Self Service

They say that America has a weight problem (see one of many related articles – Letter From America: Fatsos). Too many people are obese or overweight in America. Having been in Ireland going on two weeks now, I can actually see that this might be true. A recent trip to London also helps confirm these claims for me.

London and Dublin are both walking cities and I think that has something to do with it. People are used to walking at least a mile (15 minutes) to get somewhere – to the store or shops, for example. You just don’t see too many people who appear overweight or obese. Everyone appears healthy, trim and fit, although this is somewhat deceiving because there also seems to be a large number of smokers in Dublin. Unusual, I think, for a walking city.

Obviously, I don’t have any scientific statistics to validate what I’m saying, but I see the walkers and the distances between destinations and I specifically noticed that I don’t see obviously overweight people with the frequency that I do in the States. One other thing I see is how different the eating habits and attitudes are here than in the States. Everything from the frequency of eating out to portion sizes to how much tip is left to the quality of service you receive in a restaurant is different. Also, the way people shop at the grocery store is a different process entirely.

It appears that most Europeans, and in Ireland it is no different, do not tend to eat out nearly as often as we do in the States, especially not at dinnertime. They don’t see the need to pay more for a meal that would cost less to buy at the market and fix up themselves. And, to then have to pay for drinks and tip 10% on top of it is just too much. (Yes, 10% is the standard tip, not the 15-20% of the States and even then it is at the discretion of the patron. According to a number of servers we’ve talked with, they often receive 5% or less of tip, if any at all. Personally, I can’t decide if this is because of the poor customer service by US standards or if the poor customer service is a result of the 10% tip. It is not atypical for Chad and I to sit down and wait a full 20 minutes before ever seeing the first sign of our server.)

There is a prevailing attitude of self service over customer service, so anytime you stand at a counter to order food or drink and pick it up there, that is considered self-service and no tip is to be left, including at the bar in the pubs. The self service concept extends to the supermarket, as well (the term “grocery store” is a puzzlement over here.)

The grocery shopping experience is an entirely different beast here than in the States. The first thing you’ll notice is that there are almost no non-perishable aisles. That is, almost every aisle is refrigerated. Unlike the US where it is only the perimeter that is refrigerated, every aisle down the middle here is also refrigerated. It certainly makes for healthy eating habits (and cool temperatures while shopping). And don’t bother trying to find a cart. There aren’t any and it’s not because all the homeless people have taken them. There are only those little wire baskets as there is no need for a huge cart to hold your groceries because, buddy, you’re walking, remember? You can’t walk down the street carrying a cartful of stuff! Because of this very reason, the unspoken rule is one basket per person. So if you can’t fit it, don’t get it.

The way you checkout is different too. You don’t go up to individual checkout lines at all. Everyone stands in a long queue that looks as though you are going through airport security for “All Gates.” I even started taking off my shoes the first time I bought groceries, I was so confused. The little check stands (and I do mean little, only big enough to set your one basket down) are usually situated against a back wall and look like desks in a sense with a very official looking person sitting behind it. Makes you wonder if you’ll need to show your passport at some point. As a check stand opens, you hear a curt “Next” and the queue moves forward slowly as baskets, now on the floor in front of their owner, get pushed forward by scuffling feet.

Once you finally make it to a check stand, you set your basket down and pull out your wallet as the checker scans your items. You wonder when he’s going to ask if you would like paper or plastic? Since all your items have now been scanned and the bill paid, you offer, “Plastic will be fine, thank you.” The groceries aren’t going to bag themselves, you know. “15 cent per bag,” comes the reply. “What! I have to buy the dang bags, too?!” you think to yourself. You are resigned to buying the bags and ask for “Two, please.” Hey, next time you’ll know to bring your own and think of all the trees and plastic you’re saving the environment. So, you’ve got two plastic bags at 30 cent total but things still aren’t moving along. All the other check stands have been through at least 2 patrons each by this time.

You’re looking at the checker and he’s looking at you kind of annoyed like and you see that familiar “Are you daft?” expression begin to cross his face. Look left, then right. Notice that everyone else is bagging their own groceries. Well, at least this explains why the checkers are sitting – you’re doing all the work. Finally, you’ve got your items bagged, wishing desperately that you’d paid more attention to how the bag boys did it back home and really beginning to appreciate their tendency to double-bag. You could really use that double bag approach right now as you’ve got to walk at least a mile and a half with this stuff, but that’s another 30 cent. Why did you have to keep adding things to your basket there at the end? Damn impulse buys!

As you are making the long walk back to your apartment, shifting your load every few minutes, you understand why you don’t see so many overweight people around. Gone are the days when you fill up a huge cart you can roll around the store, then stand and wait while the bag boys bag and carry your items out to the car. The car – a wonderful machine where you can sit back and relax while it does all the work for you.

4 Responses to “Self Service”

  1. maria_c Says:

    I think there’s a book out titled something like “French Women Aren’t Fat”. There is a secret to how these women stay thin, and it’s not in that book. I discovered this during my studies in Rome. My italian instructor keyed us in….here’s how it goes-

    Breakfast- un caffe and maybe a cornetto (a small croissant), followed by a cigarette.

    Morning Snack- un caffe, and another cigarette.

    Lunch- same as morning snack.

    Afternoon snack- same as morning snack.

    Dinner- something italian with wine.

    What I got from this…

    Coffee-diuretic (gotta lose that water weight), stimulant (gets your heart going and the blood flowing-heck who needs to work out)

    Cigarettes- bad for the lungs, but is also an appetite suppressant. In America, we eat when we are stressed or bored. In Europe they have a smoke (heck, it’s a lot less calories)

    Oh, but we can’t forget all the walking. Helps to keep these women in their size 0 pants.

    Guess I should keep hitting the gym, and pick up smoking while I’m at it….

  2. JoyLuck Says:

    Ha! I hear that. I just put up a new post today about the smoking, in fact. :>

  3. Montyburns Says:

    I think it’s great to point all of that out…it seems as if all of the asses here are getting bigger…I think the key is the walking, we live a VERY sedentary life in the US, compared to other areas and both history, which obviously leads to less calories lost, and less energy…smoking, however, is probably not a good solution, as it does help reduce lung capacity and is only a short-term fix of stress, long-term it exacerbates

    it’s good to hear you guys are LIVING and enjoying new experiences…that’s what it’s about

  4. JoyLuck Says:

    Thanks for taking the time to make a post, Mr. Burns. I’m glad that people are finding it as interesting as I am. But, yes, I think I’ve walked at least a mile and a half every single day I’ve been here. You just are much more active here, it seems.

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