Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Grocery Shopping in Sweden: Please, Cashier, let me do your job for you.

OK full disclosure before this post:

  1. The Swede claims I made this whole thing up 
  2. I worked briefly as a cashier at a grocery store while in high school, so I am speaking from experience
  3. This is one of those little 'Swedish' things that drives me insane

It took me years to figure out why it is that the Swedish little sticks you use to separate your groceries from the next-person-in-line's all have text that reads 'Please place the barcode so that it faces you.' But after a rude comment from a Systembolaget cashier I figured it out, and my life has never been the same.

Basically what Swedish grocery stores and Systembolaget would like you to do is to place all of your items so that the barcode is facing outwards towards you, so that the machine can scan it. The idea behind this is a kind one – it can be tiring to a cashier to lift and rotate all of the goods to scan the bar code. But the result is one that sometimes makes my blood boil.

Here is a typical scenario for me (note: The Swede claims never to have experienced such a happening): I choose the grocery line which appears it might be the fastest. But then the person in front of me, with a cart half full of groceries, turns out to be the considerate type. By this I mean they pull out every item from their cart, examine it, find the barcode and place it in a row one item wide, on the belt. Needless to say, this takes FOREVER. The cashier has usually caught up to them by the time they are one-third of the way through their cart. And the customer places and the cashier scans, as slow as molasses, one item at a time.

When I worked as a cashier, from experience, you know where the bar codes are. You just twist and zoom and it's over. You are on to the next customer. It is quick and efficient because you don't have to study each object.

I know I am being selfish in demanding speedy service over the health consequences for my cashier. But I don't really understand why I need to do their job for them? I mean isn't that why they are there? If you don't want to become obsolete with all the new technology, don't you have to do something? I mean here in Sweden no one bags your groceries, and if no one even scans your groceries, what is the point?

So, no I don't line up my groceries, not even at Systembologet (but there it is more passive-agressive principles). And I really wish more people took a stand with me (and maybe the cashiers could have a monthly massage like they do at other companies or something?)


  1. Yes, THIS. Ugh.

    Also I am just horrible at bagging the groceries. I end up holding up someone every time because I am so slow.

  2. "Needless to say, this takes FOREVER"
    Nope, it saves time... Lots of time. The fact that it also saves pain for the cashier is a huge bonus for nonegoistic ppl.
    You are so totally wrong here, sry.

  3. @antropologa - I know - but I have to admit if I were writing a post on 'grocery shopping in America' there would be a section on the ages it takes to double bag and separate all of those groceries according to shopper specifications :)!

    @silfwer -as I said in the post, I take full credit for the fact that my opinion may be selfish - but I respectfully disagree about this being a time saving effort - I do think someone who is employed as a cashier is more efficient & effective than your average shopper - that said these days I just self scan anyway - which saves the cashiers back, but might end up costing a few jobs. :(

  4. I do not think you are being selfish at all, that is just bat shit crazy to line up everything. I was also a cashier, at Target, and then you are scanning canned goods, underwear and condoms and in one swoop so I agree you know where the codes are and just deal with it. Also I think my back hurts more sitting in my crappy desk chair then it did doing a cashier shift.

  5. Having had symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (thankfully it never developed fully and I got better), I even do the item-twist thing in the US sometimes. My mom (in Sweden) does it all the time, and yes, it takes more time, but again, I do it once a week, the cashier does it 20 times/hour. And I've been thanked by cashiers (some of them with hand braces), so I'll keep doing it.
    t-anna (is there a particular reason you don't allow commenting with name/url? Just wondering.)

  6. oooh, and I think Swedish grocery lines win out by virtue of no one using checks anyway :) If I end up after another Old Person with a checkbook I may just wack them over the head with a baguette or something.

  7. @Hemborg wife - Thanks. Altho sometimes I do think of the 'career cashiers' I worked with, who worked 30 h/w at one grocery store and then 30/w at another store since the couldn't get FT anywhere - and wish they got half the benefits here. Hell, they even get a chair to sit on here!

