Fish Please: A Survival Guide for Grocery Shopping in a Foreign Country

When we first landed in Helsinki, we were exhausted and starving. I could hear my stomach growling while we waited for our luggage (which unbeknownst to us was still in London). After an hour of talking airlines and arranging the delivery of our luggage, we finally made it onto our train and onward to our Airbnb. I felt exhausted and anxious that I had not thought of dinner plans for my family, unsure of the proximity of the nearest food source from our apartment for the evening.

Luckily for us, there was a grocery store only 200 feet from our stay. Relieved, I jotted down a list and sent Micah on a trip to the grocery store. I was looking forward not necessarily to cooking, but eating dinner. When he arrives back, I hurriedly emptied the contents of the grocery bag to begin sautéing some vegetables. I put a pan on the stove and pulled out (what we thought was) butter. It was not butter. It was a foul smelling bakers yeast. Thank God he also got a frozen pizza.

These kinds of mess ups became routine in the first month of living abroad. I shutter thinking about the time I asked a store clerk if he knew where I could find cream of chicken: “CREAM AND CHICKEN? IT’S CHICKEN CREAM?! BLEHH!” He threw his hands in the air and walked away. Since then, I have become smarter about the way I shop for groceries in a country where I don’t speak the language.

Translate Your Grocery List Before You Leave (including metric conversions)

Translating your grocery list is an absolute must. If you are American, it also helps to convert any amounts you require into the metric system units. Google Translate is so valuable to me these days. I write down my groceries in english and write the Finnish word next to it. If I don’t do this, then I usually end up having to guess and bring home the wrong item, which ends in extreme frustration and a trip back to the grocery store. The market where we shop has smart carts with tablets that translate and tell you exactly where an item is, which could be awesome. However, they are not always reliable, which can make shopping confusing.


Try to Avoid Asking Patrons of the Market for Help (Especially in Finland)

The Finns are generally very shy about speaking English. Friends have told me that it is because they don’t want to embarrass themselves by saying something wrong. If you need to ask someone, ask the store clerks. They are more likely to help you find what you need.


Relax and Remember it is All Part of the Adventure

I love to cook, and I think it is something that I am pretty good at. I was very frustrated the first couple weeks of living in Finland. Nothing I cooked was turning out right. Things that I have made a million times in Montana fell apart. Food in general just tastes different here. Even brand names that are familiar to me in the US tastes different in Finland. Somethings taste better in Finland, and some things don’t. Once I accepted the fact I was not in the US anymore, everything got better. I started to cook things that were more traditional to this area and took advantage the fresh fish in the market. Since I let go of perfection and my desire to eat foods from home, I have been a happier, well-fed woman.




3 thoughts on “Fish Please: A Survival Guide for Grocery Shopping in a Foreign Country

Add yours

  1. Omigosh,Dallas…I detest grocery shopping when I know where everything is and WHAT it is. What a struggle that must have been the first few weeks. Give that baby a big hug from G-Ma Kaye!


  2. I’m loving all of these details of your adventure! I can’t wait until you get back, so we can grocery shop together again.


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