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German Grocery Shopping

No cheese and salami samples here

Updated July 2013

My husband, two teen-aged children and I spent a week in Germany last summer. Rather than stay in a hotel, I thought it would be fun if we lived like Germans in a vacation rental apartment. Well, apartments have kitchens. And kitchens need groceries. So while everyone else recovered from jet lag, I went grocery shopping.

The grocery store was in a building that looked like it barely survived World War II. On the inside, it did not resemble the modern American grocery store to which I was accustomed. And it lacked accoutrements such as cheese and salami samples in the deli department. But that was okay. “When in Rome,” right?

I quickly learned that grabbing a cart was not the same, either. Turned out I had to rent one – for a Euro – but couldn’t comprehend how to exchange one of the paper Euros (of various denominations) in my wallet for a coin that equaled just one. If instructions were posted for doing either – changing a bill for a coin or renting a cart – I didn’t understand German.

Oh, well. I figured I’d just carry my purchases.

I started in the cereal aisle. Using pictures on the cereal boxes to guide me, I found my choices were limited to corn flakes with or without bits of chocolate, shredded wheat with or without bits of chocolate, or granola with or without chocolate. Since neither my husband nor children were with me to cast their votes, I picked one that seemed most like Frosted Flakes – minus the chocolate.

Milk was next. By my logic, it should have been in the refrigerated section. But after scanning the shelves for what seemed like a fortnight, I didn’t see any milk.

Seeking assistance, I asked a fellow shopper if she spoke English.

“A little bit,” she replied.

We went back and forth on the milk’s fat content and its location, stored in cartons, on a skid, in a non-refrigerated section but still presumably safe to drink. After I selected milk with the least amount of fat – apparently, there is no such thing as a skim-milk-drinking-German – I bagged a few apples (at least I recognized those) and grabbed a small carton of orange juice from the refrigerated section before my arms were too full for anything else.

I went to stand in the only open line, listening to German all around me. Once close enough to the conveyer belt, I heaved my groceries, thankful the cartons were no longer digging into my skin.

Finally, it was my turn. After my groceries were scanned, the cashier told me how much I owed – in German.

“Do you speak English?”

She shook her head as though I had just asked her a question in a foreign language – which I had.

Luckily, I caught a glimpse of the total on the cashier’s screen, then picked through my wallet until it seemed I had enough and handed her some bills. She gave me change then rang up the next customer, even though my groceries had not yet been bagged.

Either she forgot to give me one or there is no such thing as a grocery bag in Germany. Or refrigerated milk or free carts or Germans who prefer their milk non-fat.

I have to carry all these items home? In my arms?

“Uhhh,” I said, lifting my fists back and forth in front of me, as though I were acting out the name of a movie called I Need a Bag in a game of Charades.

The woman behind me said in broken English that I could buy a bag.

For a Euro.

Frenzied, I looked through the change that had just been returned to me. Fingering the coins in my hand – Is this a Euro? Is this? – I finally handed the cashier what I thought was a Euro, my purchases annihilated by the onslaught of groceries behind mine on the conveyer belt, and somebody handed me a bag.

I promptly deposited my groceries in the bag, returned to our apartment, put the warm milk and cold orange juice in the fridge, relieved and even a bit exhilarated that I’d made it through my first attempt at living like a German.

What a champ.

Wait ’til you hear my bottled water story.

Tell me your, um, German grocery store experience.

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December 7, 2012 - 9:54 pm

ROWriter - You should’ve shopped at Aldi to prep yourself! (except for the milk and Euro part!) LOL 🙂
Can’t wait to hear about the water…

December 8, 2012 - 1:14 am

BECKY - Ha! As I read this, I thought the same thing as ROWriter. Sounds just like an Aldi store, and the photo you posted looks like the inside of one, too! I lived in Germany twice, eons ago, and both times in small towns. My “then husband” was in the military so we shopped mostly at the PX and….I can’t remember the term for the grocery store! BUT, I loved going into one of the tiny German shops and buying fresh rolls or bread, cookies, etc. Plus, their laundry detergent was the most fabulous smelling I’ve ever used…before or since! Since we Americans were used to loading up our carts and trying to buy a month’s worth of groceries,(pay day once a month)I’m sure we looked really crazy to the Germans. And we thought them a bit “different” too, the way they carried their little cotton/linen reusable shopping tote bags WAY before we ever thought of them. I don’t mean to generalize the entire population, either. But the people in our small towns shopped once a day, for that day’s food, and I bet they saved a fortune…no wasted food! Great story, Pam!

December 8, 2012 - 3:20 am

Pam Houghton - Cindy, I didn’t even know about Aldi until today – when I searched for an image to go along with the story. That WOULD have been a good idea, eh? I gotta write that water story.

