|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.