Friday, December 01, 2006

Random Observation- Grocery Store

United States: We buy enough food in one fell swoop to feed the army that is our family for at least a week, quite possibly two. The combination of ample living space and huge food storage units (oh freezer that’s bigger than a microwave, how I miss you so) makes this possible, and even desirable in our quest to save time, gasoline, and hassle.

Japan: Fresh food is the pinnacle of delectability, which feeds the need for daily foraging and supersedes the otherwise coveted quality of convenience. While not everyone is limited to the foot locker of an icebox that we have (think the mini-fridge most commonly used for beer storage during college), it appears that simply having more space doesn’t erase a practice intricately woven into the society’s psyche.

We can follow these two distinct patterns of behavior without difficulty as they trickle down into the subconscious of one of the most basic, yet necessary steps : going through the check-out line… which brings me to my observation of the day.

Every single time I check-out of a grocery store (which is to say every single day), the check-out lady quietly informs me of the price of every single item in my basket, culminating in the total yen due. It doesn’t matter if I’m buying 3 things or 20, the price of each is faithfully stated at the moment the numbers flash on the register.

There’s no way that would ever happen in the states, if only because of the sheer volume filling the average cart. The total price is the only number uttered in the entire interaction... at least in my experience. I’d be interested to hear if there are exceptions to this generalization.

…now that I think about it, it’s not just food shops around here. It’s every store that sells tangible goods and products.

I hope this random little tidbit eases your mind the next time you’re in Japan, have a mind to purchase something (like a cheese bread thingy from a bakery… they’re quite tasty), and wonder what it is the check-out girl is muttering under her breath.

Or check-out boy. They’re not as common, but they do exist.

And if you do happen to make out what’s being said, a pleasant feeling of accomplishment will run through your veins, fueled by the fact that you have learned your Japanese numbers well enough to both recognize and comprehend them.

Yes, I am a simple soul...


Anonymous said...

I think they do that to make sure that customers feel they are getting all the little "nebiki" deals as promised and nobody is ripping them off, in an usual Japanese "pay attention to odd details" style. :)

Star said...

You're probably right :) To be completely honest, I'm actually becoming quite fond of this quirky Japanese customer service custom.

It beats trying to keep up with the rapidly blinking numbers as the cashier is speeding through check-out in the hopes of catching any mistakes in pricing. Wal-mart was notorious for that...

That said... I'm not sure what I'd do if I actually did encounter a disparity in advertised and register price.

Maybe I'd just smile and nod. I'm good at that. Or refuse to pay until they read my mind. That's easy enough. The most probable outcome would be me making a fool of myself trying to communicate and freaking out the poor cashier lady who is just working a part-time job to kill some time before her children and husband come home around 10:00pm.

I'm such a trouble-maker!