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Friday, June 5, 2009

Two-bag Ladies: Grocery Shopping in Rome

They're "two-bag ladies," and they can be observed in large numbers, especially in the morning, in every Rome neighborhood: one or two plastic bags in each hand, transporting the day's groceries home from the market or one of the small shops that line the streets.

You won't find tw0-bag ladies in U.S. cities (New York may be an exception), because Americans drive to do their grocery shopping, usually at huge big-box stores where they lay in supplies for a week or more. There are no such stores in Rome proper; the largest grocery store in our Monteverde Nuovo area is about 1/10 the size of the Wegman's supermarket we frequent in Buffalo. And almost no one drives to the smaller ones that do exist, probably for fear of giving up a precious parking space near one's apartment; the parking lot at the SMA, a few blocks away, could be converted to a soccer field and no one would complain.

So they walk. Two-bag ladies, less often two-bag men (the men are to be seen chatting at the tables outside the bars, waiting for their women to show up with the groceries). And for the heavier loads, they use an inexpensive, highly functional two-wheeled cart. See photo at left.

The system works fine. It depends on a large number women who don't mind shopping every day or nearly every day and who don't have paying jobs to go to. Italy's weak economy, and weak feminist movement, produce women of this sort, and its pension system--featuring retirement at age 50--creates an ample supply of older folks for whom shopping may be the highlight of the day. Another requirement, met by the condominums that line every street, is high population density; no one need walk very far.

The fly in the ointment is Roman fondness for bottled water. The water comes in packages of 6 plastic bottles, suspended from a thin plastic strap, for carrying purposes. The unit weighs about 12 kilos (according to the bathroom scale) or about 26 pounds, and the uncomfortable strap requires alternating hands every 50 feet. Only a dumb American would carry this home. Hence the two-wheeled cart (above). Dianne says home delivery is common.

If the system has a downside, it is that the regular grocery stores--the supermarkets--are strange--Felliniesque, one might say--perhaps because so few shop in them regularly. Our SMA is on two floors, requiring the shopper to get from peaches to bread via one small elevator. The Todis, a discount chain --see photo at right--is on one floor, but it's not much larger than a 7/11, and it seems to exist to fuel nostalgia for Cold War Communism. Bill

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