December 8, 2012 - 3:25 am

Pam Houghton - Thanks, Becky. And thanks for sharing your experience. Yes – that is a photo of an Aldi store – I found it on the Internet today! The store where I shopped was a Lindl store, though. Believe it or not, this Aldi store looks nicer!

December 8, 2012 - 3:47 pm

fadedginger - I’ve never been to Germany, but if I did, I would go to a grocery store. I like to see those glimpses of ordinary lives. How was the milk?

December 8, 2012 - 4:15 pm

Pam Houghton - Hi Ginger – It was thick. And that was their lower fat version. But I’m used to skim.

July 15, 2013 - 7:59 pm

conniemcleod - HAHAHAHA! I remember being in Germany and saying Gesundheit after someone sneezed and they assumed I spoke German! That was the only work I knew.

July 15, 2013 - 8:27 pm

Pam Houghton - Ha! That’s funny. Hopefully, you were otherwise able to communicate! We found they didn’t speak English as readily/fluently as they do in say, The Netherlands. So it can be a bit hard to have a conversation. I do wish I were fluent in other languages!

July 16, 2013 - 12:29 am

Nancy Hill - Never been in a German Grocery but man oh man those little old Catalunyan ladies in line at the Paneria were FIERCE!

July 16, 2013 - 12:36 am

Pamela Mason - LOL! I’ve been to that same grocery in Germany! We walked up and down the aisles and thought, Why is everything on the floor or on pallets? Then we found tomato paste in a tube – like tootpaste! I bought it as a souvenir, but lost it somewhere between Heidelberg and Versailles.

July 16, 2013 - 2:10 am

Karen D. Austin - Oh, I would be so disoriented trying to shop in a foreign country. Yes, I shop at Aldi (for some things) where you have to pay to rent a shopping cart and pay to get a bag. I think in Europe more people bring cloth bags with them when shopping. But I’m not sure. I would not have thought of it prior to walking into the grocery store. Glad you survived. Thanks for the interesting details.

July 16, 2013 - 12:35 pm

Pam Houghton - Every culture has its fair share of characters! Thanks for your comment.

July 16, 2013 - 12:37 pm

Pam Houghton - Tomato paste in a tube – too bad you lost it! And pallets, right, everything’s on pallets. Ha!

July 16, 2013 - 12:41 pm

Pam Houghton - Wonder if they think they are in a big wasteland when they come over here to shop in our huge stores and drive our big cars? Thanks for your comment, Karen!

July 16, 2013 - 1:06 pm

Pam Houghton - This comment is from The Mid-Life Guru: “Hip Hip Hooray for European markets. I had the same milk problem–but in Switzerland. One thing I have adapted from their markets as a mid lifer: I shop more often for fresh foods instead of buying just once a week. I feel so continental!!”

July 16, 2013 - 1:11 pm

Pam Houghton - This looks like me responding to myself but actually I am responding to Caryn, the Mid-Life Guru, who’s comment came through my e-mail but didn’t show up on the post. (Here I am talking to myself again.) Ahem.

Good point, Caryn. Shopping for fresh foods more often is probably better for us in many ways than our usual approach of once-a-week. I can see how you feel so continental!

July 16, 2013 - 8:33 pm

fitnessfox - And I thought grocery-shopping in my own country was mind-boggling. Or maybe that was mind-numbing. Either way, remind never to try to shop in a foreign country. I’ll be staying at a hotel in Germany LOL.

July 16, 2013 - 11:02 pm

Pam Houghton - Well…a hotel would be nice, eh?? Next time. 🙂 Thanks for your comment!

July 17, 2013 - 3:56 pm

AlexandraFunFit - Nowadays, you have to weigh your own apples too, then get the sticker. I love German grocery stores, yet know going in that I will be the oddball. So I try to pick a line that has friendly-looking cashier.

July 17, 2013 - 4:44 pm

Pam Houghton - That is interesting – weight your own fruit, get your own sticker. Hm. The do-it-yourself mentality is more evident over there, apparently!

July 18, 2013 - 3:22 pm

Beverly Diehl - If/when I visit Europe, I will make sure to pack my reusable grocery bags. What an adventure!

July 18, 2013 - 3:45 pm

Pam Houghton - I think that’s wise! 🙂

August 6, 2013 - 8:51 pm

Jamie - The same thing happened to me regarding the bags the first time I shopped at a German grocery store (I lived there for 3 1/2 years)… and I never did pick up the language very well. But then again, I stopped trying when someone asked me to “please speak English.” Yeah, that pretty much shot my self-esteem right down! 😉

August 7, 2013 - 1:47 pm

Pam Houghton - Oh, that’s pretty funny. I never studied foreign languages, but I think German is kind of hard to learn. I tried to use the few words I knew such as Danka when we were over there. Well…maybe that was the only one!

September 25, 2013 - 12:23 am

German grocery shopping - or Where's the Milk? - Generation Fabulous - […] Continue reading this post on Pam’s blog […]

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