American Grocery Stores

I asked some friends if grocery stores (supermarkets) are the same in every country. You already know the answer – NO. They are very different. Here are some things about American grocery stores that might be new, different, or strange for you.

Weights and Measures

In most of the world, people use the metric system, but in the United States, we use the Imperial system. This system is confusing for everyone, but I hope I can help you understand a little bit today. I will tell you the word, and then I will put the abbreviation (short form) in parentheses.

photo by WTCC instructor ecparent

photo by WTCC instructor ecparent

  • cup (c) – A cup measures liquids or solids. A cup of liquid is about 237 ml. In grams, it depends on the food. A cup of butter weighs about 227 grams. A cup of sugar weighs about 200 grams. A cup of flour weighs 136 grams.
  • pound (lb) – A pound measures weight. A pound is 0.45 kg. The abbreviation for pound is “lb.” This comes from the Latin word for pound – libra. These apples cost $1.69/lb. That means one pound of apples costs $1.69.
  • ounce (oz) – An ounce measures liquids or solids. An ounce is about 30 ml (liquids) or about 28 grams (solids). There are 8 ounces in 1 cup.
  • pint (pt) – A pint measures liquid. There are 2 cups in 1 pint. A pint is 473 ml.
  • quart (qt) – A quart measures liquid. A quart is 946 ml. A quart is 4 cups.
  • gallon (gal) – A gallon measures liquid. One gallon is about 3.79 liters. One gallon is16 cups. One gallon is 8 pints. One gallon is 4 quarts.
    – 1 gallon = 4 quarts = 8 pints = 16 cups
  • dozen (doz) – A dozen is 12. If you buy a dozen cupcakes, that’s 12 cupcakes.

Here are some other abbreviations you might see in the grocery store:

photo by WTCC instructor ecparent

photo by WTCC instructor ecparent

  • ea – This means “each.” The Brussels sprouts in the picture are in bags. One bag costs $3.99. The sign says they cost $3.99/ea.
  • BOGO – This means “buy one, get one.” You might see a sign that says “BOGO 1/2 price.” That means when you pay full price for one, you can get another one for 1/2 price.


American grocery stores are BIG. In many countries, the stores are small, and you go to different stores for different things. For example, you go to a bakery for your bread and cakes, and you go to a butcher for your meat. In the United States, you can get everything in one place.

  • In the bakery section, you can buy bread, cakes, and other baked foods.
  • In the deli section, you can get meats and cheeses cut fresh for you. You can buy as much or as little as you want. Just tell the person working there how much you want.
  • In the produce section, you can buy fresh fruits and vegetables.

In some countries, you need to weigh your produce and print a label before you go to the checkout counter. In the United States, you do not need to do this. You can take your produce to the checkout area, and the cashier will weigh it. There are scales in the produce department so you can get the exact amount that you want, but you do not need to weigh your fruits and vegetables if you don’t want to.

In some countries, you pay for different things in different departments. In American grocery stores, you pay for everything at the checkout counter (at the front of the store). You do not pay for your bread in the bakery department, for example.


In general, if a package is closed, or if several things are attached (held together), you must buy them like that. For example, if you see 6 bottles of Coke together (attached with plastic), you must buy all of them. You cannot buy only one. If you only want one small bottle of Coke, look in the refrigerator at the checkout counter.

You CAN separate bananas if you don’t want to buy a bunch.