    @Anna - haha - you are right, I admit. I think I have blocked out the memory of checks because they are so traumatic!

    Weird about the name/url thing - it used to work, but now that I checked it, it only seems to work if you are logged into google or register another website - I'll see if I can fix it back since I don't recall making it this way to begin with.

  8. Yeees finally someone that raises this issue. This thing also drives me crazy. It has happened to me many times that the person in front of me is the considerate type that thus it takes forever. I NEVER turn all the things so that the barcode faces upwards. I dont´t have time for it because I have my hands full unloading my cart. Also I think this is the cashiers job and not really my job. I am probably much slower at finding the barcode than the cashier is. I totally agree with you. This is so Swedish and totally insane.

  9. " cashier is more efficient & effective than your average shopper"
    " I am probably much slower at finding the barcode than the cashier is"

    Yes, you are right, BUT, the thing is that ------->we unload our cart while the customer in front of us is having its groceries scanned and pays for it.<----------
    Once its our turn, the cashier only have to push the button and all the groceries is scanned in a second.

  10. When in Sweden - I never see (or have rarely seen) any Swede line up groceries, Swedes are (always) more “mountain builders” (!) maybe it’s because its such an old socialist country (?!) that most Swedes always seem to think someone else SHOULD do the job (...) - that there is very little respect for someone else’s job/workplace ... just Look at the laziness not even bringing back the “cart” ( if it doesn’t have their coin in it!)
    - Yes, I do line up, and yes it always makes the queue go quicker for the cashiers/for the next in line - because you CAN do it while the one in front of you is building their mountain & paying with their credit cards ...
    But I do agree a little - as so many Swedes LIKE annoying others especially when in a line ... and especially just before closing time... and especially if they can “sense” that the next person in the line is in a hurry! That is I think so very ... “typical Swedish” (“according” to the in-famous: jante lagen ;p) - So just you take a deep breath, breathe down your own “frustration” more Quietly the next time ;)

    Cari Saluti

  11. Could not agree with you more.. My rule of thumb is (have been working as a cashier in my youth and have seen both sides) only do the "kind" thing when the cashier is already busy. Do not make the cashier wait for you positioning your stuff - guess what, the cashier will also find the growing line stressful. On the other hand, if you are putting your stuff up and the cashier is still busy processing the previous customers payment - why not put your stuff in order for a quicker exit..

  12. Oh Jaroq.. Before disrespecting a whole country as socialist lazy idiots - bear in mind that we have ALWAYS been packing our own stuff at the store.. Compare that to many other countries..

  13. Anon..s:
    Well - Born and (partly) raised in Sweden/Sthlm - I think I KNOW what I'm talking About - more than 70 yrs OF Socialism - HAS put a "mark”. But then I also had the great privileged to have Lived in many different countries - and if You have ALL Your “senses” Awake (!)
    You KNOW what kind of “leadership” they have - or Had in the past - that a big part of what is also known as - Culture differences between counties.
    But, No Anon... I never said they ARE "lazy idiots" - Your Words!
    I simply said they DO (very often) disrespect Others work place - that’s a difference - Don't You Think?! - or DON’T You Think!? - AS You do write anonymously - I guess You are a "jante" follower. - Good for You!

  14. PS:
    Well - packing or not packing... In some countries it’s a way of giving someONE a chance to WORK and earn some OWN money - or do You say that YOU don’t consider that as a GOOD work!?
    When I lived in Rio de J. there was often (almost always) one kid at the end of the line
    Moreover, they ALWAYS asked Very Politely IF someone wanted help packing grocery
    In addition, if - when You said yes “obrigada” - Then YOU also said -yes- to Paying for 1 or 3 items they needed i.e. That Kid wanted to buy. Don’t You think that - that is better than just standing on the street corner begging?

  15. Could you possible help me help my son, just moved to Lund, Sweden for University. Are there any frozen produce brands that would be less costly than buying all fresh? He hasn't found any yet. Also, any other suggestions for healthy, student friendly, fresh food shopping?