Five things I have not adjusted to after three months in Germany: Packing groceries


Last week was my three month anniversary being back in Germany. Given that I am executing a repatriation challenge here, this prompted me to reflect on my integration process. I have pretty much mastered the art of riding metro line 3 (i.e. I only go to the wrong platform but realize before getting on the train that this is the wrong direction) even if it still happens that I call it the “yellow line” because Stockholm’s metro lines are colored, not numbered. I have successfully re-registered with the German health insurance, a process that took several months. I have even gotten a hold of an apartment and moved! Furthermore, I am not surprised anymore that people speak my native language around me and I always greet people correctly, avoiding the cheerful “Hej!” in all places that are not the Swedish Church.

Are there things I still have not adjusted to? Oh yes, there are many. Welcome to my series of Five Not Yet Readjusted posts.

Number 1: Not yet readjusted to  The stress when packing your groceries

 When you grow up in Germany, you learn a lot of very, very useful skills. You learn to think and discuss thanks to good education, you learn to work hard and goal-oriented, you learn to respect your parents, you learn to not spend money you don’t have. And you learn to pack groceries. Very fast.

As a little girl, I always accompanied my mom to Aldi, the cheapest store with the quickest cashiers. Aldi is the place where the above mentioned skills all unite. (Except for the thinking because you do not question why Aldi is so cheap.) When you stand at an Aldi checkout, or actually any German grocery checkout, the cashier will swipe your stuff so quickly that you have to be trained to pack it all into your tote bag (plastic bags are for people who have no ecological conscience). Not only does the cashier stress you, there is also very little space to pack the things and 25 % of the German population is waiting in line after you, giving you the evil eye if you are not gone within 10 seconds. Ingrid says, she feels particularly German at the cash register. “I feel proud when I am faster than the others, superior when other customers are slow”.

I never realized this could be a problem for anyone because obviously you put your things on the belt/conveyor (what’s the word for Warenförderband?) in the correct order right from the beginning: canned foods first so that they can go into the tote bag first and eggs last so that they won’t break. When you are two people shopping, you have beforehand decided who is Chief Financial Officer (handling the negotiations with the cashier and payment) and who is Junior Packaging Manager (packing up everything). Of course you position yourselves according to your responsibility and manage to be out of the way for the next customer within seconds. Is there anyone who does not do it that way?

Eh, yes, Swedes. At ICA (and also at Lidl), you relax in the queue, maybe checking your phone, and when the cashier does her work, you observe, letting your food slowly glide away. The first months in Stockholm, it freaked me out to be standing there, doing nothing.

Now, I usually notice when the first products are scanned that AHHH I need to put my hands to work here! Everyone is eyeing me suspiciously wondering why the girl up there does not move but just stares at the cashier. And she even has a plastic bag. Geez, she must be a dumb foreigner.

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