Saving Money

Saving money on food is important to many people. Here are a few ways you can save money on groceries.

photo by WTCC instructor ecparent

photo by WTCC instructor ecparent

  • Price Comparison – Prices are not standard, so the same thing might cost more or less depending on the store. Pay attention to the prices the next time you go to a grocery store, and then compare them to a different store’s prices. You might be surprised.
  • Rewards Cards – Most grocery stores have some kind of rewards card to help you save money at that store. Harris Teeter has the VIC card, Food Lion has the MVP card, and Kroger has the PLUS card. These cards are free, and you can use them every time you shop. If you use your card regularly, the store’s computer will give you coupons for the things you buy or similar things.
  • Coupons – You can get coupons from the store, from inside a package, from the internet, or from the newspaper to save money on food. Just take your coupons with you when you shop, and give them to the cashier.
  • Store Brands – There are two kinds of products: name brands and generic/store brands. Name brand products are more expensive because the company pays for advertising. Store brands are cheaper. This chart will tell you the names of the store brands for several stores here in NC.
    Store Brand Names


The laws for buying and selling alcohol in the state of North Carolina might seem strange.

  • You can buy alcohol Monday-Saturday from 7:00 am until 2:00 am. You can buy alcohol on Sunday from 12:00 noon until 2:00 am. You cannot buy alcohol from 2:00 am until 7:00 am (or until noon on Sunday). If you want to buy wine for dinner on Sunday, you have to wait until the afternoon.
  • Grocery stores do not sell liquor. They sell wine and beer, but if you want tequila, whiskey, vodka, or rum, you must go to the ABC store (alcoholic beverage control).
  • You must be at least 21 years old to buy alcohol. The cashier will ask to see your ID (driver’s license). If you do not have an ID for the cashier to check, you will not be allowed to buy alcohol.
  • You cannot open your alcohol inside the store and begin drinking it.

American Banking

For all ESL levels, 1 and up.

Do you have a bank account?

Banks are probably not exactly the same in the United States as they are in your country. This video will help you understand American banks and banking words.

Your Turn

You do not have the worksheet and homework from the video, but you can still practice. Click here to download a practice worksheet.

Talk about these questions with your classmates:

  1. Do you have a bank account in the United States? What kind?
  2. Are banks in the U.S. similar to banks in your country?
  3. Do you think that everyone should have a bank account? Why or why not?

American Time

photo by WTCC instructor ecparent

photo by WTCC instructor ecparent

In different cultures, people think about time differently. When I lived in Honduras, I went to a wedding. As an American, I was very worried because we were late, but my host family told me not to worry. They said, “The invitation says that the wedding starts at 5:00, but that just means that the wedding definitely will NOT start before 5:00.” In the United States, if a wedding invitation says 5:00, the wedding will begin at 5:00, so you should arrive before 5:00.

In Madagascar, a bus leaves the station when it is full. In the United States, the bus leaves at a scheduled time.

In some cultures, people think about time as a circle or a pool they can move around in. In American culture, we think of time as a line with a past, present, and future.

image by WTCC instructor ecparent

image by WTCC instructor ecparent

American Time

Here is what you need to know about American time:

  • Being “on time” is very important to Americans because we think that time is limited. We have 24 hours in a day, and when the day is finished, that time is gone. Therefore, we try to be on time because we think it is more respectful. We don’t want other people to lose time. And we try to be on time because it is more efficient. We want to complete all of the day’s tasks before the end of the day.
  • Americans think about time as a valuable resource. That’s why we talk about time and money in similar ways with expressions like “save time,” “spend time,” “waste time,” and “time is money.”
  • It is considered rude and unprofessional to arrive late to an appointment, meeting, or job.
  • If you are late to a class, you might get in trouble or not be allowed to enter the class. It can also affect your grade in some cases.
  • If you are going to be more than 5 minutes late to meet a friend, you should call or send a text message to apologize and tell them when you will arrive. It is never ok to be more than 30 minutes late to meet a friend. It is disrespectful to be late every time you meet, and it can hurt your friendship.
  • Americans get upset (frustrated, anxious, or angry) when they know that they will be late.
  • Americans think about the future a LOT. We have planners (books for writing future plans), we make grocery lists before we go to the store, we check the weather forecast in the morning so we know what to wear and whether to take an umbrella with us, and we put money into special bank accounts for babies so they can pay for college when they are 18 years old. In fact, it is very difficult for Americans to enjoy the present moment because we are always thinking about the future.
  • Americans do not usually visit or call each other after around 9:00 p.m. unless there is an emergency.
  • Americans think about time in 5-minute chunks (periods/pieces). We say it takes 5, 10, or 15 minutes to go somewhere or do something. In other cultures, people think of time in 15-minute chunks, so they say it takes 15, 30, or 45 minutes. This is not a precise way to talk about time, but it’s interesting. If it takes me (an American) 8 minutes to drive to work, I say it takes 10 minutes, but someone from another culture might say it takes 15 minutes.

