So, it’s Saturday night and you realize that you need groceries and some more shampoo, and….maybe the the new season of Office to keep you busy for the weekend. The store of choice? Walmart. That’s right, it’s convenient, cheap, and you can buy all the things that you need in one stop. However, you regret your procrastination of not taking care of this earlier in the week right when you drive into the parking lot. You can’t find a parking space anywhere within a one mile radius of the place and you just know that it’s going to be worse inside. Saturday night at Walmart is a living nightmare. It is full of screaming kids, tired parents with full carts, unstocked shelves, and check-out lines a mile long. You curse yourself as you wait in line to check-out thinking that it can’t get any worse than this…..

well folks, it can get worse and I found it. Saturday afternoon at E-Mart here in Seoul. (I will discuss why later).

E-Mart is basically a Korean Walmart with 3 floors. It sells everything from food to clothing to electronics and kitchenware. When Daniel and I first visited E-Mart (by my grandfather’s apartment) we thought “oh great! It’s like Walmart…it’s got everything we will ever need.” While that statement is true, there are some major differences between the two.

Similarities

Convenient: like Walmart, it sells everything. You no longer have to visit 4-5 different stores to buy everything on your list.

Easily accessible: There’s a Walmart in every town now-a-days, two or three even. E-Mart is also found in many different areas in Seoul, ready to serve its millions of customers whatever neighborhood they live in.

Differences

Not the lowest price in town: Walmart tends to be the place to find the cheapest anything. Occasionally, there may be some stores who may sell some product at a cheaper price…sometimes. However, E-mart is a bit different. Here in Seoul there are many outdoor markets still alive and strong. Most neighborhoods still have their traditional 시장 where you can find a variety of goods at a very low price. From my limited experience (and it is very limited), produce is more expensive to get at E-mart than at the local outdoor market. Meat is just expensive anyway, here in Korea, no matter where you go (especially the beef).

Merchandise: Of course, being in Korea means that there are a lot of different things that you are going to find in a store that you wouldn’t find it a store back home. It is a totally different culture, after all. One example being that the seafood section is a whole lot larger than the one at Walmart in Orem. And it sells a whole lot of different kinds of seafood. Example: on Saturday afternoon as we were weaving our way through the crowds in the seafood section trying to find the squid (for one of Daniel’s favorite dishes), I encountered nothing I have ever seen before. Right there on a huge table was a HUGE tuna. It was cut in half and I was lucky to see the front half (that was all that would literally fit on the table). The guy in charge of the tuna was cutting pieces off of it for the customers (wrapped neatly of course) to take home with them, and also for samples. Then just down the aisle was another huge table with a bunch of big blue crabs. Live blue crabs, pinching and crawling, and just downright angry. Customers were choosing which ones they wanted and tossing the less feisty ones aside. I don’t think that we will be seeing this at our local Walmart in Utah anytime soon.

Service: At Walmart, especially on a Saturday night, it is like all the Walmart workers disappear. You can’t find anyone in the blue vest to help you if you happen t have a question on anything. E-Mart, however is totally different. They have all their workers in pressed and matching uniforms…everywhere. There is even a guy or woman on every aisle to greet you with a bow as you enter. The coolest is on the floor where they sell the food. There are workers giving away samples of the fruit, bread, 반잔 (the famous Korean side dishes that are present at every Korean meal), and the meats. Not only do they provide tasty samples of food but they call out the prices and call out to the customers to buy the product. It is really fun to listen to.

Like I said before, Saturday afternoon is way worse here at E-Mart than Saturday nights at Walmart in Orem. There was literally so many people that there were some points in our shopping where I couldn’t even move my cart, let alone my body, through the crowd. Every aisle was jammed packed with shoppers. The checkout lines weren’t that bad since E-Mart has 3 levels each with their own checkout counters. But still. We just really wanted to get our stuff and get out as quick as possible. What made it hard was that everything is in Korean and it takes some time for us to read it and then understand it. While there isn’t a huge parking lot like at Walmart (at least that I know of), there was a huge traffic jam right outside of the store. There was a big truck offloading huge boxes of fruit (in preparation for Chuseok), a ton of people trying to get in, a ton of people trying to get out, a ton of people waiting for taxis, a ton of people just sitting there…a ton just smoking cigarettes….There was also a traffic jam at the box counter where people tape boxes together to take their stuff home in. I unfortunately was unable to get some pictures (since the main item to get at E-mart was a package of batteries for my camera) of this fiasco. I did take some pics of the outside of E-Mart that I will have to post at a later time since it is getting really late here. But yes, I think that we will have to keep a mental note to try and avoid E-Mart on Saturdays here in Seoul. Sheesh.

Advertisements