Monday, 22 November 2010

At the supermarket

Going to the supermarket - in any country other than your own - is always rewarding.

Here in Vietnam, I would make the trip just to see this:

It reminds me of Hugh's story of his first week at university, when a classmate offered him goon, to which he replied, "No thanks, I don't smoke".

And then there's this:

Which needs no comment.

And this:

Isn't it funny how "Dove" is an okay name for toiletries, but "Pigeon" is not. Plus, she looks like she's washing her face with a pigeon.

I also enjoy this:

Because there are so many words, like "Cuddly", "Fluffy", "Snuggles" etc, which convey so well the lovely idea of fabric softener. "Hygiene" is not one of those words.

You can also learn a lot about the priorities and predilections of a culture by browsing their supermarket shelves.

This is the fish sauce aisle:

Here is a fraction of the implements for deep-frying:

Here are the toothpicks:

Here is the mind-boggling array of plastic bowls, which you require when you do your cooking and washing on the footpath:

Here is cheese secured in custom-made metal security cages:

(Who's laughing now, cow?)

From this photo, you might think that Vietnamese people are also very fond of tennis:

No, they're fond of electrocuting insects with tennis racket bug zappers. These are banned in Australia. That's the nanny state for you.

It is almost impossible to buy many utilitarian household items free of cutesy-poo decoration. For example, if you want some hooks, the choice isn't about how much they cost or how much they hold. It's about what novelty feature you prefer:

Ditto for toothpick holders:

This is why we have in our life a bathroom bin that looks like this:

Consumer marketing is a relatively new field in Vietnam, but in the supermarket there is one winning tactic which has really taken hold. It's where you sticky-tape a free gift to every imaginable product.

Glassware is a particularly favoured free gift. So you'll get a free bowl with your toilet cleaner:

Or your yoghurt:

Or you can choose between a bowl or a toy car to go with your drink:

The gifts are usually items from the same supermarket, still bearing their price-tag from before they became a free gift. They are appended to the promotional item in such a shoddy way that it just looks like the two items have somehow randomly come to be sticky-taped together. It's kind of like that mouse with the ear attached to it.

The relationship between the two items sometimes makes sense:

And sometimes doesn't:

Although, since different baby brands are giving away oil, maybe it's just a relationship I can't understand:

Maybe baby formula is deep-fried in Vietnam.

Really drawing the consumer's attention to the fact that sanitary pads are like nappies, you can get a free pack of pads with your Mamy Poko Pants:

Or why not one disposable razor with your shampoo:

Some MSG with your noodles:

Some Marine Boy with your Choco-Pie (awesome!):

Condensed milk to go with your cow milk:

Or, naturally, to go with your juice:

And, best of all, with your laundry detergent a free gift of washing-up liquid that is actually called Gift:

Now, that's marketing!

When it comes to paying at the supermarket, you are in for one final treat. The supermarket is the only place where your bill doesn't get rounded to the nearest thousand Dong as, despite there being some 200 and 500 Dong notes, the 1,000 Dong is the smallest note in common circulation.

So, what does the supermarket do when they need to give you change from a total of, say, 317,623 Dong? They make up the difference in lollies:

The lollies are not just another free gift, no! They are kept in the cash register, and you will get none, one or two lollies depending on how many hundred Dong are owing to you. A friend of mine once proved that the lollies are indeed valid currency by actually paying with a stack of lollies she'd accumulated in her bag as if they were small change.

What does that reveal about Vietnam? Nothing less than that it's freaking awesome.


  1. why are toothpicks such a thing? is it instead of brushing your teeth? nathan's spiritual homeland indeed!

    Also, why is cheese fortified? because it's such a luxury items like batteries and razorblades here?

  2. Toothpicks are used after every meal, not as a substitute to tooth brushing, but as a kind of after-dinner ritual, I guess. And yes, Nathan, toothpick-lover that he is, is very happy about that!

    As to the fortified cheese, I guess it's because it's quite expensive and easily shoplifted (yes, like the batteries and razorblades). But weirdly, there are heaps of similarly small and costly items which aren't caged. I guess Laughing Cow cheese is just too irresistible.

  3. Freaking funny!!! Give us more!

  4. Urgh, I don't like the idea of the bowl that comes with the toilet cleaner. Lollies as change - What fun!

  5. Paying with Lollies!!! That is awesome!!
    We're doing a Vietnamese spot here at the moment.. It makes no sense but I think it means that if you drink Mizone water it creates some sort of LSD effect and then fruit and water go into some epic battle. Look out for it over there soon!
    Asian marketing is so much cooler that the 'real' stuff we have here!

  6. Thanks Gabby! I'm trying to do one update a week, but it's tough squeezing it in around my daytime yoga and pilates classes. ;)

    Suzy: I completely agree about the bowl and the toilet cleaner not being a good match. I did, however, once get free rubber gloves with some toilet cleaner, which I was very satisfied with.

    Suga: Vietnamese ads are great! You're very lucky to be working on one before they clue onto the necessity of having an Advertising Code of Conduct.

  7. loving your blog, too funny! brings back fond memories, i totally forgot about the lolly change. our friend tried to smuggle one of those racquet zappers into Oz for us but it was confiscated hehe.

  8. What about my favorite, Old Lac, formula for the elderly!

  9. Was that FiviMart? It brings back a lot of memories from when I lived in Hanoi, though I've heard it has changed a lot.

  10. our mozzie tennis racquet zapper was also confiscated by customs on return into australia from laos, but i've seen them for sale here in the mitre 10!

  11. It was when I saw cans of coke as the give away with toothpaste that I really started to wonder if any thought had gone in to it. As you say, Vietnam is freaking awesome, so I guess not...

  12. may1girl: The photos are from both the Fivimart in Syrena Towers and the Intimex on Hoan Kiem Lake. The Fivimart near Truc Bach was coincidentally and inconveniently demolished the same week we moved to Truc Bach.

    Debbie and Soumali: We have a friend who worked for Customs and she said the tennis rackets are one of the most seized items from people coming from South East Asia! We gave ours away because we couldn't handle the sizzling explosion sound when you hit your target.

    Anonymous: That is, indeed, freaking awesome.

  13. I want Downy! Kazek wants Goon! I need to go to the toilet after pissing my pants. Nice post.

  14. Just a word on the gift called 'Gift' - Gift is actually German for poison: a nice coincidence that...George

  15. You don't know why the Laughing Cows are not caged? Very easy! Because it prevents each single item inside from being stolen, hehe...

    (Still Vietnamese sharp-tongued girl :-)

  16. But this entry is really funny. You noticed something that we Vietnamese take for granted.


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