30. Foreign Language Supermarket Shopping

Before I left for Denmark I had a lovely lunch date with one of my friends who had also spent a semester in Aarhus. One of my many burning questions was about supermarket shopping and what the best tactics are. “How will I know whether its shampoo or conditioner?!”

He assured me that they will most likely say shampoo and conditioner on the bottle in English, and the only real issue is guessing what type of meat you are buying. He was right about shampoo and conditioner, but most things are in Danish and being me, I have definitely had a few ‘shopping accidents’ (as I like to call them).

My most inconvenient shopping accident wasn’t the goats cheese sandwich in Sweden (it was actually pretty tasty), but instead was getting paper towels instead of toilet paper. They were all stacked up by the entrance like toilet paper, but the packaging covered up the middle part so I couldn’t tell the difference, I simply reached for the cheapest packet. I was quite proud of myself for only coming away with one incorrect purchase on my first trip! It was hardly the biggest inconvenience either, although a friend that came to stay claimed he couldn’t handle it and  bought me some 3-ply as a thank you gift. Good luck flashpacking around Europe, Princess.

My original plan was to just wander round with google translate on my phone. Unfortunately I couldn’t get data on my phone for two weeks as I had to wait for my residence card to arrive, so for the impromptu shopping trips where I didn’t pre-translate my shopping list, a healthy dose of common sense and a diet of fruit, vegetables and items that come in transparent packets worked just fine for my first few trips.

I don’t even know what that product is – it looked like raw mince topped with whipped cream and the picture showed it being spread on a piece of bread

It seems I am not the only one that has struggled with translating the more ambiguously packaged foods. A number of students have reported trouble distinguishing certain items such as flour and sugar. Given that one packet had bread on it and the other had strawberries, I didn’t have any problems. As for milk, some have reported difficulty working out  full cream vs skim/trim etc. I had already learned in Australia that colour coding systems aren’t international. In this instance I made an assumption that skummetmælk meant skim milk. One of the few times my assumptions have proved correct!

Being on a student budget and attempting to stay healthy, asian food is practically a staple of my diet. Gosh have I realised how spoiled for choice we are in New Zealand! It took 3 different supermarkets before I found coconut milk to go with my red curry paste. I was a tad disappointed there wasn’t a ‘lite’ option, but I was hardly going to be precious about it. Then when I got home I discovered that coconut milk and coconut cream are one in the same according to the single brand of asian ingredients available! My unnecessarily fatty curry was delicious though.

Not sure if it is good or bad that the egg yolks are all different sizes and colours

Another challenge is having to let go of my habit of reading the back of the packets. I like to know what I am eating and what the ingredients are, but in Denmark all I can tell is the amount of kilojoules/calories. Slightly helpful, but it doesn’t tell me what I am actually eating! I have learned very quickly the term ‘okologisk’ which means organic. Organic food is actually subsidised by the government, counterbalancing the tax on saturated fat, so there is a much bigger range of organic products in the supermarkets at more accessible prices than I am used to.

In another assumption failure, I thought I would try some rye bread. I assumed because it is so popular here, that although experience in NZ tells me rye bread tastes like shite, it must taste a whole let better in Scandinavia. Alas, it appears rye bread tastes like dense chewy dirt all over the world. So instead I fried it in butter. So much for the healthy option!

The supermarkets themselves are quite a different concept, too. In New Zealand, if you are in a supermarket (rather than a dairy) you can generally rely on each supermarket, no matter what the brand, stocking what you are after. While some of the product brands may differ, you’ll be able to find whatever you need and the prices are all very competitive. Here in Denmark, I have learned supermarket shopping is more of an art form, that takes a great deal of practise. I am still discovering different supermarket chains and there is a huge amount of variation in prices, not to mention stock.

Aldi – who needs nice product displays when you are dirt cheap?

Aldi, for example, is the cheapest. However, it is like you are walking in to a big empty room out the back of someone’s house. It also appears the floor storage system is well in use and you can only rely on the most essential and popular of items actually being there. Brugssen is like a convenience store/supermarket hybrid but it is really expensive. On the other end of the spectrum, big department stores will have really flash supermarket areas in them with poncy bakeries and chocolatiers.

I love supermarket shopping in other countries and seeing all the different products, experiencing different foods, but it is a far bigger gamble when you can neither recognise the product name or read the ingredients. It definitely keeps life interesting though!

I had previously thought the pickled herring jokes were just jokes…

Finally, the most entertaining part of Danish supermarkets are the shelves full of pickled everything. My father teased me before I left that all I was going to eat would be pickled herrings, but I didn’t expect to see this many pickled items:

“Pickle all the things!”

3 thoughts on “30. Foreign Language Supermarket Shopping

  1. Good stuff! I should point out that skummet maelk is skimmed but it’s the 0.1% fat stuff, y’know, tastes like water. If you’re looking for low-fat milk, I’d recommend the let-maelk, it’s 1.5%. A whole lot better than the milky water you’re drinking 😉

    • Milk-flavoured water is just what I’m after! But I will definitely pass that on to the others that were struggling.
      Dairy products are so different in Scandinavia. On the upside it is helping me kick my cheese addiction. I swear blue cheese here is just brie with a few specks of food colouring

  2. Haha, agreed! That stuff in the first picture (weird red gunk with white topping) is actually mackerel and tomatoes with a ridiculous amount of mayonnaise piped on top…I like it a lot, but always just buy the tins of mackerel and add my own conservative amount of mayo.

    Also, have you ever been confused by the labels and prices of food being above them instead of below them on the shelves? Gets me all the time…

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