It’s a mystery. Wrapped inside a pickle. On a ham sandwich.
On sale in Aisle 7.
The mystery is that I no longer know where I am when I go to the supermarket in Belgrade. Today, for example, I started out list-in-handed on a journey to IDEA in New Belgrade. I had received in the post a special Happy Birthday coupon for a 10% discount (on almost everything except what I wanted to buy I found in the fine print).
When I arrived, I found a large empty shell where IDEA used to be. It has been “in renovation” for several months now, so one supposes that this is a euphemism for “it’s probably ok for you never to try here again.” Resourcefully, I decided to pull out of the empty parking lot and dog-leg it into Roda next door.
Here is where the Mystery begins. At some point in recent history, IDEA bought Mercator. And Roda was a subset of Mercator. Therefore Roda should now be IDEA. But this syllogism, while looking very neat paper, does not necessarily follow the facts. So the supermarket I walked into was already a little perplexing to the inquiring mind.
It was still very Roda-Mercator-branded and very unIDEA-like on the inside. The aisles were as confusing as anywhere else. The shopping cart drivers were no more competent than anywhere else. It was becoming easier and easier for me to get confused as to where I was.
Then (more Mystery) you begin to notice that the products on the shelf are EXACTLY the same as in any supermarket anywhere in Serbia. You can go to Vero, Maxi, IDEA, or – is there any other? – somewhere else, and all the products are identical.
The brands are all the same: Vital, Polimark, Meggle, Ducat, Imlek, Stark, Bambi, Fricom, Nivea, Dove, Fa and a sprinkling of Dr. Oetker and Ben and Jerry’s just for fun. As a consumer, I used to operate under the erroneous perception that if I went to THIS shop or THAT shop I would find something different. But this was foolish.
Now at Roda > Mercator > IDEA, all I could see was Vital, Polimark, Meggle, Ducat, Imlek, Stark, Bambi, Frikom, Nivea, Dove, Fa. True, there is another thread running through this: K-Plus. As far as I can deduce, K-Plus is a bargain-price alternative for Vital, Polimark, Meggle, Ducat, Imlek, Stark, Bambi, Fricom, Nivea, Dove, Fa. Only it is made out of semi-recycled plastic and semi-digested pet food.
Otherwise it’s exactly the same.
Cart filled, I showed up at the checkout and (happily) found a short line. Unhappily the line was short because the cashier had her calculator out and various scraps of paper around her indicating that she was doing coupons. For a guy with a check and insufficient ID. I dug in for the wait. It was less than an hour.
When I was fully rung-up, I presented my IDEA card to collect points. She took it. Then I presented my IDEA birthday coupon, to get my popust.
“No,” she said.
“We don’t take those.”
“But you took my IDEA card? This is an IDEA coupon.”
“This is Roda, not IDEA.”
Mystery. Pickle. Vital, Polimark, Meggle, Ducat, Imlek, Stark, Bambi, Fricom, Nivea, Dove, Fa. I was getting dizzy and a little worried. I stopped arguing, paid, and went. I am not sure how I got home.
And I do not know where I really was.