Nobody thinks about the way one visits a supermarket, right? It’s just something you do, several days a week, to get some food and other stuff like toilet paper. You go to the closest supermarket, you walk in, grab your stuff, pay and walk out again. Well, this is not how you visit a supermarket on Pangheya. There are three brands you can choose to get your groceries. In the documentation the university sent me they recommended BI. No further explanation given, but as I had to start somewhere, I visited the BI closest to me, a five minute walk.

Once I got there I noticed a young girl wearing a BI uniform outside, cleaning all the shopping carts. I asked her why she was doing this. It’s just part of our excellent service, she replied, to prevent spreading disease. I know for a fact that her service is redundant, as previous researchers discovered Pangheya is free of any viral and bacterial infections that can cause disease in humans. I asked the girl how long she’s been doing this. She’s had this job for three years now. It pays her way through college. She took over from her sister, who took over from her niece. She is nineteenth generation cart cleaner, can you believe it? I have never heard a young woman speak so enthusiastically about a simple job like cleaning shopping carts. She confided in me that she and her predecessors formed a group. They meet every month and once a year they go hiking in the mountains together for three days. They call themselves the secret shopping society. I couldn’t help but smile while she disclosed this information to me. If I can get people to talk this easily, my job here will be easy.

After I thanked the young woman for the lovely chat I walked into the supermarket, but she came running after me with a shopping cart. Here, she said, you’re not allowed in without one. So together with my shopping cart I went further inside. I had to pass an automatic fence and after a sharp beep the tiny screen on the shopping cart handle went on. It showed I had zero items in my cart. Every time I put something in my cart, the screen would update the list of what’s in it. Quite a fancy system.

The whole supermarket is designed as a one way route. The aisles are not wide enough for two shopping carts passing each other, so when you have someone in front of you searching for something, you just have to wait. That’s why my stress levels rose quickly while shopping. As a first timer in a supermarket on Pangheya I had to read all packages to find the stuff I wanted. I couldn’t blindly grab a pack of something, otherwise I would end up buying pasta instead of rice for instance. As this is a meatless society, there are a lot of products I don’t recognize. Therefore I had to read a lot of packages I and caused others behind me to wait. They al waited patiently, but still I could feel them microvibrating frustration. I felt hurried and as a result I ended up with a mixture of groceries that requires improvisation skills to make it a meal.

Once I passed all the aisles I entered the payment section. Basically it’s an area with scanners that communicate with the shopping cart to charge the amount of the items in it. You then swipe your mobile at the scanner (I needed to install the local bank app for that) and that’s how you pay. Of course I forgot to bring shopping bags, but luckily an employee saw me struggling to hold everything in my arms and gave me a BI branded bag. She told me she recognized me from the local newspaper. Apparently the newspaper announced me as a new resident in Balsse, picture included. That makes sense for a community that hardly allows outsiders on the island. It also explains why so far nobody seemed to be surprised to see someone here they hadn’t before, breaking all the rules.

Once back in my home I unloaded the bag and started journaling my supermarket experience in my tiny home office. Within half an hour I gathered a lot of information on Pangheyans.