Grocery Shopping Revisited: Two more things.

I mentioned in my first grocery store post back in December that I would probably never use the shopping carts here because I can only buy what I can carry home.  That’s not always true, though-  I have friends and co-workers with cars, and I’ve had the opportunity to push one of these four wheeled chaos engines through the grocery store.  The verdict:  I have no idea how anyone can keep these things going straight.  I usually wind up pushing it vaguely sideways.

There’s much more to them than I realized at first, though.  Since I wasn’t planning on using them, I didn’t look very closely.  I did notice that there was never a stray cart in a random place in the parking lot though, and now I know why: They’re chained together.  In order to release a cart, you have to either use a one Euro coin or a plastic disk that you’ve paid for.  This is a pretty ingenious way to make sure that carts find their way back to the right place.

There will probably be a post some time in the near future about how Germans deal with waste, trash, and recycling.  The garbage sorting is pretty impressive, and I don’t think I can remember a time in my life that I have been more aware of how much (or how little) trash I produce.   One of the coolest examples of this is the bottle return system.

I also have a tremendous fascination for the bottle return.  I was not aware of this process when I did the first grocery post back in December, but many plastic drink bottles (and some glass bottles) have a pfandflasche, or bottle deposit.  When they do, you’ll see a little decal on them with a curved arrow to suggest returning the bottles.  At the Kaufland, my usual grocery stop, there’s a guy who takes the bottles.  In the Globus and Aldi locations, however, there’s a machine that will take the bottle in, spin it to see the label,  scan it, and crunch it up.  (This has led to an astounding number of “crunch crunch crunch” jokes.)  I love feeding these machines. When you’re finished, they’ll give you a receipt for the amount of credit you get back, which you then have to take to a cash register to get back.

So far, I’ve managed to lose at least two of these receipts before reaching the cash out register.


It was the butter that did me in.

It will take me a while to get used to grocery shopping here.  For one thing, you bring your own cloth grocery bag, or you pay for the bags you need.  You bag your own groceries-  there’s nobody to bag groceries for you, and the cashier doesn’t help- she’s just there to ring up your purchase.  (Mine was very helpful when I accidentally dropped my bank card and the conveyer belt took it away though.  That could have been very, very bad.)

The shopping carts are terribly amusing to me.    They here have four independently oriented wheels so it’s much easier to roll a cart completely sideways at a perpendicular to your previous motion than with carts in the US.  The first time I saw that action, I had a solid “what the heck?!” moment.  I’ll probably never use one of the shopping carts though because I have to be able to carry anything I buy home, and it’s a good ten minute walk.

Kaufland is a two level store.  The upper level is where you enter and exit, and it’s a circle that takes you past some electronics, some housewares, and some liquor and candy.  The first time I walked through, I was unimpressed because I didn’t even notice the flat escalators that went down to the lower level.

The escalators are flat to accommodate the shopping carts, as it turns out, because the lower level is amazing-  it’s where all the food is.  The lower level is layer out as a huge circle with cold storage, a big fresh produce section, and a very, very wide selection.

The selection is where I’m running into problems though, because I don’t know any of the brands.  Sure, every once in a while, I’ll see a familiar name.  So far, Palmolive, Kleenex, Calgon, and Swiffer are the names for home products that I’ve seen.  And there’s Heinz, Uncle Ben’s, and Kellogg’s on the food side of things.  (I was terribly amused at the McDonald’s brand ketchup, too.)  Beyond that, the names are all entirely different.  I can tell if I’m getting Kaufland’s house brand (Klassik, I think) easily enough, but anything else is sort of an unknown for me.

Adding to the frustration is that the language barrier is thicker in the grocery store than in a lot of other places.  I was getting dish soap this afternoon and I had to ask Robert if it said anything about cutting oil or grease because I don’t know the words for that yet.  A lot of things are easy to spot because they just are-  cheese is obviously cheese, in any language.  Ketchup is ketchup, even though you have some very interesting varieties that you just don’t see in the US.

Hot and Curry

So this was what I was doing a while ago.  I found the cheese, then I found the cream cheese.  Thinking that the butter couldn’t be far away, but still not seeing it, I fired up the translation app on my phone, flipped it around so that it would translate English to German for a change, and tapped in the word butter.  It came back with ‘butter.’

Butter slabI was incredulous.  The German word for butter is… butter?!  Naturally.   I looked around some more, and went another aisle or so down, and found… butter.  A variety of types.  (What the heck is truffle butter?!)   The shapes and sizes were unfamiliar.  Little tubs.  Slabs that just felt oddly measured.  No sticks- that’s not how it’s sold here, I guess.  There were some odd little tubes, too.

Butter tubI stood in front of that butter case, muttering to myself as I picked up various types of butter, turned them around, and put them back, for the better part of five minutes.  I’m quite sure that I was starting to worry some of the other shoppers.  I eventually chose one slab and one tub, not even thinking to check for salting-  apparently salted butter isn’t as common here, so I’m not sure how much I’ll enjoy the ones I chose. Oh well, it’s a taste adventure.

My best score of the evening may well have been the lactose free, soy based chocolate puddings that I found.  Well, at least I think that’s what they are.  The word ‘dessert’ is very clear, and schokolade and laktosefrei are obvious enough.  And the designs on the package look sort of puddingish.

I’ve already gotten attuned to looking for the word “soja” on dairy types of products, because that’s German for Soy.  Soja usually means laktosefrei, which means I’m a much happier person.  I haven’t been hungry enough to try them yet- I had dinner right before I shopped because I know better than to grocery shop while hungry, even here.

I can’t wait to try my schokolade dessert.  It might even make me feel better about the butter.