One of the things I love to do when I go to a foreign country is to go to the supermarket. A bit weird, I know, but I love seeing all the different products available and there is always the chance to buy some weird candy. However, when you move to a foreign country and you need to shop for all those essential items, like food, the supermarket becomes a little less fun.
When I first moved to Germany, almost three years ago, I knew only 3 or 4 words in German and none of them related to food. I also knew not a single soul living in Hamburg so I needed to tackle the supermarket all by myself. For the first 6 months, I shopped almost exclusively by the pictures on the packets and looking up words on a translation app on my phone. It was pretty tough going and of course, I brought a lot of things I never meant to. Even when I eventually gained the vocab to go shopping I still needed to learnt how things were done. For instance, learning that Weizenmehl means flour was the easy bit. Now in Australia, we have two types of flour; plain flour and self-raising flour. In Germany, the flour is numbered. The flour I have in my cupboard is type 405. This is your standard flour, but it can’t be used for everything, so if you are into baking you need to get your head around what type of flour you need for which recipes. It is a nightmare.
Also, in Australia we are lucky that with the exception of some summer fruits most fruits and vegetables are available all year around. This is not the case in Germany. In Germany, they still stick to having only seasonal fruit and vegetables available. I thought this was a lovely idea until I realised that pumpkin is only available for a few short weeks a year. Pumpkin is a staple vegetable back in Australia and it is available all the time. Now, I love my pumpkin and learning to do without having it a couple of times a week was difficult. Also, in Germany, they do not sell cans of pumpkin soup. If you want pumpkin soup, you make it yourself during the time pumpkin is available and you freeze it.
Then there is the fact that not everything is sold at the supermarket. Supermarkets in Germany are actually quite small when compared to the large supermarkets we have back in Australia. Germans still love to go to multiple shops to get their shopping done rather than do it at one big store. Bread, for instance, is not really sold in supermarkets and most certainly is not sold sliced and stored in a plastic bag. In fact the only people who want their bread sliced and stored in a plastic bag are the foreigners and so this type of bread is named as such.
For Germans, their bread is a source of pride and therefore is brought fresh every single day from the bakery. When you taste German bread you will know why and will never buy the plastic wrapped stuff ever again.
Whilst everything is not sold at the supermarket, alcohol is. In fact the place that is reserved at the checkout for candy often has small bottles of vodka and schnapps next to the Mars Bars. Also, it is quite a culture shock to see teenagers lined up at the checkout carrying a crate of beer. The age limit for beer and wine in Germany is just 16 and is 18 for the hard liquors. I still can’t used to pimply faced teenagers lining up at the checkout with a couple of crates of beer.
At least the checkout itself is the same, well it looks the same, kinda.
The first thing any Aussie will notice is that the checkout chick is not a teenage high school student. To work the checkout at a German supermarket, you need to complete a three year TAFE degree known as an Ausbildung (further education/training). Most checkout chicks in Germany are middle aged to bordering on retirement age. Also, everyone brings a bag with them. If you have forgotten your bag, you will pay 10c for every single plastic one you need. Then, one of the hardest things to get used to for an Aussie, you will pack that bag yourself. The checkout chick will not do it for you. She will throw your groceries down the checkout aisle at a sometimes frightening speed as you scrambled to pack all your groceries before she starts serving the person behind you. Don’t pack your groceries quick enough and the person behind you’s groceries will just be thrown down the aisle next to yours and they will be there glaring at you impatiently to get out of their damn way so that they can start to pack their groceries. The checkout is one of the most anxiety inducing places in the whole supermarket.
So, that’s a quick look at grocery shopping in the Fatherland. It does take quite a while to get used to and even after three years, I don’t feel like I have mastered it.
For those of you who are expats, what is the most difficult thing you had to get used to at the supermarket? Have you actually mastered the art of supermarket shopping yet or are you like me and hoping that nobody notices your mistakes?