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cultural difference 14: grocery shopping

April 26, 2010

I did some last-minute grocery shopping Saturday evening so that I could prepare a rice salad. When I broke into a sweat bagging my groceries, I remembered that it’s different in the US.

Supermarkets and stores in Germany aren’t allowed to open 24/7. Usually, it’s from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. And the stores aren’t allowed to open on Sundays.

In German grocery stores, all carts are chained together and you have to put a one-Euro coin into the cart as a deposit. You get your coin back once you bring back the cart. That way, shoppers don’t leave the carts all over the place.

In some grocery stores, the people at checkout scan very fast. You almost have to throw your groceries into the cart to keep up. No one bags your groceries for you. Also, you have to pay for bags, so most Germans bring their own and you also see a lot of people with baskets.

Apparently, Germans go food shopping more often than Americans โ€“ probably because a lot of us just walk to the grocery store or use a bike, so we can’t buy enough for a week. Or maybe we need constant training to keep up with the Indy 500 cashiers. ๐Ÿ™‚

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10 comments

  1. I’ve wanted to tell you for several weeks just how much I’ve enjoyed your postings on the cultural differences. I read a long time ago that the English language was very simple; that any educated person could learn the language and all the rules very quickly. It was the rule exceptions and the cultural differences that they would spend the rest of their life learning. That you so much for the exposure to some of those differences.


    • Thanks for your encouragement.

      And it’s true that the English language was easy to learn for me — well, at least “easy” compared to Russian ๐Ÿ™‚ The grammar was easy for me too.

      But the finer points take a lifetime to learn.

      I think what prevents many of my German friends from reading English books is that they don’t understand half of the phrases and idioms, even after years of English lessons at school.

      Sometimes, I want to share something I found funny with a German friend. That writer’s block button, for example. They didn’t understand why it’s supposed to be funny, because they had never heard “figment of your imagination.”


  2. Jae,I too have loved the cultural differences series. Living in Australia, I would have to say our way of doing things is a combination of both German and American ways.
    Some of our grocery shops have pay to use trolleys.
    Here in the state I live in, there is a ban on plastic shopping bags (enforced by the Government) and therefore I need to bring my material shopping bags to the shops or pay for new ones. Our checkout person places all groceries in the bags for us so no ‘indy races’.


    • Interesting. Makes sense that Australia would have a mix of European and American ways.

      So, do your trolleys/carts have three or four wheels?

      Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but I think the US carts have three wheels. German carts have four wheels, and they can rotate in any direction. I hear it’s very hard to navigate when you’re used to the three-wheeled carts. ๐Ÿ™‚


      • American grocery carts have four wheels but usually one is not working. And the US is slowly getting the idea that plastic bags are not good. The bags are not outright banned except in some locations but more grocery store chains are selling canvas tote bags (with the store name of course, free advertising that the buys pays for). Almost all the stores are encouraging the bag recycling. We’re catching up with you over there, really.


  3. Oh, so you have four wheels too? I thought it was three.

    We still have plastic bags too, but you have to pay for them every time, so bringing your own canvas bags or baskets is better.

    Wait until I blog about the German recycling system. It can be quite confusing for people who aren’t used to it ๐Ÿ™‚


    • Our 4-wheel carts are effectively 3-wheel carts, since AT LEAST one wheel is broken.

      Some stores have a special device on one wheel that locks the wheel if the cart is moved beyond a certain distance from the store, to prevent the cart from being stolen.

      Speaking of plastic bags, I actually re-use them as kitchen trash bags (I have a small trash can), and I take out the trash every evening after dinner so that there’s no residual odor, and more importantly, there’s less likelihood of an ant army dropping in.

      In the past few years, some supermarket chains in the US have introduced “self-checkout” registers, where the shopper scans each item and their coupons, and then bags the items. When I first heard of this, I thought it was a silly idea, but I have to admit that I usually go for these registers. I guess it’s still a novelty for me. ๐Ÿ™‚


  4. I look forward to hearing about your recycling.


    • The German recycling system is confusing for most Germans too ๐Ÿ™‚


      • Sad but true, Astrid.



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