When you’re in the US and you want to buy some food, you’ll probably end up in a grocery store, also called a supermarket.
How do they work? Are there differences that you’ll only find in America?
What words can you use to talk to a salesperson and find your way in a grocery store?
What’s a grocery store?
In the US, grocery stores are supermarkets and big shops where you can buy processed food and fresh ingredients to cook later, to make some delicious American dishes.
These supermarkets are often part of a national chain, such as the giants Target or Walmart and in this case they sell much more than food.
Many visitors are shocked to see that you can buy a gun at Wal-Mart, along with your frozen chicken and a gallon of milk. Some grocery chains are mostly located in some specific states, such as Trader Joe’s in California, or Publix in the Southeastern States.
Other grocery stores are much smaller and also have a restaurant section: they’re delis, from the German Delicatessen. They often serve enjoyable ethnic food too and great sandwiches.
Larger grocery stores are divided into sections. In the aisles of the supermarket, you’ll find a section for fresh produce, for instance, where you can buy fruits and vegetables, bananas, apples or zucchini, bell peppers, that kind of thing…
You can also walk by the meat section, where you can buy different cuts of fresh meat like steaks, or processed meats like sausage or cold cuts like ham, sliced turkey, pastrami, corned beef, Mmm….
And don’t be afraid to talk to the people behind the counter! Ask them for suggestions, and try to make conversation! (And use the techniques you’ve learned, if you don’t understand in English!)
Of course you’ll have the canned foods aisle, and the frozen foods section with lots of ready-to-eat meals, that we sometimes call TV dinners, because you can pop them in the microwave and eat them in front of the TV. Say a lot about American culture, doesn’t it…
The dairy section is where you’ll find milk, butter and yogurt. And also, even though it’s not dairy, you’ll find a surprisingly large selection of drinks like soy milk, almond milk, coconut milk, and other non-dairy “milks”.
Then, if you want bread, or a massive American cake full of food coloring, butter, and sugar… The bakery is the department you need.
Finally, you’ll need to get to the checkout counter to pay and get out. And if you want to challenge yourself to understand the cashier, check out my episode “Understanding the Cashier at the Supermarket” and then do an American English listening comprehension quiz.
Differences you might find in an American grocery store
In a US supermarket, you’ll probably find that everything is bigger. Larger portions, big bottles, family-size boxes… American food compared to French food, for example, always seems to come in gigantic portions!
The merchandising is optimized to make you want to buy: the signs are big and flashy, and you’ll always have something interesting to look at that will make you want to buy a product.
Every brand is trying to get your attention, since you have so many choices!
It seems like every product comes in four sizes and six flavors (two of them sound weird, like cinnamon toothpaste or dill pickle flavored potato chips), and all of them include tons of ingredients you can’t pronounce.
If you really want fresh produce, you’ll be surprised at how convenient it is. Lots of veggies have already been washed, peeled, chopped, and packaged for you.
You just have to open the plastic box and cook the vegetables! If that scares you, then you can try the organic section instead. It’s more expensive but there’s better quality too. And fewer chemical products.
Be careful if you want to buy alcohol at the supermarket: it’s not always available!
Some states restrict the sale of alcohol to state-run liquor stores only. In other states still, purchasing alcohol at the grocery store is forbidden at certain times, such as Sunday morning.
At the end of your shopping trip, when your cart is full or your grocery list is complete, you can go and pay for what you want.
And there, surprise! You’ll find that it’s a bit more expensive than you thought! Remember, in American supermarkets, the taxes aren’t part of the products’ price.
The sales tax is added when the cashier rings up your products. And depending on what state you’re in and the type of product you buy, sales tax can be anywhere from 0 to 10%!
So, to recap:
→ Your local grocery store is probably part of a giant chain.
→ A deli is a small restaurant and grocery store.
→ A supermarket is divided in useful section.
→ Products are often bigger, and more pre-processed, but they’re cheaper and look more “fun.”And now you’re done!
→ To be sure you feel comfortable ordering food and talking to the cashier, you’ll need to understand real American English
Now, tell me…
What’s your experience with an American grocery store?
Write it down in the comments! It’s a great way to practice, and share with the world.
If you’re planning to move to the USA, but need to level up your fluency so you can enjoy your new life and fit in with Americans, let me help you, with Master Real American English.
It’s a 3-month coaching program in which my team and I empower you to express yourself fluently and naturally, so that people focus on your personality and professional expertise, not on your level of English. For more information, click this link, where you can apply to join this program today.
Thank you for learning with Speak English with Christina, and I’ll see you next time!
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