Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Germany is a bustling, modern, up-to-date country with all kinds of things that don’t exactly fit in with the “Old Medieval Europe” illusion that most of us tourists come here to see. For starters, hardly anyone wears Lederhosen. This is a country that is so progressive that you can actually test your own alcohol intoxication level at your local watering hole. Despite this, however, Germany has yet to figure out what puts the “super” in supermarket.

For starters, there aren’t too many different chains—Lidl, Norma, Penny Markt, and Aldi are the major ones and they are all “budget” chains. These are essentially the equivalent of Food City, only no buying in bulk and better cheese selections. Tenglemann is about even with a small Ralph’s—if you want something exotic like “tortillas,” pretty much the only place to get them is Tenglemann. Tenglemann doesn’t, unfortunately, sell refried or black beans, so the tortillas won’t actually do you much good. On the bright side, though, Tenglemann gives you little heart stickers every time you spend 5 Euro, and after you’ve collected several thousand hearts you can get free cookware and kitchen utensils.

No matter which chain you choose, though, supermarkets here are small. Not tiny, but not huge, either. And there’s no one-stop shopping in these places—you don’t mix your groceries with your dry cleaning. Not only are the stores themselves on a smaller scale than most Americans are used to, but they are laid out a bit differently: you can see over the aisles and there are usually only about five of them. One whole aisle is generally devoted to “liquid refreshment,” by which I mean a lot of bottled water (both with and without bubbles), ice tea (a favorite drink here in Deutschland) and lots and lots of beer and wine. About half an aisle goes to fruits and veggies (only what is in season—Europe is stricter about what sorts of things you can put on produce to preserve them for sale) and at least ¾ of an aisle goes to candy and cookies (this is J!’s favorite part of the store). And did I mention they sell a lot of beer?

The real delight, though, about shopping in Germany is the checkout counter. Cashiers here (and elsewhere in Europe) sit in nice comfy chairs, which I think is great because who wants to have their food scanned by a cranky person who has been standing on his or her feet all day? Especially since everyone else in the supermarket is generally cranky to begin with. This is mostly because of the lines. Grocery store lines in Germany look something like this

only with people, not cars. This is not because everyone goes shopping at once but because Germans, in general, seem to have difficulty with standing in line.* Lines here are really for all the idiots who don’t know any better than to push their way to the front. There’s a subtle art to cutting in grocery lines and it mainly involves sidestepping unwary shoppers while they try to decide which flavor of Airwaves gum to buy (“Menthol Eucalyptus? Cassis + Vitamin C? Spicy Cocktail?”). Lines in supermarkets work basically the same way natural selection does in the wild—the weak ones, the old ones and the foreigners get picked off first.

For example, this evening I dropped by Lidl to pick up some essentials, namely cheese, Golden Toast** and Ritter Sport.*** While I was standing in line, another cashier opened her lane and immediately the two fifteen year old girls behind me whizzed past an old woman with a cane and darted in front. Clearly they’d been trained well. I figured I’d stay where I was since by the time I even registered the existence of the new line it was already as long as the one I was in. How naïve I was. Other shoppers, having noticed my vulnerability, moved in for the kill. A middle-aged gentleman buying about twelve chocolate crème puddings and two loaves of bread pinned me alongside the candy counter with his cart and proceeded to unload his items on the conveyer belt. Then, after making sure that I was still securely squished up against the M&Ms, he squeezed through the aisle on the other side of his cart to go pay. I, in the meantime (not knowing the German translation for an exasperated “hey!!”) attempted to appear fascinated by the selection of Hairbo gummy candies.

If you do manage finally to get to the cashier, you’re in for another special treat. No one waits at the end of the lane to bag your groceries (in fact, if you want a bag at all you have to pay for it) and the cashier’s counter is not terribly large. This means that in the five seconds before the cashier begins scanning the next person’s groceries, you have to whip out the cloth bags you brought with you, bag your items, pay, and collect your change. Essentially, you’ve already failed at this by the time you even get to the cashier. This isn’t really as tragic as it sounds, though, because it gives the person behind you, whom you presumably took advantage of while they were picking out their cigarettes, a chance to glare and shake their fist while they swear revenge.

*Arr! and I once saw a woman on a bus punch another man in the chest on her way to grab a seat that he clearly wanted. The sound he made was something in between a tuberculotic cough and a death rattle.

**Little rolls that come partially baked and that you finish baking whenever you want. I eat about a dozen a week, usually with Nutella.

***Germany’s favorite chocolate bar. Comes in any flavor you can imagine, including marzipan.

So far we have 29 hearts. As far as I can tell that's just enough for a Tupperware lid or the handle of a saucepan. [Writing at the top of the card reads: "Please stick on your Truehearts here"]


Blogger j said...

A quick update on our most recent heart acquisition: we have now surpassed the 40 Heart milestone, and will hold out until 50 until cashing in and adding a casserole dish to the cookware collection.

Root for Dotde as we explore intricate options in the world of culinary arts!

1:11 PM

Blogger WittyName32 said...

Greetings from Ukraine, J&D. The cashiers also sit here, though there is also a bagger standing at every check-out stand. (None of this running back and forth between check-stands like in America, looking for the bag in need of filling; these clerks are anchored). It's kind of crazy. The clerks working the register don't do anything but make change. The bagger scans the food and puts the food in the bag, then wakes the other clerk up when it's time to hit the amount due button. It's like this everywhere. I pass jewelry stores and see five young ladies working the many counters and two security guards standing with their arms crossed and feet spread wide. How do they afford all this? I think. But the people, they work for nothing, they have to, so you get very good service here (and no one can buy much of anything).

I use (to my great and costly shame) disposable bags, even though a pile of these plastic things can be found in a kitchen cabinet and I really should bring one or two with me each time I go to the store. I'd thought I'd be all European and use a permanent bag, but the one I bought at the Cost Plus in Davis -- a mesh thing I picked up while rushing around my final day in town -- is orange. And orange is a politically charged color here, better suited to the west than the east, which is blue. Picture me throwing gang signs about now, chanting, "East side!" I really should move somewhere that uses a green bag. To match my eyes, you know. Not my politics.

If you visit Hanau, you will have visited the city of my birth. That is all.

5:33 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Golden Toast!!!!

Where did you end up getting the heart calendar from?

Oh, and this is Arr! Can't seem to remember my login, heh.

2:22 AM

Blogger d said...

lol. One of the cashiers at Tenglemann gave it to us a a few weeks ago--right after you left. The bummer is that we're a little late with the hearts--this calendar is only good until April, I think.

ahhh, golden toast. I'd mail you some but I don't think it would make it through customs.

12:35 PM

Blogger d said...

Yeah, the plastic bag thing here is kind of out of hand. I see elderly men tottering to the nearest grocery store, carrying plastic bags left over from the Cold War era. Don't get me wrong--I'm all for recycling and I think Americans are too plastic bag dependent, but sometimes you just need to let them go to that great big recycling center in the sky. Or, get a cloth one.

Good to hear from you Stephan! Sounds like things are going well in Ukraine!

12:47 PM


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