Chronicles of a writer abroad

Grocery bag intruders


The past few days in Zürich have been beautiful ones. The sun is shining, the air is mild. On Saturday, there was a farmer’s market in a square near our apartment. We didn’t buy anything, but had fun browsing. Today, the same square was filled students eating lunch and soaking up the sun when I headed across it, on my way to the supermarket.

Yes, it’s very pleasant here.

But there is a mystery afoot.

Lately, when I’ve been going shopping at one of the two major supermarkets in Zürich (the one I prefer, called Migros), I’ve been going home with more than just the groceries that I’ve selected. Before presenting me with my total and asking me to pay, the cashier tosses one or more of these onto my pile of purchases:

I know. I was horrified too.

These are children’s toys, known as “nanos”. Each one of them has the same bullet-like shape, and a weight inside so that you can roll them around, stand them on end, and so on. They differ in their facial expressions and their colours, which makes them “collectible”.

In other words: they’re the typical cheap and inane plastic toys we’re used to seeing in Canada.

The difference, though? Here they’re foisted upon you. No one asks you if you might be…oh, twenty-odd years too old to play with such a toy. If you might not have any use whatsoever for these toys.

Isn’t this a little bit crazy? What strikes me is how at odds this is with Switzerland’s general policy on reducing waste. After all, I am living in a city where garbage bags cost 2 CHF apiece (that’s right — garbage bags cost over 20 CHF for a roll of 10. Really makes you think about ways to reduce your waste), a city whose garbage and recycling guide (a tome that I am still in the midst of translating) admonishes you for even producing certain types of garbage (“try not to buy things in cans”) before telling you how you can dispose of it — a city that prides itself on being exceptionally neat and tidy, and here are these ridiculous toys being littered into people’s grocery bags.

I knew I had to do some investigation into these nanos. If there was a German phrase that I could learn and utter in order to avoid getting them, I was willing to do it. What I learned, unfortunately, was that one nano is “available” (read: forced upon you) per 20 CHF of groceries purchased. Also, that this campaign will last until mid-March. Oh, and the nanos have a most unimaginative slogan, at least according to my Google-translation of the website: “the nanos are coming — and they’re everywhere.”

Is this a big deal or a little deal? Yes, in the grand scheme of things, it’s a very small deal. But it bothered me. I didn’t like the feeling of supporting this idiotic campaign against my will. It felt like…well, like fascism. I strongly considered boycotting this supermarket for the duration of the campaign.

Until I saw one of my cats playing with gusto, having great fun batting a nano across the floor. That’s when I decided to just give in to the nano-fascism.

Have you heard? Nanos are coming, and they’re everywhere.


9 thoughts on “Grocery bag intruders

  1. Oh no! Should we run for the hills?!? I figured though that the cats would like them – there really is so very little that amuses them … And I thought paying 75 cents per large County Wellington garbage was a lot. I think it’s a good thing though that they charge us on an “as you use it” basis – as you said, it really does make us reduce our waste. I just love the European squares – something North America needs a lot more of – meeting and relaxing spaces! Nice to hear you are experiencing good weather too. While here in Ontario it has been relatively mild (around 0C) for the past couple of days, as of tomorrow we are heading back into a deep freeze (feeling like more than -20C with the wind chill!!!). Maggie and I are getting tired of tramping through the back yard, with the snow reaching the inside of my boots. Keep well!

  2. hmmmm – does this mean that Swiss supermarkets are one up on Canadian stores….we are just enticed to buy junk at the checkout counter, but it is our choice. Don’t let the secret get across the ocean please!!!

    Haven’t talked to Leah yet but I wonder if her travels this spring will provide you with your first visitor?

    Aren’t markets fun to check out. Boppy and I usually get to the farmer’s market at the fair grounds a few times during the summer…as you say, much browsing and just a bit of buying, usually good cheese.

    • Yes, Zurich will be the terminus of Leah’s trip — but I’ll let her tell you more about it. It seems we’ll be hosting Stelian’s mom and one of his sisters the same month. Glad we have a proper guest room!

  3. How can the nanos be coming if they are already everywhere?? Haha too funny those things are hilarious looking!

    • Touche! Google Translate often leaves you with this kind of improbable grammar. I guess a more correct translation of the German would be “the nanos will come and be omnipresent.” Yeah, they’re pretty funny looking!

  4. Just happened upon this – we’re from the UK and have never seen anything like them! My seven year old son coveted them immediately 😀

    • Hi Kate — thanks for the comment! Yours is the first that I’ve received from someone that I haven’t asked to read the blog; this is an exciting milestone for a new(ish) blogger. Btw, great writing on your own blog…I’m going to follow it! Greetings from Switzerland…

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