts of refrigerated and tasty prepared meals. These are not the frozen dinners you find in the US where you sincerely question if what you just ate was real meat or some other foreign matter plus loads of sodium and sugars. These are ~dare I say~ restaurant-quality meals.
Okay, nothing compares to restaurant quality food, but these come pretty close. They also come in lots of varieties from traditional British to Asian and even Indian cuisines. They’re made with high quality ingredients, too. Man, do the British love their prepared food, and so do I. For some healthy options in the US check out these healthy frozen meals.