Your Turn

Why do you need to understand American time? Think about the following questions and discuss them with your classmates.

  1. What will happen if you are late to work every day in the United States?
  2. What time does your class begin? What time do you arrive? What happens if you are late?
  3. Why are Americans always so angry when they drive?
  4. An American friend invites you to a dinner party that begins at 6:30 p.m. What will happen if you arrive at 10:00 p.m.?
  5. Is it important to you that people show you respect? How can this information help you to show respect for your American friends?
  6. How is American time different from your culture’s time? How can this information help you not to be upset about those cultural differences?

How to Send Mail in the United States

Most countries have a postal service (a way to send mail). It’s a basic service, so you might think that it’s the same in every country. Have you noticed differences between the way we send mail in the United States and the way people send mail in your country? Today, we’re going to talk about how to send mail in the United States.

First, let’s talk about mailboxes.

There are a few different kinds of mailboxes. If you have a mailbox at your house, it might look like one of these:

Used with permission from

By ( [CC BY 2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons













If you live in an apartment or townhouse, you might have a group of mailboxes for your neighborhood or your building. Those look similar to these:

By Dmitry G (Own work) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Dwight Burdette (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons









The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) also has mailboxes in public places all around the city. They are large, blue boxes like this one:

Coolcaesar at the English language Wikipedia [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

You can only RECEIVE mail in your home or apartment mailbox (not the blue Postal Service boxes). You can SEND mail from all of these mailboxes, but the way you do it is different for each one.

How to Send Mail

Here is how you send mail from each kind of mailbox:

  • Home Mailbox – To send mail from your home mailbox, put the mail inside the mailbox, and raise the red flag on the side. When the flag is up, the mail carrier will take out the mail that is inside.
  • Neighborhood Mailbox – Most neighborhood mailboxes have a special box that says “Outgoing Mail.” You can put mail into this box, and the mail carrier will take it.
  • Postal Service Mailbox – Just put mail into the box. There is a sign on the box that tells you what time the mail carrier will pick it up.

You can also take your mail to a post office. Near the entrance, there is an “outgoing mail” box. You can put your mail there if it is ready. In order to send mail in the United States, you must pay. We pay to send mail by buying stamps. You buy a stamp and put it on your mail. It is very important that you put a stamp on your mail. If you don’t use a stamp, the mail carrier will not deliver your mail. You can buy stamps at the post office. You may also be able to buy stamps at Wal-Mart, a gas station, a bank, a pharmacy, an office supply store, or a grocery store. You can buy stamps online at or Look for the word “forever” on the stamps. You can use those even if the price of stamps goes up in the future.

How to Address an Envelope

In different countries, people address envelopes differently. It’s important to do it correctly so that your mail goes to the right place. Here is an envelope that is ready to mail:

image by WTCC instructor ecparent

image by WTCC instructor ecparent

In the United States, we write the “to” address in the middle of the envelope. This letter is going to Bob Vance. Bob is the recipient of the letter (the person who will receive it). On the first line, we write the person’s name. On the second line, we write the number of the building (house/apartment/townhouse/office) and the name of the street. If we need to add an apartment number, we can put it in the same line or a different one. Below that, we write the city, state, and zip code. You can also write the zip code on a different line if the city and state are very long and you don’t have space.

