Battle of the bags

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.

No frills shopping. Shudder.
No frills shopping. Shudder.

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.

 

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162 thoughts on “Battle of the bags”

  1. This made me laugh very hard!!!
    The thing with being fast packing your stuff is a problem I also had when I first moved to Germany. In Brazil there is someone to pack your stuff for you (can you believe that?) and here you have to pack your own stuff… which I dont mind at all and I am totally used to it. However, sometimes when the cashier is pretty fast and there is a long line behind me, I get all nervous to pack fast, as I dont want people thinking I am too slow hahaha. But you are right, at Lidl they are just too fast and there isnt much space at the end of the belt, so you really need to get going fast hahaha I will think of you next time I go there!

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  2. Hlarious! I almost choked over my breakfast Linda or should it be brunch LOL! Those Aldi/Lidl ladies can be mean so I prefer to go all lardy dardy and go shopping at the fancy Kaiser’s 1 minute away from my Prenzlauerberg home.
    The staff are nice there and even go as far as finding an item for me, smiling, and not worrying if i use my EC card to pay for something that is €3.00. Yeah, I’ve done that ‘cos I wanted to keep the cash that I had for the many places in Berlin that frown on the use of EC cards, not to talk of a credit card LOL!

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  3. This made me laugh so much….I get scared at the check out counter too…I am never fast enough- NEVER! and you know in America, we don’t sack our own groceries, they have a nice high school boy there to do that…..so you can imagine how things went the first time I had to do the shopping in the old country. Anyway…sounds like you found some nice deals….so I guess it was worth it….have a good week!

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  4. Haha. LIDL is our go-to store and I LOVE how uncomplicated (and of course, billig!) shopping is there…. but I do definitely feel panicky if I ever have to get groceries there myself! Normally I make the boy do the packing and I take care of swiping my card 🙂
    Helpful tip: put the things on the belt in the order that you want them to go into your backpack (because usually you have a minute or two to arrange these things). Also what we do is load everything directly into the trolley and then at the table, carefully arrange into our shopping bags…. much nicer.

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    1. I think I need to have a man with me at all times – or not even necessarily a man, just an extra pair of arms! Sounds like you’ve got it all figured out! 🙂

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  5. Actual fact: I have a standup comedy routine that’s pretty much exactly this post! I say that it makes you feel much more satisfied to have won the battle at the checkout than it does to have a cashier with good manners 😉

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  6. Hahaha – your post about this issue is the best on the web. It resembles a Matrix-like fight between Neo and the superfast Agent Smith. Beeing a German and hence well trained for shopping at Aldi, I can give you some hints how to deal with them speedy cashiers, ease your anxiety and maybe win the race one day😁.
    First, and most important, get yourself a cart. You have no chance beating their scans while packing your bag. The cart is your cache at the end of the table and Aldi expects you to have one. That’s why packing area is so short.
    Second you should prepare well before it starts by sorting things on the belt correctly. Heavy things first and lighter things at the end. Pull out your cash or debit card BEFORE it starts and put it somewhere handy.
    Third comes the fight itself. Best strategy is to push your cart at the end of the table as soon as the dude in front of you fucked off. Don’t lose time with politeness, you’re German! The cashier, your enemy, has to remove the “next customer“ bar and you must use every second to get ready for the flow of your groceries. When you’re ready to receive it’s time for “Guten Tag“. Now focus on the things coming and stuff them as fast as you can in your cart. This can keep the table behind him empty if you are fast enough.
    Fourth watch the end of your things arriving on the belt in front of the cashier. When you think they fit on the short packing table stop packing your cart and fumble the money out of your pocket. As soon as he scanned the last item wave with your cash or card. Now he has to receive and you don’t wait for the change but start to pack the last items into your cart.
    Fifth is your glory. While he was busy taking out the change and printing the receipt you managed to grab the last things from the table and now is the time for eye contact, victorious grin and “Schönen Tag noch“. YOU RULE -HE/SHE LOST.🙌
    NOW you can push your cart to the real packing area and pack your bag carefully.🍻

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    1. Linda, listen to this golden piece of advice! I do exactly that way. I also push heavy items first to scan (chicken legs, cans of pickles, potatoes, stuff like that), soft things like cheese, sausage and milk in the middle an din the end its brekable stuff (bottles of wine, chips etc) and pack it quickly. I also usually have my debit card in my pocket when I shop. Another thing – dont neccessary take the cart, they are big and not very handy. Get a shopping trolley like that one http://www.amazon.de/gp/product/B002SYHF4A/ref=pd_lpo_sbs_dp_ss_2?pf_rd_p=556245207&pf_rd_s=lpo-top-stripe&pf_rd_t=201&pf_rd_i=B000NRXR0K&pf_rd_m=A3JWKAKR8XB7XF&pf_rd_r=1TRSDEFPN784EKQ1A7GA

      this is where I put the groceries while doing the shopping in the supermarket and then I pack them after I pay and I dont nee to pack twice. plus its easier to bring it home. good luck!

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  7. I remember my first time in Lidl…. heart pounding. sweat pouring. nervous blinks all around. and “please don’t look at me”. I got the feelings that in Sweden mostly immigrants go to Lidl.. in Spain it was a bit easier.

