No matter where we have been stationed, people argue back and forth over whether or not they like shopping at the commissary.

At our base, we are fortunate enough to have a relatively large commissary, though I know that’s not always the case. And while everyone has their opinion, the bottom line is that it’s a privilege granted to those who may access it. Where we are, they usually have prices you just can’t beat on meat and pantry staples.

In the “Before COVID” times, we used to do a weekly Saturday morning family commissary trip to stock up, say hello to the coupon woman at the door who always wanted to see how much each child had grown since the previous week, and quickly swing by the Class Six on the way home. You know, to pick up wine to cook with.

Now things are so much different. We schedule a time for me to shop alone while my husband stays home with our four wild babies, and I follow the carefully laid out arrows on the floor that dictate aisle flow through the store.

Four carts, none the same

But some things don’t change, so please enjoy my list of “You Might Be Shopping At The Commissary IF….” 


  • …there are four shopping carts ditched on the curb as you enter, and not one of them fits with another. One is short; one is long but not deep; one is long and deep; one of them seems like it should really fit into one of those other ones but for some undeterminable reason it does not. It doesn’t really matter until after your trip, when you use binoculars to find literally the only cart corral in the parking lot, decide to return your cart like a responsible shopper and realize exactly why everyone else had given up and left their cart on the side of the median.  
  • …you silently swear as you pull up to the checkout line with an overflowing basket only to realize that your wallet with that magical ID is at the bottom of the cart. As punishment, you must unload that half of the cart onto the belt under the gaze of the cashier who stands with his or her hand outstretched saying, “I need your ID ma’am ” over and over. As if they can’t see or hear you apologizing and pleading for forgiveness while you tunnel down to reach your wallet. After 12 years of commissary shopping, you’d really think it wouldn’t happen as often as it does.  
  • Ritter Sport chocolate multipack
    ©️ Amazon

    …the international food aisle calls your name loudly as soon as you walk in, and you spend more time looking over the things that remind you of the overseas base you once called home than you do in most of the rest of the store. Somehow Ritter-Sport chocolate has become an essential item on every shopping trip because for whatever reason they carry that instead of the magical Kinder Happy Hippos (why don’t they carry those stateside?). 

  • …you’ve played the little game of “Do I pay the $5 to have someone bag my groceries? Or do I save the money, do self-checkout, then hit Starbucks in the shoppette on the way home?” More often than not, I do the self-checkout. But by the time I load my groceries into the car and hike the cart back to the front of the store (seriously, why are there not more cart corrals?) my motivation to go in to pick up coffee is gone. Instead, I can chalk it up to more money saved at the commissary.
  •  …if you bring kids with you, particularly if they are young, you know to allow extra time to visit with friendly retirees on almost every aisle. It’s a great opportunity to practice good manners. Sometimes, it is a chance for everyone to practice patience as lisping children can be hard to understand for older folks, and older folks can be hard for young children to understand. Serving as a translator between the two parties while keeping track of what you still need on that aisle is quite a task!
  •  …lining up to check out means getting in one single line and hoping for the best when you’re directed to a checkout lane. Have a favorite cashier? One that is quick, knows all the produce codes by heart, and smiles even when your child clearly has had their fill of shopping for the day? May the odds be in your favor when that “Next Customer In Line” voice directs you to the next available clerk. Instead, you might end up with the one who always feels the need to comment on the feminine products you’re purchasing (“So are the super plus really that much different than just the super? That just seems excessive.” ) or how many sweets going down the conveyor belt (“Are the Ritter-Sport bars on some sort of sale? Oh you just have SO many of them I wondered what was going on.”). At a normal grocery store, you’d be able to choose who swipes those 28 chocolate bars across the scanner at record speed. But not here, my friends. 
little girl shopping
Photo by David Veksler Unsplash

Commissaries are different worldwide. While these idiosyncrasies have been true for the seven or eight commissaries I’ve used in my husband’s military career, I am sure there are a lot of that I missed as well.

So tell me, what would you add to this list?

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