Things about Germany #2: Grocery Store Checkouts

  • Posted on: 26 July 2014
  • By: Michelle

A German grocery store checkout is pretty much what I imagine tripping on acid would be like. (Yes. Imagine. I once graffitied the walls in the Honour Society room at my high school, and then went directly to the principal's office to hand myself in. Do you really think I could pull off an acid trip?) It's an overly emotional experience with bright lights and a lot of colours and shapes whizzing by, time feels like it's moving exponentially fast, at some point I have to give someone some money, a tight friendship is formed with anyone who makes it through with me and there's a feeling of euphoria but in the end I feel sweaty, dizzy and nauseous.

I can't even begin to explain the process of checking out at a German grocery store to my mild-mannered fellow Canucks. The feeling is something akin to going through U.S. Customs. You make sure you have everything in order before you step up to the counter, you're nervous even though you haven't done anything wrong, and you just want to get through and in the clear without something going horribly awry.

A few logistical points about German grocery store checkouts.

First, there's not really a line-up. It's more of a holding area. I mean you're in the vicinity of the checkout, and there is a group of people who seem to be heading in the same direction. But when, for example a new cash opens up, get ready to execute mob-survival protocols, because it's first come, first serve. Same when the checkout you are closest to closes, and everyone needs to divert toward an open cash. If you stand there like a good Canadian, waiting for everyone to order themselves according to who has been waiting the longest, well, you'll still be waiting there right now.

Second, the German cashiers don't stand. Instead they have a comfy little chair, I assume because they get so tired from all the eye rolling and head shaking and heavy sighing.

Lastly, you'll notice that there are no bags provided. Or bag boy (or bag girl. Or bag retired-old-man). And you can be rest assured that the cashier isn't going to stepping up to the plate like at good ol' Saefway. It doesn't matter if you are elderly, blind, a little person, missing limbs or all of the above, you will be bagging your own goods, and you better have your game face on, because the minute that cashier starts pushing your purchases through there's no coming up for air.

I would like to officially propose an amendment to the old saying "Time and tide waits for no man." I mean, the tide I can understand. If you are standing on the Alaska mud flats when the tide comes in, you can't say, hey please wait a moment while you get to higher land. But time? I mean time doesn't wait, but it doesn't not wait. Time is pretty much indifferent. If, for example, you can't find your wallet in your purse at the cash, time's going to keep ticking, but it's not going to bowl you over with a shopping cart or roll it's eyes at you.

The saying should be "German grocery store cashiers and tide wait for no man." Literally. Elderly, blind one-legged little people included. German grocery store cashiers just keep pushing items through, no matter what is happening on the bagging side the scanner. And it's not a calm, steady pace that settles you both into a cooperative grocery bagging rhythm. You know ... beep ...la-la-la-la-la ... beep ... .la-la-la-la-la ... beep. It's more like the Muppets' Animal is scanning your order. On crack.

BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! Oh, you forgot to bring grocery bags? BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! Oh the counter is only big enough for a your strawberries? BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! Oh you didn't line your items up properly on the conveyor belt and now you've got eggs, tomatoes and strawberries in your hand, but the laundry detergent, cans of soup and a 6-pack of 1.5 litre bottles of mineral water are waiting at the back end of your order? BEEP! BEEP! BEEPBEEP! (deposit on your bottles of water). Oh you forgot to bring your grocery bags, and you only realized that as the cashier started scanning your items and you grabbed a few bags to buy and mistakenly placed them back there with your water? BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! Oh you forgot to put the little stick down at the end of your order and now the cashier is scanning the beer and bratwurst and sauerkraut of the giant German dude behind you? BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! Oh you're having a seizure? BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! Oh Jesus has returned? KEEP BAGGING! BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!

And don't think the panic stops when the beeping stops. While you are still trying to pick your tomatoes up off the floor, and fit nine litres of water into your purse, she (or he) is shaking her head, rolling her eyes and impatiently waiting for you to pay, because she already told you the total, like, way back when you were having that seizure. Meanwhile every eye in the holding area is staring you down, casting unreserved judgment at someone who has not only not properly organized their items on the conveyor-belt or readied their many-time-use fabric grocery bags, but obviously hasn't pre-calculated the cost of their order and had a suitable-sized bill already waiting in their hand. And now you are responsible for keeping not one, but MANY Germans waiting. Do you REALLY wanna chance paying with exact change? Sure, go ahead take the time to sign for a credit card payment. Good thing Jesus is over there in the fruit aisle ...

And just when you think you're in the clear, about to tuck your change (a bunch more Euro 1-cent and 2-cent coins that you'll just add to your growing collection at home, because you definitely aren't crazy enough to try and count them out when you are buying groceries ... ) nicely into your wallet ... BEEP!BEEP!BEEP! Here come's Helmut and his beer and bratwurst and sauerkraut. Your wallet?! What the hell were you thinking?! Stuff your change into whichever pocket, basket, bag or bra is nearest, gather as many of your items as you can, and go, go, GO! What? You left a tomato behind? Forget it man! Save your self!

There is no love and no mercy at the checkout of a German grocery store. It's a do or die battle, each man, woman, child and elderly, blind, one-legged little person for themself

On the upside, once you've faced a German grocery store checkout and made it out unscathed, U.S. Customs is a piece of cake. And it'll make you think twice about trying acid.