The Chambers family has always been highly adept at the Carrefour supermarket sweep. Traditionally, it was the final port of call prior to taking the ferry back across the English Channel. Car doors would slide open, we’d be armed with a slew of francs (latterly euros) to unleash a battalion of trolleys. The family would march into the giant hypermarché. Wide aisles stacked high of just about everything lay ahead of us. Everyone had their own tasks. Timing was of the essence. We had a ferry to catch in a couple of hours. The organized side of the parental unit (Mum) would have a long list of household items that are just better value on the Continent. The focused side of the parental unit (Dad) would traditionally head to the alcohol department bringing my big brother for muscle. 10 cases of beer and a triple figure of wine bottles later (plus the obligatory giant pot or three of Maille Dijon mustard) and a three foot long receipt would fizz out of the till. Our car would have beer crates for seats and would be close to pulling a wheelie all the way back home in Kent weighed under by the then illicit volumes of booze we’d hauled across La Manche.
Fast forward a decade or two and I encounter a Carrefour experience of totally different proportions. Here in Dalian I have a lovely little abode in the centre of town. There were a few things I needed to kit it out though, plus I fancied doing a bit of cooking so I trooped down to the local Carrefour. Phew!
There’s simply no way of doing the fabled supermarket sweep here in the cavernous depths of this supermarket on the outskirts of Zhongshan district. The sheer volume of people wielding trollies makes for tough navigation up and down the aisles.
I am bamboozled by choice. Pick up a sauce pan or washing up liquid and an employee sidles up and suggests a different brand, giving a lengthy, keen rationale for her choice, not that I can understand her argument.
Anger spills over regularly among both customers and employees. A lady is irate that she hasn’t been served soon enough at the meat counter and vents her spleen, her decibel rant rising across the hectic shopping commotion. Unlike in Europe, say, the people behind the meat counter giver as good as her, a mass argument breaks out until she is escorted away.
It’s bumper trollies as I make my way to towards the fruit and veg section. It takes a while to find any bags to put the fresh produce in. Once secured, and lots of veg later, I then have to get it weighed. There’s a gaggle of people pushing and shoving to get their stuff weighed. My long arms eventually get the job done.
Staples that I take for granted in Hong Kong and Europe either do not exist or are prohibitively expensive with limited selections. Cheese looks like becoming a luxury up here. And amazingly for a country so famous for cha, a good tea bag is tough to find.
The checkout queue is haphazard. I eventually get out, head home and decompress with a calming cup of tea. The trick I have learnt is never, ever to go there again on a weekend, weekdays during work hours is easier.