Sunday, October 21, 2012

Here and there: Shopping

Ok time for part 2 of my Here and There series, about the differences between living here and living in Australia. Today I am going to talk about shopping. 

Obviously I am going to talk about Walmart. I heard all about it on TV and movies when I lived in Australia but I had no idea exactly what it was until I walked into one when I came to the USA back in May 2005.

My first reaction was WOW! This place is awesome and so cheap! For my Australian readers it's like a big Big W and a Coles under one roof. There are also usually about 4-5 small stores on front wall outside of the checkout area. Things like Photography studios, Optometrists, Nail studios, Hair salons, McDonalds etc

In my 4 years of living here I have gone from glorious wonder to all consuming hate for Walmart. Now don't get me wrong. This has nothing to do with the reasons most people hate Walmart. It's got nothing to do with big business or anything. I am all for free enterprise and all that. It's just I hate being in one. They are dirty. The employees are for the most part RUDE! I don't trust any of their electronics after buying a Hard Drive that didn't work and they wouldn't let me return it because I didn't keep the plastic it came in.

We still shop there though. Because for many things it's the cheapest place and we can't afford to be picky. But it's rarely a pleasant experience and we rarely linger. If we need dog food or new underwear or socks, it's great. What is also convenient about it is they are open 24 hours a day, which is handy when your husband works nights. 

Here is a sample store layout, they do differ slightly but it will give you an idea:

Now in Australia we don't have Superstores. We have supermarkets and department stores. I know Walmart has been trying to get into Australia but have been stopped so far as I am aware.

Also our grocery stores and department stores are usually in malls. Which we call Shopping Centres. Over here in the US Walmarts are usually completely separate from other stores. They may be in a group but not attached. That is what they call a strip mall here.

Malls over here usually don't have any type of food store except Food Courts and candy stores. In Australia shopping centres are usually focussed half on grocery shopping and half on fashion stores. There is usually 1-2 grocery stores and 1-2 larger department stores with dozens to hundreds of small speciality stores.

Here is a map of a mall near us:

Click to enlarge it
And a shopping centre in Australia:

Those large stores are either department stores or grocery stores. The grocery stores are usually near exits. There is also usually fresh seafood, fresh poultry, butchers, bakeries, fresh produce stores etc aswell.

That is one of the biggest surprises to me moving here. The lack of fresh produce stores around. Now I can't speak for all of the US, just the area I live in. I have noticed though that more of them are popping up now. Farmers markets are more common around here now and there are Trader Joe's and Earth Fair stores down closer to Charlotte.

Produce sections in supermarkets like Food Lion and Harris Teeter, stores that are purely grocery stores, really depress me. They are tiny! If my American readers want to know what produce sections in Australian supermarkets are like, you know the ones in Walmart? Well that's the size of them in Australian supermarkets. They usually take up about a third of the entire store. Around here they are about the size of a living rooms. And the quality is sad.

Also there are many, many things that I can't get here. Some examples: dessicated coconut, golden syrup, flavoured tuna in a can, milo, vegemite (I can get it but it's expensive and only available in certain stores), cordial, UHT milk, castor sugar, Magic Eggs (pavlova), pavlova shells. Plus a million other things.

But then there are millions of things here I can get that aren't available in Australia, sadly most of these things are candy bars or things that are bad for you! haha

Shopping hours are different here too. Most of the larger stores are open to around 9pm and are open Sundays. Walmart of course is 24 hours. In Australia most stores close around 6pm with 1 night a week that they are open until 9pm, usually Thursday night, late night shopping night! And a lot of places still don't have Sunday Trading, or only got it recently. 

Some things that are the same:
Banks still have stupid limited hours. Not all McDonalds are 24 hours (that's a good thing). 

One big difference is that for the most part, the customer service is better here. It's a sad thing to admit, but it's true. Again I can only speak for this area. I have been told the South is a friendlier place, but I have to experience other state myself to come to a conclusion, but people are friendly here for the most part.

Things I miss: Really good produce everywhere. Places like Leonards chicken and seafood markets. 
Things I like here: Food is cheap. Really cheap. For example skinless, boneless chicken breast is about $6-7 a kg here. In Australia it's about $15 kg and that was 4 years ago, who knows how much it is now. 4 liters of milk (a gallon) is around $3, I am betting that in Australia it would be much more than that.

If anyone has any questions about anything I have talked about please ask! Comment below, anyone can! You don't need any kind of account.


  1. You know you've turned into an American when you hate Wal-Mart. I think I would love to have more produce selections. My husband has lived all over the world and has culinary training so he has used all kinds of fresh produce that I have never even heard of.

  2. I am in the hate, but necessary evil camp. With 2 small ones in tow, sometimes one stop shopping is the only route!


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