Portugal – Trouble at Supermarket Checkouts

In my previous post I dealt with the frustration associated with buying a train ticket in Portugal at a self service ticket machine.  Today I move on to the mystery of supermarket checkouts in Portugal.

In the country there were familiar supermarkets for us from the UK, ALDI and LIDL and then a couple  that were  not – Pingo Doce and Continente.  Continente is the largest supermarket chain in Portugal and Pingo Doce is the third. In Setubal we came across a convenient Pingo Doce located close by to the apartment so we went there to shop for our evening meal.

I liked all of these supermarkets in Portugal, they all had a much wider product range than in the UK, more bread, more fruit, more vegetables but especially more fish and whilst Kim shopped for essentials I browsed for fantasy.  The shopping experience is mostly similar to being in the UK and providing you remain focused you can have filled a basket, sidestepped the tempting but unwanted special offers, have negotiated all of the aisles  and be finished in just a few minutes. 

But then you get to the check-outs.

Chaos. Absolute chaos. In the UK you can expect to be through the checkout in under five minutes even if the two people in front both have a full trolley load to clear. Checkout staff in the UK are the fastest on the planet, no mercy if you don’t keep up.   If it was an Olympic event they would win gold, silver and bronze.  Not so in Portugal.  They would come last. Fifteen minutes in the store – thirty minutes (on a good day) waiting to pay.

And it was the same everywhere that we stayed and shopped in Portugal, Obidos, Cascais, Ericeira, Lisbon and now Setúbal.

A main reason for this is that most customers want to pay in cash but the cashiers have no coins in the tills so when someone offers a note they ask if they might possibly have the right change which involves fumbling in pockets and purses looking for loose, long forgotten coins.  “Oh, here is an Escudo, do you still take Escudo?”  Worst of all some customers just throw their coins down and let the cashier do the sorting and when it is all done take an age to put it away again.

This slows the whole process down to somewhere significantly below glacial speed and several conga lines of frustrated customers begin to form and begin to block up the aisles.  Although several frustrated people take the risk there is no point whatsoever  changing lanes because they are all the same.  They are all advancing at the pace of a silted up river bed.  This is life in the sloth lane.

Quite by chance there was some welcome entertainment as a group of university students entertained with music and singing which made the process a bit more tolerable but only just.

I have an important travel tip here…

DO NOT under any circumstances let the cashier see that you have a purse full of coins because they will beg to relieve you of it.  I swear that they are on a shift  bonus to get hold of coins.  I like to carry a little pouch with loose change, say about twenty euro or so but have learnt from experience never to show it.  One of my travel objectives is always to come home with my pouch full of coins ready for next time.

Behaviour at supermarket checkouts is something that intrigues me.  I wrote about it once in a post a long time ago (2010) and I do understand that it might be considered a bit sexist now but here it is now (with apologies where considered necessary)…

Read the full story Here…

So, we negotiated the checkout queue, went home with our purchases and had a simple meal of cooked piri-piri chicken, new potatoes and fresh salad and after as the sun began to slide into the River Sado took a walk to the shoreline and just sat and watched. 

Tomorrow we thought that we might try and find a beach.  We considered taking the apple green ferry to the Troia peninsular but decided instead to go for a hike.



23 responses to “Portugal – Trouble at Supermarket Checkouts

  1. In Oz you can choose to check out your purchases on your own, but pay with a card.
    Or go to a cashier and also pay with a card or with cash.


  2. It certainly sounds a lot slower than Sainsbury’s!


  3. I had a good laugh now! Seems to be mostly the same everywhere. But I have to admit, my husband and I are a ‘mean team’ when it comes to shopping. When we get to the cashier, I’ll start unpacking the trolley, while he starts packing once the lady at the checkout has scanned the items. The moment the last item is out of the trolley, I stand ready with the card to pay (almost never cash) … even the lady at the checkout (and the customer behind us) sometimes seem surprised at how fast things happen.
    But that’s just us … and I can’t guarantee that SA would win any medals if it was an Olympic event!


  4. What used to irritate me in France was that there was no concept of the ’10 items or fewer’ queue. Portugal?


  5. Very funny and I love some of your descriptions, Andrew, but a tiny bit harsh. God forbid you should be one of those little old folk who can’t see the coins very well in the UK because you would be trampled to death. Old style courtesy rules here, and it’s one of the things we love, though we know how irritating it can be. Nice sunset!


  6. My local supermarket only has DIY checkouts which are super speedy


  7. Since I was without a car over the summer I have been having home deliveries. Saves queueing altogether and no temptation by offers I don’t need. 😅


  8. Surprised no self-checkout and that they still use cash which is very uncommon now in supermarkets. I pay with my phone now. My checkout horror story is Amsterdam where we joined a card-only queue to discover after everything had been rung through that none of our cards (and we had a fair selection between us) would work, they only accepted one or two types. The kindness of strangers – the woman behind paid for our shopping and waited while we got money out of a cash point to give her!


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