Earlier this week I reached an important marker in my expat life. A real milestone. A turning point.
I went to M&S Food on Wenceslas Square.
I have avoided this for the past thirteen months for a few reasons. Part of me (the weird part that makes up demanding rules by which to live, according to hubby) thinks it’s a sign of failure to frequent such an English chain store in the Czech Republic. I feel I have somehow failed an unwritten expat-initiation test by not being able to decipher Czech signage or properly understand Czech shop assistants, or just by not wanting to buy solely Czech brands.
Perhaps more fundamentally, I avoided M&S food even in England, on the basis that it was overpriced (it still is), packaged in a non-environmentally friendly manner (it is) and encouraged people to put meals in the microwave rather than actually cook (also true). I have clearly managed to leave all these concerns at the store’s very welcoming doors as on Monday night, I joined the expat masses in M&S.
It all started with a hunt for vanilla extract, which I could not find for love nor money in Tescos, Albert, Billa or any of the four different potraviny-s I went to on Sunday evening when I decided I wanted to make cookies. I already know that someone is going to leave a comment below saying ‘didn’t you know you can get vanilla extract at x?‘. NO! I clearly didn’t know. Which is why I succumbed to the evil empire of marks & sparks.
After Sunday’s vanilla extract failure, I thought I’d solve myself the well-documented pain of food shopping in Prague and decided to cave in completely and get all the cookie ingredients from M&S.
As I walked in I almost laughed. I don’t know why it took me by surprise as most multinationals operate this way now, but everything was identical. It was like being in M&S in Paternoster Square, or Clapham or Whetstone, or anywhere else. The signage, the smell, the display, everything was the same. Even the customers were familiar: Bachelors grabbing a meal for one. Couples pretending that a two-person microwave meal and cheap bottle of wine is just as much fun as actually going out for dinner. Full-time house wives spending a second mortgage on ready-meals in order to keep pretending to their hard-working hubby that they actually can cook.
As much as I’m still a tad disappointed with myself (standards – both eco and personal – are clearly slipping) I got everything I needed and it was the nicest shopping experience I’ve had in ages. Shelves and shelves of things I recognised, in colourful branded packaging designed to play tricks with your mind and, crucially, vanilla extract.
This all came at a price, however. If M&S food is on the expensive in the UK, it’s astronomical here. I could eat for a week for the amount I spent on just a few items. I am about to bake the most expensive cookies in the whole world.
But I can rest easy, safe in the knowledge that now they won’t just be any cookies. They will be organic, over-priced, over-packaged, English-speaking, white chocolate and cranberry expat cookies. I’ll try to save you some.