Deliciously Exotic? Immigrant Grocery Shops and Their Non-Migrant Clientele

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Abstract

This paper examines native consumption practices in immigrant grocery stores. Drawing on qualitative research on immigrant food retail in Vienna, we reveal how native Austrians use immigrant grocery shops, how they purchase products and which meanings they attribute to the act of shopping. We identified two different modes of shopping: While consuming for convenience is driven by aspects of practicability, consuming for exceptionality is related to the attraction of ‘the foreign’. This typology corresponds with two special types of consumers: The ‘Because’-consumers use immigrant shops mainly because of the ethnicity associated with the shops, the owners and their staff. The ‘Nevertheless’-consumers use these shops in spite of the entrepreneurs’ (imagined) ethnic origin and their migrant background. While ‘Because’-consumers run the risk of reproducing ethnic stereotypes, the ‘Nevertheless’- consumers may tend to retain or even strengthen their xenophobic resentments. These results partly challenge previous findings which argue that natives’ shopping routines in immigrant stores have become increasingly ordinary. We conclude by suggesting further research to examine the conditions under which an everyday engagement with foreign culture is promoted – without falling into the trap of reproducing symbolic boundaries between the majority and the minority.

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