I've made myself promise to stop being so dreary. It'll be a challenge, particularly when you see we're starting with a guided tour of a Belgian discount supermarket. Oh yeah.
Not only that, but I've already written about this. This is the enhanced version with PHOTOS.
You're going to thank me, honest. Stick with it.
Look, here's a trolley AND now you know how to say, "please bring me back to the trolley shelter" in two languages. I mean, that, right there, is ineffably useful in Belgium. I've lost count of the number of times I've wished someone would just take me back to the trolley shelter.
I think I might actually write that on my forehead in marker pen the next time I am unwise enough to try and go out drinking in Brussels. Just tidy me away with the other trolleys and see if you can get me to spit 50 centimes out of my mouth.
But come! Step into the magical kingdom that is Colruyt. Colruyt, regular readers will recall, is a luxuriant palace of discount joy in the Belgian style (that is, bewildering and unfriendly, but ultimately verrrry useful).
You'll need to let your eyes adjust to the gloom. They don't waste money on luxuries like lights.
Oh, I should have mentioned that the photos are terrible. I was terrified I was going to get arrested for industrial espionage. Especially around the meat counter. That shit is CLASSFIED.
Here's the entrance. You can tell, because it says 'Entrance' on it in two languages. I told you it was worth persisting with this, didn't I?
You might not be able to tell, but Colruyt nails its colours to the mast right from the entrance, as the very - and I mean very - first thing you reach on going in in giant litre bottles of cheap spirits.
The booze aisle goes on for mile after ill-lit mile. It is filled with bargains in outsized packaging. I bought lots of them.
Also, and this is very characteristic of Belgium more generally, beer has its own aisle. I don't think beer is classified as alcohol. It's more, I don't know, a refreshing health food? They have beer on the tables of the meeting rooms in my office and they sell beer in all manner of places you wouldn't expect to see alcohol. I mean, McDonalds, sure, but also, I don't know, children's fêtes, or vending machines in the airport.
(Belgians, or rather Belgians by adoption, since I imagine native Belgians do not find beer incongruous in any setting, where is the strangest place you have seen beer sold? )
If you're in Colruyt and you're buying beer, you better not be the kind of pussy who buys less than a crate at a time. That would be a bit pathetic.
Ok, brace yourselves, I'm going to tell you about meat.
The meat in Colruyt is behind a glass window, just in case anyone should get overcome with unstoppable MEAT LUST and try and shove it all into their mouths, raw.
Like this man:
Like this man:
Look at him. Look at the longing way he is staring at the giblets. And what giblets! They are probably the finest breadcrumbed offal pieces in the whole of Europe!
Is it only me who finds this whole, meat behind a window, thing a bit red light district? Harsh unnatural light, flesh on display? Just me then. MOVING ON.
Colruyt is widely - indeed universally -reputed to be the finest purveyor of meat in Belgium. Dioxin free! Belgians will tell you reverently.
And such meat, well. You can't just stick out your ignorant, grasping, carnivorous paw and help yourself. Oh no. You have to deserve it.
And by 'deserve it' I mean fill in a lengthy questionnaire detailing the meat you want, what you intend to do with it and your cooking qualifications. The form is filled with pornographically detailed pictures of meat in saturated technicolour. I love it.
You fill in the form and hand it in. Then you wait for your name to be called over the tannoy. Your meat may be ready, or the severe meat operatives at the counter may just wish to quiz you on your intentions.
Like this lady:
She is trying to explain why she isn't going to sear the lambs gizzards. That dude in the hairnet is giving her a very hard time about it. I doubt she'll be going home with what she ordered. He'll give her a couple of chipolatas and let her off with a stern talking to, if she's lucky. If not, lifetime ban from the window of plenty.
Onwards! Remember that if you want to try and drive that violent, unpredictable trolley, the advice I received on my last visit was to always look straight ahead of you, never to left or right. Yes, this makes shopping tricky, but just seize everything that you can reach. It'll all work out somehow. So what if you don't have a cat? You can probably barter the bags of litter for more litres of gin at the till. You'll be waiting in the queue there for all eternity anyway. Maybe it's edible?
No, because the photo is spectacularly bad. But it's the chiller section. The chiller section of Colruyt is WALK IN. It's like something out of a bad horror film, except I don't see how you could get trapped and freeze to death in there, what with the plastic curtain. Anyway. You stay in there for as long as you can bear, collecting food. If you are an Antarctic explorer, you can probably amass enough stuff to feed your family for a week. If you are a southern European nancy used to temperate climates, you'll probably give up before you have time to pick up a packet of Herta Knacki Hot Dogs.
You can warm up by trying to lift vast packets of cornflakes.
Quick! Over to the tills before you get hypothermia!
So pretty, the tills.
Jeremy is 19 but some people think he is 22. He told me this defensively when I burst out laughing when he tried to ID me buying whisky.
Peculiar Colruyt exchange:
Jeremy: Vous avez plus de 18 ans? (are you over 18)
Me: Hahahhhahaha. J'en ai 35. (Hahahhahahahahha. I am 35)
Jeremy (horrified): Non! Je n'ai pas besoin de connaître votre age! (No! I don't need to know your age!)
Jeremy takes all your shopping out of one trolley and puts it in another as he scans it. Don't ask me why, none of it makes any sense. Then he wheels the new trolley forward to the till. No, still completely incomprehensible. Then you and your NEW trolley - not the one you've spent half an hour getting to know, gaining the trust of, but a new, feral trolley with bloodlust in its heart and a half-formed plan of escape in its head - stagger into the car park. It won't end well. Look straight ahead and hope for the best. If the worst comes to the worst, jettison a couple of litres of gin to placate the metal tyrant. They probably only cost you 2p.
So there you have it. How to shop in a Belgian discount outlet. I could go back to being melancholy tomorrow if you prefer?