Opinion | Danish supermarkets: finally, free from desire

Attention foreign shoppers! This week’s guest columnist Maïa Mazaurette is just back from the supermarket with a few observations about food shopping in Denmark

Real bread or crackers? Basic soap or strawberry-avocado organic shower gel? For an expat, discovering another country’s supermarkets is one of the Two Fundamental Experiences Of Your Amazing New Life – the other one being to have sex with a local, heavily drunk, in a parking lot on a Volvo at 3am.

I’m convinced that if you get to know what people put in their mouth (I’m not talking about the parking lot experience anymore), you also get an understanding about their standards, philosophy and politics. And about their digestive process and bacteria.

So when I first went to a supermarket here in Copenhagen, I immediately came to believe that the Danes were poor, depressed, tasteless, naive and rude, and I assumed that they commit suicide as a hobby.

Did I mention that I’m French? Well, I’m French. Supermarkets in my country are sometimes called hypermarchés: the size of a galaxy and two hundred references for just a bottle of milk. If you’re looking for toothpaste in France, it’s better to have a few hours to spare.

The difference struck me the most in the yoghurt section of my Irma. (I tried the other supermarket options ONCE and almost fell on the floor crying, so please indulge my snobbishness). Yoghurt in Denmark comes in one size: (too much,) and in two tastes: nothing or chemical. In France, we need a full aisle for yoghurts. (I’m absolutely not joking here.) It’s full of crêmes brûlées, mousses au chocolat, tiramisus, dulce de latte creams, pecan-and-pistachio-and-pure-sugar delicacies. If you look carefully, there’s also ‘real’ yoghurt, from all countries and in all flavours. But we prefer the more elaborate desserts.

Yoghurts and cheeses in French supermarkets are a black hole. We learn as kids that if you stay in this department, you slowly lose your sense of time, your savings and your mind. In compensation, you put on weight. (Seems like a fair trade to me.) 

How would I survive without my daily intake of crême brûlée? That was a real question when I arrived in Denmark. At the time, I still believed that people were eating each other, because who could eat those sad vegetables and depressing yoghurts?

Three years later, I’m still around. To my own surprise, I apparently survived enough to write this column. And you know what? I even learnt to like Danish supermarkets because they aren’t time-consuming, they’re completely temptation-free, and they’re so expensive that you don’t buy more than you need anyways. The concept is straight-to-the point. You buy food in France to have a good life, but here, you buy food in order not to die. Yet.

Resisting the sugar appeal was almost impossible in Paris. But in Copenhagen? I don’t even care anymore. I’m skinnier, healthier, poorer. I do appreciate spending way less time shopping, and more time cooking my own desserts* – less easy, but more rewarding: a good recap of the differences between France and Denmark.

You probably heard one million times the famous saying of Oscar Wilde: “The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it.” 

Well, another good way to get rid of temptation is to live in Denmark.

*Which almost never happens. I’m French, I’m just too lazy.

The author is a writer who has been living in Copenhagen since 2010.