Grocery Shopping in Istanbul #ExpatLife #Fail

I hate grocery shopping. Doesn’t everybody? Although I have to admit doing the groceries in our small town in Germany wasn’t that bad: large aisles, polite people, stocked shelves, and always enough check-out lanes open. But we all know grocery shopping in a small town in Germany can’t compare to Istanbul. Even though we live at the outskirts of the city, the grocery store is still almost always packed. And I’ve seriously never seen more than three check-out lanes open – not even on the dreaded Sunday afternoon.

I’m not a very patient person. When I arrived one day at the check-out to discover that there was once again only one check-out lane open despite the length of the line, I decided to be brave and try out the automatic check-out machines. Complete. And. Utter. Disaster. You see *hangs head in shame* I don’t know much Turkish. I speak enough to tell the taxi driver where I need to go and direct him if necessary and I can order food in a restaurant, but that’s pretty much it.

I could now make up a whole bunch of excuses for not learning the language: it’s really difficult, I wasn’t planning on staying here that long, etc. etc. But yeah, it’s still bad and somewhat rude that I haven’t managed to get beyond the “Hi, how are you?” stage in Turkish.

So yeah, I was super-duper – really, I started a little jig right there in the grocery store – when I realized the automatic check-out machines now speak English. And yes, speak is the correct verb here because the machine really does talk to me. I started checking out with a vengeance. I can totally do this, right? Um, no, wrong. Although the machine was now speaking English, not everything had been translated into English. Fruits and vegetables hadn’t been translated. Luckily, there were pictures. I ended up spending five minutes scrolling through the pictures to buy my carrots.

The next time I headed to the grocery store I was preparing my check-out experience in advance. Okay, I said to myself, I need to learn all the proper Turkish words for whatever fruit and vegetable I buy. Actually, I do know many of the words already because it’s food and you know how much I love to eat. I arrived at the check-out machines full of confidence. I am totally going to kick grocery store butt now!

Except I wasn’t. First, I placed my strawberries on the scale and looked under c for çilek. Not there. Hmmm, maybe the ç is somewhere else instead of under the c? I looked around and got more and more confused. Turns out strawberry was under strawberry. Awesome, I thought. They’ve translated the machines since my last visit. I placed my carrots on the scale and pushed c for carrots, but there weren’t any carrots. What? I know they sell carrots because I just grabbed these over at the produce section. After much fiddling around I discovered that only some fruit and vegetable had been translated. I can totally deal with this.

My next visit to the grocery store I’m armed with the knowledge of the names of all my favorite fruit and vegetable in Turkish and English. I’m going to totally rock this visit! But then the machine starts making some weird beeping sound. Oh great, I’ve broken the machine. The thing starts telling me to get an assistant. Luckily, there was a store worker walking by. I grabbed her and pointed to the machine. She did her magic and the machine was happy again. Turns out you need store approval to buy alcohol with the automatic check-out.

I often buy beer. It’s not like I drink a lot. Really, it’s not. But everything we buy has to be carried up a steep hill to our apartment. Instead of buying a large supply of beer, we just buy a few at a time. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it. Anyway, the workers in the store recognize me by now. When I’m buying some beer, I just grab one of them right away to ‘approve’ my purchase.

Between having the store workers at my bid and call for ‘approval’ of my beer purchases and being totally knowledgeable of English and Turkish words for fruit and veg, I’m now a rock star at grocery store shopping in Istanbul. Lines? No way folks. I’ll see you over at the automatic check-out lane.