This is Part 4 in my continuing series of surviving in Germany based on my own experiences. Today we’ll discuss doing groceries. You’d think buying groceries in Germany wouldn’t be such a big deal that it needs its own article but that’s not the case. In Germany things are never as easy as they seem, so here are 7 tips to make the experience as painless as possible.
Have a Euro coin in hand
In order to have a shopping cart, you need to insert a Euro coin into it. The coin releases the chain with which the cart is attached to the other carts. You’ll get the coin back when you return the cart to its proper place. I think it’s a great way to avoid carts all over the parking lot and there’s no need for someone to round them up.
Know how you will pack
Bags cost 10 cents and most people don’t use them. If you plan on only buying a few things, bring your own bag. Some people also use picnic baskets or simply carry the food in their hands. Most people keep bags or boxes in the car and pack in the parking lot.
For me, this took some getting used to. In Puerto Rico, you always need to show your receipt or have items in a bag so people don’t think you stole the items. It feels strange to leave the store carrying the food in my hands or dropping them in my bag while I shop (some people even carry stuff in their purses!). My German husband says there are sensors at the door to scan for unpaid items.
The early bird catches the worm
Coming from a country where stores like Walmart are open 24 hours, it’s hard to get accustomed to stores closing by 8 pm and items not being re-stocked. Most people, especially the elderly, do groceries early in the morning, so if you wait until late at night, you may not find everything you were looking for, especially fruits and vegetables.
Also, stores are closed on Sundays and holidays, so make sure you stock up for long weekends. Some holidays can fall on a Saturday, so if you buy your groceries that day (like us) and are not mindful that it is a holiday (like what happened to us) you will freak out when you find the store closed and need to figure out what to eat the rest of the weekend (again, us).
In terms of prices: what you see is what you get
The price stated already includes the sales tax. This, at least, is a good thing. No need to add up.
Some supermarkets have their own meat and cheese counters
The meat counter is especially beloved, so you have to wait for your turn. You can even order cooked food to go. Our nearby supermarket even features a ticket dispenser to make the waiting more orderly. My husband says this is the exception. Here’s an anecdote from him:
Most of the time you just need to wait in line and be aware of (often) elderly women getting to the counter after you, and believing for some reason that they can skip you. As soon as the person behind the counter asks who is next, the elderly woman is quick in announcing it is her turn.
Apropos elderly retired people. Why do they pick noon for their grocery shopping? At that time, when working people have lunch break and just want to grab a quick sandwich? Right at noon, the elderly with a fully packed cart and the speed of a sloth waits in front of you. Sometimes looking at you with pity and not offering to go ahead.
When it comes to paying they are looking for their exact change which, of course, they cannot see so well. “Is that a 2-cent coin? Or this? Wait, I have one here somewhere” – digging through their coins for hours. And you, with your single item in hand, can just watch your precious 30 min lunch time ticking away.
See how traumatizing going to the supermarket can be?
If you’re waiting in line and a new line opens, run
Germans don’t believe in waiting or who is ahead of them in the line. There will be a stampede as soon as the new line opens, no matter who was waiting first.
Here, my dear husband continues his anecdote:
Oh, suddenly, line 2 is open. Awesome, I can forget the old lady in front of me and use the next line. The expectations that the people behind you allow you to go first is born of pure naivety.
The motto is “survival of the fittest” or who is faster and has the biggest elbows. Carts can slow you down, but with some training, you can also use them to block other people’s path.
The cashier works at light-speed
Since Germans don’t like to wait, the cashier does her best to check in the groceries at fast as she can. You’ll have to try to manage to put everything in your cart. This is added to the fact that there’s not much space at the end of the checkout line to organize.
This is the most traumatizing for me. I try to have my bag ready and take time paying. The cashier won’t wait for you to finish packing. She’ll start checking in the next person’s items, invading the little space you have.
One time, the person after me only had two items and finished faster than me. Before I left, I noticed I didn’t get my receipt, but it turns out the cashier gave it away to the person after me. Another time, the man before me was still putting away his groceries when it was my turn, and I rushed to grab my things so they wouldn’t get mixed up with his.
Also, be sure to use the divider. The cashier works so fast, she’ll keep checking items until she gets to the divider. No amount of space in between will count. I learned this the hard way.
Are you horrified of German supermarkets yet?