Grocery stores fend off Easter crowds

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Grocery chains are using the familiar tone of Norway’s mountain safety guidelines in a campaign to reduce crowds and prevent hoarding ahead of the country’s lengthy Easter holidays. With Norwegians ordered to stay home this year, to limit Corona virus infection, they’ll have to stream to grocery stores in the cities instead of skiing in the mountains or traveling abroad, so even more rules were deemed necessary.

Safe shopping guidelines displayed in an Oslo grocery store on Friday, just before Norway’s lengthy Easter holiday begins. Photo: newsinenglish.no/Morten Møst

Under seasonally correct yellow headlines, ads in newspapers and announcements outside stores are promoting new golden rules of grocery shopping, loosely based on Norway’s mountain-sense rules known as Fjellvettreglene.

The first rule of sensible mountain trekking, for example, is “Plan your trip and inform others about the route you have selected.” The first shopping rule issued by grocery giant Norgesgruppen is “Plan your shopping trip and go early so that we don’t all shop at the same time.”

Rivals Rema 1000 and the Coop chain published similar rules, clearly aimed at keeping stores from being jammed with shoppers. With most all stores closing from Thursday through Monday, Norwegians need to stock up for five days of meals in advance.

Kine Søyland, head of communications at Norgesgruppen, says planning the Easter shopping well can reduce spread of infection. “It’s important that we’re considerate of others,” she told state broadcaster NRK. “We must plan well and shop earlier than we usually do.”

Non-traditional Easter
Most Norwegians have learned about the nine mountain-sense rules at school, via television or perhaps outdoor activities. Some post them with stickers on their skis, and some outdoor garments like windbreakers are even decorated with them. The rules aim to promote safety and prevent accidents at Easter time (called påske), when Norwegians traditionally flock to the mountains to go skiing – some with little knowledge of the dangers it may involve.

Some of the shopping guidelines published in newspaper ads by grocery giant Norgesgruppen, modelled on The Norwegian Mountain Code. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

Under the Corona crisis, however, this Easter is not a traditional one, as most city folks are forced to stay at home. Heavy restrictions prevent most owners of mountain cabins from using them, while hotels and resorts are closed – all in an unprecedented effort to contain the spread of the Corona virus. For this reason, cities will be full of people, and they will need to go shopping: Norway’s cherished påskeferie (Easter holiday) lasts 10 days for many people, since schools are always closed between Palm- and Easter Sunday and parents often take off, too. Norway’s Easter holiday is thus much longer than almost anywhere in the world, with several public holidays including the Monday after Easter Sunday. Stores won’t reopen this year until Tuesday April 14.

Cities and towns will be unusually packed
That’s nothing new for older Norwegians, though. Until the 1980s, grocery stores in Oslo would close early Wednesday afternoon and remain closed until the following Tuesday, except for a couple of stores that would open briefly on Saturday morning and close at noon. Those who failed to fill the refrigerator in time were out of luck.

More recently, smaller convenience-type stores have been allowed more generous opening hours, and big stores stay open longer on the Saturday known as påskeaften (Easter Eve) as well. Meanwhile, changes in lifestyle patterns mean that more urban dwellers, especially young ones, choose to stay home instead of going to the mountains. Oslo and other cities have thus tended to be livelier than they used to. (Story contnues below the video.)

This year the cities won’t be lively, with all cinemas, museums, restaurants and bars still closed, but they will be packed with people. That’s why the grocery chains (including Coop, which also has published the video above) are pleading with their customers to use handlevett – common shopping sense. Their ads, adorned with oranges and Easter chickens, also encourage patrons to not buy more than they need, and not to touch items that they don’t intend to buy. That sort of advice is phrased like common sense for the mountains: “Head home in time, turning back is not shameful,” or “Bring necessary equipment to help yourself and others.”

“We have plenty of goods stored, but it’s important to avoid hoarding.” Norgesgruppen’s Søyland said.

The Norwegian Mountain Code, which Fjellvetteglene are called in English (external link), was published as a brochure in 1952, following a series of bad accidents involving Easter visitors to the mountains. It was a joint effort by The Red Cross and The Norwegian Trekking Association  (DNT, Den norske turistforening). The project gained further prominence in 1967, when 18 people perished  while on Easter holiday in the mountains.

State broadcaster NRK has been instrumental in spreading the message of mountain safety through scenery footage accompanied by a piece of music that many believe is “The Fjellvett tune.” According to a Wikipedia article, it’s actually a version of a Belgian hit song from 1969,  Daydream, later recorded by Frank Pourcel and his Grand Orchestra.

The Mountain code was revised in 2016. While retaining its basic safety guidelines in a more timely language, it also emphasizes that each individual is responsible for staying safe. Rule #7, “Don’t go alone,” was removed from the code, possibly to adjust to the growing trend of solitary mountain trekking.

There’s a trace of that in the new golden rules for safe shopping, however, but it’s turned around: The grocery stores encourage people to go shopping alone, instead of bringing the whole family.

newsinenglish.no/Morten Møst