I have recently begun to embrace the German love of discount supermarket shopping. This is more due to my financial situation than any particular desire to shop at discount stores, but whatever the reason, I figure it’s probably bringing me one step closer to being a “real” German.
Before I moved to Germany, I’d never set foot in an Aldi or Lidl in my life. This is partly because, in Dublin, they’re usually in slightly awkward locations and I would have needed my own transport to get there. The other reason is that I’m a bit fancy and I didn’t much like the idea of picking stuff up off crates instead of shelves. Despite my poor long-suffering parents trying to convince me that the quality of the products was just the same, I remained unconvinced.
Fast forward to my move to Berlin. Oh, I tried to maintain my fancy ways and started off by shopping at Kaisers and REWE, much to the horror of my equally long-suffering German flatmates. Within a few months, however, with my income dwindling, the time had come to get down, dirty and frill-free.
Before embarking on this low-cost adventure, I had been wondering why other foreigners make such a big deal about the speed of shop assistants here. Now I think I’ve got it figured out – the cheaper the supermarket, the faster the shop assistant. If Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves had been faced with a Lidl shop assistant instead of a maniac with a bomb, they would have failed miserably in their endeavours. Just like I do pretty much every time.
Oh, every time I go, I think that I’m mentally prepared. “This time”, I say to myself, “I’ll be the Gewinner and you can suck it, Lidl Lady.” And every time, I become an even bigger Geloser.
As I get nearer the top of the queue, I can feel my heart start to race. When I’m three or four people back, I get into a fighting stance and open my backpack. The noise of the dividers clacking off each other as the shop assistant flings them along the side of the conveyor belt sets my nerves on edge. Finally, I make it to the top of the queue.
Lidl Lady: Guten Morgen.
Me: (Eyes narrowing) Hallo…
The theme tune to “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” starts playing in my head as we eye each other. And then we’re off.
Beep, beep, beep, beep, beep – her hands are a blur as she tosses my items onto the tiny metal space at the end of the belt. I panic and start throwing stuff into my bag, forgetting that bread should be at the top, and instead crushing it with a litre of milk and a bag of potatoes. But there’s no time to worry about that now – she’s finished beeping stuff through and the metal shelf is still full. She’s holding my onions in one hand and my shampoo in the other until I clear some more space.
Sweating, I cram in a few more items with one hand, while frantically searching for my wallet with the other. Lidl Lady is looking at me like I’m a simpleton, while all of the Germans in the queue are tapping their feet, drumming their fingers, and wondering how they’re going to make up for this lost 45 seconds.
I tap in my PIN number, growing redder by the second until it’s unclear where my tomatoes end and my face begins. They get rammed into the backpack as well. They’re already more purée than solid food, but the important thing is that they are IN THERE and I’m almost ready to go.
Quashing the urge to have a little cry, I swing my backpack onto my back, force out an airy “Tschüss!”, and defiantly swagger towards the door, tomato juice dripping down my back.
The Germans are probably tutting behind me, but I don’t care. I’ve just bought enough food to last me the week (and enough wine to last me for around two days) for the bargain price of just over €12. So, I’ll be back, Lidl Lady, oh yes, I’ll be back. And one day, one day, I will be victorious.