Sunday, August 7, 2011


I have been using grocery carts for as long as I can remember.  My parents bought a mom-and-pop grocery store in the tiny town of Cannon Beach, Oregon in the 1970’s-Brady-Bunch-era. I began working in our store and as a result, began maneuvering grocery carts with great expertise at a very young age.  I not only knew how to steer them up-and-down the aisles of our store, but also learned how to use them outside on slopes and the rough terrain of our parking lot.  I knew how to stack them, assist customers with them and even learned how to twirl on them. I guess you could say I was a grocery cart aficionado…and I was only in 5th grade!
Our family grocery store at Christmas time...

So why am I bragging about my grocery cart expertise at the young age of ten?  Why would you care about my enthusiasm for them?  Well, fast-forward about 30 years to my life now in Australia and you’ll understand why.  Every time I place my hands on the plastic-covered-handle of the smooth metal baskets, I am reminded of the wholesome life I had growing up on the Oregon Coast. I am reminded of my parents’ store, the Mariner Market. I am reminded of what has made this piece of machinery a timeless marvel of human invention.  That is…until I begin to steer the darn thing!

You wouldn't see this in Australia!

Have you ever paid attention to the way a shopping basket (another name for grocery cart) is controlled?  Besides the necessary component of a capable person “behind the wheel”, there are certain mechanics that make it easy to operate…namely, the two front wheels that turn from side-to-side and the rear wheels that are stationary, allowing for perfect steering and control.  Even a child can do it!

Well, in Australia “shopping trolleys” (as they are called here) run with all four wheels that turn side-to-side, turning this self-proclaimed “grocery cart expert” into a disaster behind the wheel!  It’s one thing if you are “driving” it in a straight line, (anyone can do that!) But what happens when you want to turn down an aisle for your favorite cookies?  Well, all four wheels turn leaving the “driver” with a basket catapulting down the aisle sideways…or as I like to put it…catawampus! (My Aussie husband swears this isn’t a real word and laughs at me every time I use it!)  I’m telling you, steering a trolley with all four wheels turning is like attempting to safely steer your car out of a tail spin on ice…it’s almost impossible without a negative outcome!

Case in point…even though Australians have grown up with this tricky way of steering their trolleys; they still have trouble controlling them.  In fact, I recently saw a report on the telly (Aussie for “television”) that explained how insurance claims are on the rise due to hit-and-run trolley accidents.  Let’s face it.  Trolleys are often very difficult to control.  But I don’t want to blame Australians for their inability to steer their trolleys…anyone would have difficulty no matter where they grew up!  The problem is the inherent flaw in their wheel design!

My husband is such a show off!
When I first moved here, I quickly realized I was in over my head trying to push a trolley. Every time I had to turn the darn thing I was in a panic…blood-pressure rising…heart racing. Just WHAT is the proper speed to push a trolley when turning down an aisle without it going catawampus?  I would fight and fight with it, struggling to make all the necessary turns up-and-down all the aisles…nearly running over a child and a display of canned food on special. What a fine mess that would have made! Finally, I started making my poor husband push the trolley; (in fact, I still do) since he has been managing these hard-to-handle trolleys a lot longer than I have.  Not to mention the fact that he insists, “There isn’t anything wrong with our trolleys!”  To him I reply with a bit of sarcasm, “Yeah, right!”

The worst place to push a trolley is outside in the parking lot where even minor slopes leave the white-knuckled shopper terrified!  Their clenched hands desperately holding on to the handle in their feeble attempt to push their catawampus basket in a straight line hoping to avoid parked cars and children! There have been many parking lot conversions as shoppers eek out a short prayer under their breath toward heaven, “Oh God…ohhhhhh God…. Oh God! Nooooo!!!”  Keep this in mind next time you decide to visit this great Land of Oz in your rental car.  Just make sure to add additional insurance for parking lot disasters!

This gets me to thinking…perhaps Australia should issue permits for capable trolley drivers.  Every Aussie could go through a myriad of physical tests to prove they can handle an out-of-control trolley.  They could be tested on their ability to turn sharp corners while reading their shopping list.  There could be “the slope test”; pushing a full trolley in a straight line across a downward slope, with varying degrees of difficulty.  The “never-let-go test”; a shopper’s heavily weighted trolley runs catawampus down a steep slope as the terrified shopper hangs on for dear life slaloming between the parked cars like a downhill skier racing between flags.  There could even be a “wind tunnel test” to mimic the shoppers’ degree of difficulty in pushing their trolley across a sloped parking lot in a downpour of rain and intense wind.  Aussie’s who want the “advanced permit” could be tested on their one-handed steering ability giving them the right to sip their favorite iced coffee (very popular here!) while shopping.  Of course, crash dummies would be used in the place of children for all tests.  And don’t even get me started on tourists…who would have to hire “taxi drivers” for their trolleys!

