Shopping for groceries is a chore, a necessity. Supermarkets can be a hectic chore for some. All at the same time, we are often trying to be health-conscious, bio and organically minded, cost saving consumers. It’s exhausting just thinking about it. And I haven’t even mentioned those fearless, ambitious and downright crazy parents multitasking caring for their children and supermarket shopping. I say it again: crazy and sometimes necessary.
Going to the supermarket in Weimar requires you to understand a few things and to follow a couple of rules. They are not always easy. Remember: the world won’t end if you chose to be brazen and do it your own way. Just be prepared for the glares or an occasional reprimand from a random stranger.
Don’t get stuck on favourites
Everyone appreciates familiarity, and I especially do with supermarkets. I know what products they have there, and I know which aisle to find them. Being vegetarian means I have my favourite type of tofu product or if I feel like it, I know where the best veggie schnitzels are. The additional challenge of supermarkets in Weimar is that they often add and take away products that you’ve enjoyed using for quite some time, for no apparent reason. One day, you’re looking for that delicious brand of yoghurt and it’s no longer stocked in the fridge. A usual first sign is when the price label is still there but you see some random sour cream that someone had stuck there because they obviously didn’t want it anymore. Guaranteed next time, the price sticker won’t be there and neither will your fav product. And if you’re lucky, 4 months later when you’re browsing the aisle looking for something that is not greek yogurt, it will reappear again, just like that. I have a German friend who for this reasons, will buy a 6 month supply of his favorite products because he knows all about the fickle system of supermarket stock. This may seem overzealous to some so perhaps you could just lower your expectations and go with the flow but know there’s a chance you may never see that product again.
Know where you are going
Every now and then I like to try a new recipe that I stumbled upon Pinterest. Very rarely this happens but when it does, I’m always a little nervous about being able to find the exact things I need for the recipe. The reason for this is that if the ingredient is a little irregular for a German diet, there’s no telling where they decide to put it in the supermarket. Tofu, for example is often placed in the prepackaged salads and olives section, whereas if I want a vegetarian schnitzel or wurst, I will find those squeezed between the cheeses and hummus. Another example I have comes from buying pesto. Logic tells me that pesto sauce would be with the other pasta sauces. Actually, the particular supermarket I visit has divided this area into three sections: The prepared tomato based sauces are next to the pastas, the canned and chopped tomatoes and tomato mark are next to the beans and the pesto sauces are near the olives. Thankfully I have a solution for this. When I am shopping with my German boyfriend, and I can’t find the tortillas in the section I would assume them to be, I will turn to him and ask, “Where would you put the tortillas?” And he never fails me. I still don’t understand most of the reasoning behind the supermarket organisation but I’m lucky to have a German mind I can easily tap into for added insight.
Beware of the aisle that’s always empty
There’s always that one aisle, that no one wants anything from. The chocolate and treats aisle is normally populated by young teenage girls, the fruit and vegetables are always filled with a general mix of people but that aisle with jarred fruits and pickled vegetables is often empty. Some Germans really put at least one thing from that aisle into their shopping cart however, Most people give it a cursory glance, just to make sure they aren’t missing the aisle that they really need. It’s the most curious aisle to me but I am sure German people need things from it from time to time. Fancy some pickled asparagus? What about those jarred peaches? Don’t forget that the german staple of rotkohl can be found here, all pickled and ready to eat. I am looking forward to the day when I genuinely need something from this aisle – I just wonder what I’ll be cooking!
Check-out is the most important part
A mistake would be to think that just because you got through all your shopping and that everything off your list is in the trolley, you got through the hardest part of shopping. Not in Germany. Some key points you must remember:
- At the point of checkout, you must be fast and organised.
- Use the separator and it’s especially kind if you place it behind the goods of your customer in front of you before you place your goods
- Quickly put your products on the conveyor belt and don’t be surprised if someone asks if they can go in front of you because they only have a couple of products, at least compared to you. I personally find this slightly annoying, but it seems to be the thing to do here, so I often relent.
- When the operators are scanning, it’s fast and impersonal. There are two things at this point I find especially different about Weimar compared to Melbourne. First, don’t expect a “Wie Geht’s?” or any casual questions about a new product you’re trying or small talk . Oh and did I mention, that you must pack everything yourself?
- So before you’ve had time to pack everything into your bag, they’re asking for payment and you find yourself looking into a crowd of frustrated stares. I think this has to be the most stressful part of supermarket shopping for me. It all happens so quickly and there’s no way you can beat the speed of those checkout operator but it would seem everyone else thinks you are moving too slowly.
- Now there are also different rules for different people when actually paying for your goods. Unless you are an elderly person, don’t bother counting out your coins unless the cashier asks. It’s just seen as another delay in the ever-moving supermarket conveyor belt.
- And then once all that is done, you can breathe and slow down again.
So supermarket shopping is quite different in Germany to how it is in Australia. I didn’t expect to care so much about this activity in the beginning but as it’s turned out, it is one of those defining culture-shock moments that I am still learning to cope with and that makes up the entertaining experience of moving abroad. My hope is that it doesn’t completely lose the charm of the unknown that makes this normal routine such an exciting adventure.