Today I went shopping for food. I had just visited Aura Keskus to go for a swim, and so the most logical place to buy food was Maxima, right across the parking lot in the Zeppelin shopping center -- which is named after the German luftballoon, not the British rock group.
I have shopped at Maxima numerous times and somehow did not feel at ease. This is odd because it's layout and offerings are not too different from other large Estonian supermarkets, like Selver or Kaubamaja.
But what was it about Maxima that rubbed me the wrong way? I decided to look a bit closer and figure out why Maxima was putting me off. I realized after compiling my list of critiques that the main reason I did not like Maxima is because it is run by foreigners. And that was problem number one.
1. It's Owned by Lithuanians
In Maxima, my favorite Estonian brands were placed side by side with ones containing strange letters such as Ų and Č, text that looked like the author had his morning Maxima kool-aid spiked with acid. Who wanted to buy such things with names like vyšnia or obuolys? I wanted kirss ja õun.
2. Lack of Local Necessities
Because Maxima is owned by Baltic tribesmen, it is stocked aplenty with foodstuffs that they prefer, such as large blocks of generic "Maxima" cheese and all different varieties of pelmeenid. But when it comes to local products, they cannot be found. The Lithuanians think that if they only put a few different kinds of Wõro or Rakvere sausages out, they will meet the demand of provincial Estonians. But I wanted Wõro Grillsibula, not Metsavenna. The Metsavenna variety are too oily, the Grillsibula are just right. Moreover, important products, such as küüslaugu leivad (garlic bread, a must with beer) are hidden along side the Lithuanian products with the strange names. This faux pas leaves the Estonian shopper running for the nearest Selver.
3. Bad Disco
This is really the clincher. Every time I am in Maxima I am assaulted by loud techno music. The combination of my kid screaming for ice cream, a bunch of old ladies gathering in the center of the aisle to determine where they can find the nearest küüslaugu leiva, and the bad techno music is extremely deleterious to my shopping experience.
In a store based on Estonian capital, like Selver, I can expect to be serenaded by an orchestral version of Apelsin's 1981 hit "Aeg Ei Peatu". I can disappear into the frozen foods section and ponder whether I should buy Regatt ice cream or something else. I can weigh the difference between buying muretaigen and liivataigen(different kinds of dough). In Maxima they don't even sell muretaignas or Regatt! And they play bad disco.
Now I don't just want to insult Maxima. Their bakery is very good, they have excellent donuts, and they do carry a large variety of beer, wine, and hard liquor that is displayed in a very handy way -- right next to the checkout counters. Today I bought some more Staropramen. I think I am going to go crack one open right now ...