It wasn’t the regular dinner party talk, but over New Year, the group of eight around our table somehow got on to the topic of the local village grocery shop. The photographer, the artist, the banker, the Ph.D student, the social worker, the writer, the businessman, and the business consultant – spent a good fifteeen minutes discussing the psychology of how to shop at Granny Smith’s grocery store.
The people were a mix of village locals, expats and Maltese. All agreed that if you are going to opt for a village shopping spree rather than head to the supermarket, then there are certain things you need to know to prepare yourself. Forewarned is forearmed.
1. Queues – they don’t exist at the checkout. If you are short and of stocky build, then you have an advantage as you can block any would-be, pushers-in. If you like the British tradition of standing in line, then give up straight away. Those small, printed-frock-clad, old ladies, with muscular arms from a lifetime of manual labour, will have you out of the way and be the next served before you know it.
2. Chatting – you don’t go to the shop to just shop, do you? You go to catch up on village gossip. The shopkeeper will happily ignore you if in full flood of conversation with an equally garrulous customer. If you are at all in a hurry, you’ll be better off driving to a supermarket.
3. Staking a claim – the little, but ever-growing heap of items at the checkout counter is being strategically positioned by a customer who is somewhere on walkabout in the shop. Yes, there are baskets to use, but this customer knows that having goods already in pole position on the checkout counter means they can sail through and be served once they’re ready. Just wham your basket down on the stray goods, but beware the old lady doesn’t give you the ‘mal’occhio’ (evil eye) in the process.
4. Rotting veggies – Yes, it’s a fresh veggie shop, but note that it has just twice-a-week deliveries; Monday and Thursday afternoons, as the wholesale market, the Pitkali, operates on those days only. Don’t expect to see fresh produce on display all the time. Veggie store owners also tend to keep the well-past-their-best veggies out on sale. Dig around in the crates and you can find better underneath, though the fresher items are being contaminated by the rotting upper layer. Better still, ask the store owner. Regulars seem to have a stash of better stuff hidden away for them. It’s worth becoming a regular so you don’t end up with fly-blown produce most of the time.
5. Be a man – women haven’t anything better to do than shop, have they? So any man who enters the grocery store’s portals is obviously in a hurry and needs only a couple of staple items. He will find himself accommodated quickly at the front of the ‘queue’, and out of the store in a jiffy. If you are a foreign male, you’ll be even quicker. If you aren’t, then the only other way to jump the chattering old ladies is if you need a single item, like a pint of milk, and can pass the right change over their heads.
And so, life is played out in village grocery and veggie shops Malta and Gozo wide. Once you know what you’re in for, they can be quite entertaining places to be, so long as you aren’t time poor and female.
Photo: Gege Gatt