La Vie En Rose for 2010 March 7 (entry 0)

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[Comments] (2) the great supermarket class war: A while ago there was some #middleclassinsults trend going around twitter. I don't follow twitter so I don't know about these things unless they bleed over into facebook/ blogs, but I had a look at this one and thought it was retty stupid. Anyway I can't remember how it transpired but it lead to a discussion amongst my friend group consisting of brits and non-brits of the middleclass-ness or lack there of of various british supermarkets. My idea is it going something like this:


*I have put Sainsburys above Tesco, despite the fact that I have found shopping for the same things comparable. This is because Sainsburys seems to have a better range of "Taste the Difference" "organics" etc.

The bottom rung sort of bleeds together. I've never been to Lidl but I think Iceland is pretty rank. Budgens/ Costcutter are local supermarkets that never have big versions with delis, etc, so I'm not including them here. (I'm not sure if Iceland qualifies by those terms but it is important to the discussion so whatever.) I'm not sure where Co-op fits in. M&S I have excluded because it is not a grocery store, it is a food store, where you can only buy food that has been preparded and prepacked and costs 4 times what it would if you made it yourself. (I went in one looking for vanilla back in my FOB days... turns out they don't do an M&S own brand vanilla!)

The Hypothesis I want to put forward is simple: It is ironic that in the UK, there is more class status attached to the supermarket where you shop, despite the fact that there is less likely to be a choice (ie you live in a big city and don't have a car, or you live in a small community with only one supermarket in driving distance, and that supermarket has put all of the local shops out of business). In the states this is less likely to be the case (broad generalization and based only on my experience in the highly populated south west where everyone has a car and lives within 10 minutes of 10 supermarkets.)

In the states, by contrast, there are a few exceptions. Whole Foods and similar where the snobby hippies shop. Trader Joes where the proper hippies, students, and other cool people (yes, that is a value judgement) shop. Local and 'mexican' super markets where poor and down to earth people shop. But that's about it. Everything else: Albertsons, Vons, Super Target, those foriegn ones I've only heard of (HEB etc) seem pretty much the same and no one is gong to sneer at you for shopping at one rather than the other. Maybe because they are tooo busy sneering at your for shopping at Walmart. Hmmm. But even that doesn't seem to have the same stigma that it used to.

Back in the UK, where there is great statement attached to your supermarket of choice (or not so choice) not to mention potential price difference, consider the following case study. I have lives in 5 different places since moving to london (all in 2.5 years!) and in each place there was one supermarket within walking distance (proper one with deli, bakery, butcher etc). The first place I lived, in halls in the center of London, had a Waitrose nearby. This is highly ironic. Being central London, the only housing nearby was for students, council flats, and the very rich. The Waitrose catered for the very rich but left the rest of us with little choice. I didn't have a kitchen, so it wasn't a huge deal. I could get my microwave ready meals at the Tesco across from Russell Square tube, about the size of a postage stamp and always with a queue four times as long. Oh well. Then I moved to Seven Sisters where I considered myself lucky to have an enormous Tesco across the street. I suppose this is where I aquired my Tesco habit because when I lvied here before I always shopped at Sainsburys. In East Finchley there was a Budgens and an Iceland. The Iceland was horrible and I only went in if I was feeling particuarily poor, and the Budgens was hideously expensive, mainly because they don't have their own brand so you have to buy the name brand -- thus the refuge for the desperate. There was a massive Sainsburys in Muswell Hill, always crowded but well stocked, however it was a 15 mintute walk (20 with heavy groceries) or a bus ride, and at the time I had a severe bus phobia, so we lived mainly on Tesco orders and topped up at Budgens or places "in town." In Dalston, near Newington Green, there is a massive Sainsburys in the worst shopping centre known to man. Dalston is teeming with life, butchers and vegetable markets and ethnic food stores, so I never understood how that Sainsburys thrived much less was always more crowded than Disneyland, but some things you can only get in a supermarket, or its better, or cheaper, or easier to do your shopping all at once. I don't know. For whatever of those reasons I have been there many times myself, and I always end up wanting to chew my arm off to escape. It's that bad. Well, no more.

The whole reason for these musing is because I recently discovered Morrisons. I took Tonks to the vet in "Stamford Hill" (the bit of Stamford Hill that's right by Stoke Newington station) and I noticed the Morrisons. In my head I got it confused with Somerfield which sells Co-op products so I thought I would go there and check it out and buy some fairtrade chocolate. (There is a Somerfield nearby but I didn't find it.) Whoo hoo! It was one of the most pleasant grocery shopping experiences of my time here. It was crowded, sure, but everyone was polite, the shelves were well stocked, the staff were friendly, no screaming babies and despite the crowds there were no massive queues because all the tills were open. There was a bakery, a butcher, a fishmonger, and a deli, and everything was that much cheaper than Tesco or Sainsburys, but still the same quality. All a 5 minute bike ride from my house. Now, I am trying to kick the supermarket habit, for reasons I'll explain later because this is already too long and I've sat here ages writing it, so I doubt I'll be going to Morrisons every week. But it sure is nice to know its there. I came out very excited, and when I remembered that shopping at Morrisons is supposed to be an insult, I laughed.

On the supermarket class scale, this makes no sense. Morrisons is definitely a 'lower class' supermarket according to these #middleclassinsults. The prices are cheaper, too. But the people in Dalston are not going to trek all the way to Stamford Hill to shop at Morrisons, and the people in Stamford Hill/ Stokie are not going to trek all the way to Dalston to shop in Sainsburys. Stoke Newington and Stamford Hill (to a lesser extent) are definitley areas of middle class-ness in between Dalston and Seven Sisters. For a lot of people, (probably *most* people in London) your supermarket is determined by location. There are always ways around it such as delivery but come on. Why the scale? Why the snobbery?

Vast generalization here, I think that in the US the class obsession is more to do with image, whereas in Britian its more about substance. It's possible that this is changing. That might explain the topsy turviness of this example. A tin of tomatoes is, after all, a tin of tomatoes no matter what the label looks like (except the basics ones... I have in fact found those to be inferior) so, it shouldn't matter where you shop. Hmmm.

Update: Sorry John and Susie, my comments have stopped emailing so I don't notice them till I get on here and now it's not letting me post a new comment. to answer your question what I meant was probably a broad generalization that's not true, but in general I was thinking of American obsession with knock-off designer goods vs. British "poshness" which requires the wearing of quality goods such as Barbour or Hunter wellies, the more worn the better because it means you have been out at your country estate exercising the horses and maintaining the hedge. Or something. (And yes, I have a pair of Hunter wellies thanks to Leonard, and they are the best. Not only do they make me posh by default, they are a great purple color, I get loads of compliments every time I wear them, AND they keep the bottom half of my legs completely dry. Plus they will probably last forever so I will still be wearing them when I am walking my dogs on my country estate. =) And thanks!


Posted by Susie at Mon Mar 08 2010 01:09

"I think that in the US the class obsession is more to do with image, whereas in Britian its more about substance." What do you mean by substance? (And John wants to know your point: which one is worse?) Or are you just pointing it out? Does it matter what class distinction is based on?

Peradventure Americans have a lot of other things to base their class distinctions on than the Brits. Cars. How big your house is (only very extreme differences in UK). And I gotta say, where I get my groceries isn't the topic of conversation often.

Posted by John at Sat Mar 13 2010 16:32

We are anxiously awaiting your answers....Happy Birthday!

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