In the top-left corner, we write the return address – the “from” address. This letter is from Phyllis Lapin. Phyllis wrote the letter. She is sending it to Bob. If there is a problem with the letter, the mail carrier can return it to Phyllis at this address. We write it the same as the “to” address:
Street Address (number of building + name of street)
City/State/Zip Code (*Notice that we put a comma between the city and the state.)

The stamp always goes in the top-right corner.

Your Turn

Find a partner in your class. Write your partner a letter and send it to him/her. When you receive a letter from your partner, bring it to class. Is the U.S. Postal Service fast or slow?

Discuss these questions with your classmates:

  1. Can you send letters from your home mailbox in your country?
  2. Can you receive mail at home in your country, or do you have to pick it up from another place?
  3. Is sending a letter in the United States cheap or expensive?
  4. Have you ever been to a U.S. post office? What was your opinion of it?
  5. Is the postal service in the U.S. the same as in your country or different? Explain your answer.
  6. In the United States, postal mail is sometimes called “snail mail.” What do you think that means? After you discuss it with your classmates, ask your teacher to explain.

Tax Day

If you work in the United States and earn money from an American company, you must pay state and federal income taxes. Usually, your employer will withhold (hold back/not give you) a certain amount each time you get paid. At the end of the year, three things are possible:

  1. They did not withhold enough, and you must pay more.
  2. They withheld too much, and the government returns the extra money to you. This is called a refund.
  3. They withheld the right amount, and you break even (you don’t need to pay, and the government does not need to pay you).

We have 4 months to “do our taxes” (from January 1 to April 15). When you do your taxes, you:

  • add up all the money you have received
  • subtract all the money your employer withheld
  • subtract other money you spent on things for your job, medical bills, education, charity, etc.
  • figure out if you owe (must give) money to the government, or if they owe money to you
  • complete some tax forms
  • file your taxes, which means you send your tax forms to the IRS (Internal Revenue Service)
  • pay if you owe taxes OR tell the government where to send your money if they owe you

It sounds complicated, but there are many computer programs that make doing your taxes easy. You can also pay a tax professional to do your taxes for you. You can also file your taxes online, pay your taxes online with a credit card, and get the government to put your refund directly into your bank account.

Taxes are due on April 15. You can do your taxes early, but if you do them after April 15, you will have to pay a penalty.

If you have not done your taxes yet, you only have a few more days. If you need help, there are places you can go for assistance. When you go, volunteers will help you prepare and file your taxes. Click here for locations and information about what you need to take with you.

Food Safety


photo credit: NIAID via photopin cc

Every country has its own special foods, and food is prepared differently in different countries. Before your food comes into your house, someone prepares it – someone kills the chicken, someone picks the vegetables, someone puts the food in a package, someone drives it to the supermarket. You never know what your food has touched before you buy it. That is why it’s very important that you clean and cook everything very well. If you don’t, you might get sick.

Salmonella is a bacteria that often lives on meat (chicken, pork, beef, fish, eggs) and some pets, like turtles and lizards. If you eat food with salmonella on it, you might have stomach pain, diarrhea, and a fever. This is called “food poisoning.” It usually ends after a few days, but it is dangerous for babies, young children and elderly (old) people.

Here are a few things that you can do to prevent (not get) food poisoning from salmonella:

  1. Wash – Wash your hands after you touch raw (not cooked) meat. Wash your knife after you cut raw meat. Clean the place where you cut the meat (your counter or cutting board). Wash everything with antibacterial soap and warm water. If you have salmonella on your hands, you will put it on anything that you touch.
  2. Separate – Do not let raw meat touch foods that you will not cook. If juice from your chicken gets into your salad, then your salad might have salmonella in it. That’s why it’s important to wash your cutting board with soap and water after you use it for cutting meat.
  3. Cook – Heat can kill bacteria, so cooking your food will make it safe to eat. Do not eat raw meat.
  4. Refrigerate – Keep food in the refrigerator if it is perishable (able to go bad or become rotten). Bacteria grows in warm, moist (a little wet or humid) places. The refrigerator is cold and dry, so bacteria does not grow quickly there.