5 Differences in the Grocery Store
Cultural differences are part of life. They aren't better or worse but rather a different take on the world. They derive from varying circumstances that arise for different reasons. How you view and adapt to cultural differences is about perception as much as function. Here are five differences you'll come across at the grocery store in Basque Country.
The milk in Basque Country is probably the product in the grocery store that stands out. The milk is different. The difference isn't about the brand names, but where the milk is stored.
Milk is not found in the refrigerated section with other dairy products. It is shelved with dry goods. It is pasteurized, properly sealed and safe to drink. That is not the issue. The location will likely be a mental hurdle for you to stride over. You buy milk cold, right? North American grocery stores don't chill milk for fun. So what's going on?
In North America, the milk is processed using a technique called High-Temperature Short Time (HTST) pasteurization while Europe favors Ultra Heat Treat (UHT) pasteurization. UHT pasteurization uses a higher temperature for a longer time. The resulting product does not need to be refrigerated.
UHT milk has a longer shelf life and you don't have to pay for the extra refrigeration. Smart. However to North American taste buds the flavour is not familiar. The UHT process gives the milk a somewhat cooked taste.
Also, if you are a cereal eater and you are opening a new container of milk you'll be eating your Fruit Loops with room temperature milk. It's still good, but it's not the same.
Much like milk, eggs are not found in the fridge. They will be in one of the dry food isles. In fact, many people would recommend not putting eggs in the fridge at all. So why is this the case here but the opposite in North America?
Curiously, the decisions to refrigerate or not are both largely due to the same reason, avoiding salmonella. In North American, eggs are taken from the chicken as soon as they are laid. They are washed with a type of shampoo and hot water and then refrigerated. The eggs need to be refrigerated because this process removes what is called the cuticle. The cuticle is a thin protective layer that helps to keep bacteria out. Refrigeration is needed to combat the risk of bacteria getting through the shell and causing infection.
In Basque Country, like the rest of the European Union, eggs are prohibited to be washed. By not giving the eggs a hot soak the cuticle remains intact and refrigeration is deemed unnecessary. Furthermore, egg producers were encouraged to vaccinate their chickens against salmonella. This vaccination program along with the intact cuticle is why you will see eggs on the shelves instead of the refrigerators.
Weighing your fruits and vegetables
When you are at a grocery store in Basque Country you have to use a weighing machine. That is not common in North America. It isn't complicated, and not a big adjustment, but you might feel like a jerk if you don't use it.
When grabbing some oranges stateside you typically put them in the store's provided clear plastic bag and bring it to the cashiers where they will punch in a code and weigh them up for you. The price shows on the register, you pay, and off you go.
In some of the grocery stores (Eroski, for instance) that doesn't work. When grabbing your oranges, you need to look for a number code next to the type of oranges. The number you are looking for is between 1-150. You then take your oranges over to the scale and enter that number. The scale will then weigh it up and print out a sticker that tells you the weight, price and includes a barcode. The cashier will scan the barcode at the register when it comes time to pay.
The process change is a small one, however, the first time you go to an Eroski and forget to use the scale it can be a little embarrassing. You slow down the line for everyone else while someone has to run back to the scale with your produce.
The idea of having a pharmacy in a grocery store is very normal in North America. It is more common for there to be a pharmacy at a grocery store than to find one without. That is not the case here. You will not find a pharmacy grocery store combo anywhere. It's not a thing.
If you want to have a prescription filled while you shop, you're out of luck. In fact, most grocery stores don't offer over the counter medicine like Advil or Tylenol either. Pharmacies are commonplace and can be found quite easily; just not in a grocery store.
The bread section at a grocery store is actually pretty similar to that in North America. The cultural difference is more about the role bread plays. If you are outside between the hours of 1-3pm it is almost a guarantee that you will see someone walk past you with ⅚ of a baguette or some other loaf of bread. The other ⅙ of the loaf has been eaten on the walk, just a nibble, of course.
Bread is very important to life here. It is very uncommon for people to go to a meal without bread. We're not talking about a full day without bread, we are talking about a meal. It is very important. It is a culture of cuisine and flavours and no good meal is complete without bread. It compliments the food and is used to mop up the extra sauces at the end of the meal so that nothing is lost.
The culture of bread is one of the best cultural differences from North America. The fact that bread is consumed so much means that the bread is always fresh, it's cheap, and there are bakeries everywhere. No joke, it's fantastic!
Everyone goes to the grocery store. It is one of the things in life that is unavoidable. For the most part the groceries stores in Basque Country are pretty much the same. The brands may be different but at the end of the day they are pretty similar. The differences are not better or worse but they are different.
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