I can see it now, the local security guard at every mall, like a scene from Mall Cop, will be fitted out with flashing lights in which to pull unsuspecting shoppers over asking them, “Do you have a permit to operate this trolley?”  Finally…security officers will have something to do!  ;-)

So, if trolleys are so difficult to control, this begs the question…why don’t they fix them?  Why don’t they simply make the back wheels stationary and avoid all these problems? To this I reply… “I have NO IDEA!”

Well…it’s time to head out to the shops (Australian lingo for going to the grocery store.)  Anyone care to join me?  I’ll let you push the trolley!


  1. hahah you put it so well...yes they suck...unless you are lucky and get to be there in the first week of a supermarket opening with brand new trolleys, then they are ok..for a while at least!

  2. At least Woolies finally has new, smaller trolleys. I try to get one every time I shop there. The size makes it a bit easier for me to handle...but only a bit! I still make my husband push the trolley, though! =)

  3. I let my Aussie hubby do the major weekly shop as he enjoys it. I get to do the in between stuff he forgets so a lightly loaded trolley isn't too difficult for me to handle. I'm sick of throwing my back and hips out of what every week, though. Arrgh, just another irritation.

    I've been here 6 yrs now and I've gotten over a lot of stuff that used to irritate the living daylights out of me in the beginning. You get used to it, eventually. LOL!

  4. I've only been here about 15 months, so I'm definitely not getting used to things the way you have. Fortunately I have a hubby like yours, who enjoys doing the shopping. He does prefer my company when going to the shops, but he manages the list and keeping track of items on special. Mostly, I'm just appreciative that he pushes the grocery cart. Woolies has new, smaller carts, so that helps me a lot. The big ones are hard on my knees! I just need to get motivated on my life mission to change all the carts in Oz so they work like those in the States! ;)

  5. Gave up on these useless carts the 1st week! Carry two cotton bags in the belt & fill them throughout the stores. If ya manage to convince em to 'un-swivel' any wheels, it'll be the front ones! It'd be 'un Australian' any other way!

  6. I'm Aussie and I have to say I've never had a problem with the trolley's in Aus.. in fact I really had no idea that all 4 wheels turn... weird.

  7. I just found this blog and I am also a Yank in Oz...... I complain everytime I go to Woolies about the 'buggies'. :)

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  9. I just found your blog after pinning a picture of Cannon Beach you had on your Pinterest site. I spent a ton of time at Cannon Beach as a kid. As an adult, my best friend bought a vacation home there 10 or 11 years ago - and I've gone often and enjoyed that great town. I love that your parents owned Mariner Market! Can't remember a trip to the beach that didn't involve going there at some point or another. What a great town to grow up in!

    I love your blog about life in Australia. I just started reading it, and am looking forward to your insights and adventures. I've been to Australia twice - but both times on the eastern coast. I'll be making a trip this coming January, but will be going to Perth. Would love to some day also visit your part of the country!

  10. For most people the word trolleys brings to mind the supermarket and the different sized, sometimes difficult to manoeuvre metal types of trolley. There are however many other situations, particularly in the workplace, where a trolley takes on quite a different form, and is used to transport a wide variety of items of different weights, shapes and sizes. Essentially though a trolley is something with a wheeled base and a platform, basket or carrying surface that is pushed or pulled by a person.

  11. Most of the shopping places i have seen trolleys in different shapes and sizes. According to size of the products or groceries trolleys sizes are
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  12. We can't carry too much weight in trolley, design of the trolley is things depend of size..

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  15. Oh my goodness!! I just found this blog looking on Pinterest on how to make my beloved American cornbread, as I have recently moved to Australia! I have just seen the past 2 months of my life flash before my eyes reading the headlines of these posts!!! Hahaha! The trolley's are a nightmare and my husband who is Irish/Australian laughs at me and takes photos of me trying to push the stupid thing! And I'll never get the metric system here or get used to The Clothes Line life..haha! Is there any regular canned tomato sauce here? LOL!

  16. Oh man, I just came back from shopping with a super terrible trolley, and after narrowly missing a car, while jerking my back into a spasm I thought surely there must be some buzzing somewhere on the net about these rubbish trolleys. I was happy to find at least this blog, but honestly shocked not to see more! I have lived in South Africa, Germany and USA and never ever have I even had to think about what makes a good trolley because they were all bloody great! So, please, someone make this a more transparent, and visible issue for the sake of our backs, and knees, and kids!! These trolleys are a danger for babies to sit in, they just cannot be steered safely, certainly not effortlessly. It is actually funny to hear some shop owners talk about how this is the “best” design… that it cannot be done differently… seriously, go an visit South Africa!

  17. as an OZ-born-and-raised person i had my first experience with American "fixed rear wheel" trolleys at COSTCO.
    I sturggled to turn it at all. I can spin an Aussie-trolley on the centre or side, caurve around grocery stand, in and out of the aisles, even get it through the car park with, dare i say it, grace and aplomb.
    But these COSTCO carts can only turn with great effort at the hand rail. Turning from front corner is diffcult, pushing it "catawampas" (and I have seen that word before - in a Robert Heinlein novel) across the aisle space from one side is nigh on impossible.
    I salute the ability to twirl on the American style trolley, but our are much easier IMHO.

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