Monday, February 27, 2012

Mix-Up Monday: Checking Out at the Grocery Store

Whenever we are in a foreign country we like to stop by the grocery store and go to any markets we can find. We think it is one of the best way to get to understand a land because the food, setup, and people at the grocery store say a lot about a culture. Buying food is something everyone has to do and so the grocery store is always safe from becoming "touristy." For that reason, we thought the differences between grocery stores in the USA deserved a second entry...and perhaps a third or fourth in the future!

Checking out:

She was overwhelmed the first time she checked out at a grocery store...ok, let's be realistic, the first ten times. When you compare checkouts in the USA and Germany it is like comparing a retirement home's shuffle board game to the Kentucky Derby.  After time she has gotten (she thinks) the hang of it all and has learned to appreciate German efficiency but that doesn't keep her from going through a mini panic attack every time she gets in line to check out. 

He was just as shocked when he was in the USA. He couldn't get over how slow and uselessly social checkout was.

The real difference between Germany and the USA is the speed of checkout. In the USA, checking out is a long drawn out social process (something she admits she never noticed until living in Germany). The cashier says hi, how are you, maybe even knows you from previous visits and has a little chat. At times she has even been chatted to about what she buys (Is that a good cereal? Making lasagna for dinner? So on so on...) It isn't really considered an invasion of privacy in the USA. It is just small talk.

From: The Baltimore Sun

While this talking is going on the items are being sloooowly scanned and sent down the conveyer belt to the end where either they 1) get bagged by a nice bag boy (or girl) whose job is to separate your items by type (frozen, fresh, meat, chemicals, etc.) and bag them, or 2) The items sit and wait until everything has been scanned (or there is no more room) and the cashier changes roles to bag boy and everything for you. Somethings there is option 3) The cashier bags your items as she scans them  but this rarely works out very well because she must bag them by theme and either reach around everything on the conveyer belt to find something that can be bagged with the milk or bag very few items together going through a gazillion (or more!) bags.

From: Safeway Office Photos

After everything is bagged you are asked (every single time no matter how old or young you are) if you would like help out today. Yes, even if you only have one or two bags they still ask!

Do you see that tiny amount of counter space?!?

Germany's checkout process is about as opposite from the USA as you can get. The cashier says hello but nothing more (I am sure in villages where everyone knows everyone this is different but I think the basics are still the same), the scanning is done as quickly as possible and everything is either 1) sent down a conveyer belt to pile up and wait for you to bag yourself (if you are lucky and at a big store which has such space) or 2) placed at the end of the counter using a teeny tiny space which does not fit more than a loaf of bread and a liter of milk and waits there always on the verge of tumbling until you bag everything yourself (this is what really gives her a panic attack).

Therefore, in Germany, if you would not like to see your eggs end up on the floor you must either 1) Bring a shopping partner (our choice!) or 2) bag while items are being scanned, try to keep up, plan ahead so that heavy items which you would like to be at the bottom your bag are scanned first (she fails miserably at this part and seems to always end up with milk on top and bread on bottom), while you try to juggle your wallet so you can pay the moment the last items is scanned (even if you have not had time to bag yet). It is all quite a feat which apparently Germans are able to master after years of experience but she is still leaning...or as writing this she realizes perhaps the true reason Germans go to the store so many times a week is not because of the small refrigerators but because of the knowledge that they can only keep a certain amount of food from tumbling to the floor at one time. You are definitely not asked if you would like help out today, it would ruin the flow and efficiency of everything.
This whole explanation is just the tip of the differences in the checkout line between the USA and Germany and does not even start to go into the individual bag differences. Unfortunately, this wait until next week because she is exhausted just writing about the athletics one must pursue in order to succeed at a German grocery store (and he is about to fall asleep thinking about the snail-pace used at American stores).

Therefore, check back next week to learn about the differences between bags and cashiers!