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    1. My German flatmate lived in Sweden for a while. She couldn’t understand why everyone was looking at her super-speedy packing skills 😉 You can take the German out of Germany but…
      I guess most things are more relaxed in Spain!

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  8. There’s a chain in Florida called Save-A-Lot where you bring your own bags. The first time I went to one was with my mom last year while she was “wintering” in South Florida. The store itself is so non-descript: no advertizing, just shelves of food and stuff. But people don’t bag their food right at the check-out counter. There’s a table the length of the store where people bring over their bought goods and then bag them. Oh, yeah, that part reminded me of a laundry mat. My husband wants to find one nearer us … as we anticipate eventually trying to live off “fixed” incomes, we’ll need all the savings we can get 😉 And, Linda, I think with practice, you’ll get bagging down. Actually sounds like a great idea for a reality TV show!

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              1. Ah, but the Sav-A-Lot stores (2) that he founded in Indiana are not related to the nation-wide chain (Save-A-Lot). Thank goodness or I’d get the creeps just being near the store. What a sad but frightening story, though. And to stumble across it just because you’re looking up info on a grocery store chain. You can’t make this stuff up.

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                1. Ha ha! I know! I was just looking to see if a German was involved 🙂 Good to know it’s a different chain – wouldn’t like to give you the creeps every time you want a pint of milk 🙂

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      1. oh but linda you do realize that bringing your own bags is also recycling? the Germans are very wise for doing that – I always take two cloth bags with to grocery shopping – each one can last me a couple of years. In UK supermarket employers do pack your groceries for you and it takes time (means ppl have to wait in line longer) but the bags are crap quality, plus I know Im paying for them with my own money. It is eventually included in the price even if I dont pay for them directly. And then next week I come to shop I feel guilty of using them again and throwing them away – recycling is a must! also in UK you dont recycle bottles which they do in Germany (helps keeping the costs low).

        Not to mention the fact that food in UK kind of sucks…. bacon and cheddar cheese being the only 2 things I liked. So many ready-made meals! Not so many fresh products – and it does cost more. So yeah, German supermarkets are 100 times better, the only thing I miss about shopping in UK is the general friendliness of the people that I believe comes from within. They are genuinely happy to help you, they werent just schooled that way.

        After experiencing brisk and firm treatement from busy German workers I felt a little guilty at taking away someones time in UK. But every time I asked someone where the toothbrushes were, or soap (in my first days there I couldnt locate anything cause it is placed differently) the sales assistant would come with me through all the aisles, happily chatting on the way, show me everything, ask a fellow worker if he doesnt know where what is, and than ask “Can I help you with anything else?”. And theres is no sence of urginess, no impatience. SO different from Germany where everyone is always in a hurry! SO yeah, british people are sweet, but German shops are cheaper and still more effective. If only ppl there would be as friendly/relaxed as they are in UK or USA they d be perfect.

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        1. I’ve always found the Germans to be perfectly helpful and pleasant! They might not approach you to see if you want help, but if you ask them something, they’ll go out of their way! Nice people 🙂

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            1. I guess it depends on what you are used too. For example Im used to find aisles fool of chops, chicken legs, different brands of sausage and 2-3 types of ready meals and in UK it was the opposite. It was hard to find ingredients too. But to each his own. I did love the sweets though – especially teh trifle. It can be found in Germany as well but hard to find! And cupcakes. i miss cupcakes!

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                1. oh do you think I remember? Corner stores and than that green supermarket that is green….. ugh I have no idea. Could it be… Tesco? Not sure

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  9. Lol. I think you’d better learn how to teach (or maybe use the same method and just intimidate) people to be more relaxed than work up your tomato squashing skills!
    Hope you’ll get more work soon!

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  10. You really like REWE and EDEKA? not only are they overpriced but the food selection is actually worse than in ALDI/LIDL and you have to wait in line longer. I love ALDI, LIDL and NETTO, but I feel forced to shop at REWE sometimes because it closes later. I can see how NETTO for instance has a MUCH better selection of sausage and cheeses than REWE, not to mention fresh fruit.

    as for the quick cashiers I so prefer it over the slow british ones. The latest developement I really enjoy are automatic cash registers at REAL where you scan and pay all by yourself, you should check it out

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    1. I like Kaisers the most 😉 Probably just because it’s shiny and stuff! I’ve only been to an EDEKA once, and that was with a friend in Hamburg who’d forgotten to buy something! I’m growing to love Lidl and Aldi – no Netto anywhere near me though!

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    2. Scheck-In Center is an EDEKA… and the only place in (my part of) Germany where I can buy vanilla extract! They also have a MUCH larger selection of vegetables than ALDI. Not sure about LIDL… I’m banned from shopping there because they’re evil to their employees.

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  11. Sounds like a tense situation! Aldi has just begun to take off around where I live in Florida, but it isn’t crazy crowded to where the race that you described has monumental social ramifications.

    On a sidenote, does Trader Joe’s have any locations in Europe? They’re kind of a hipster version of Aldi that may boost your style points without breaking the bank.

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  12. Ha!! I was forced to go to a Norma at rush hour in the center of Fürth yesterday, and it reminded me of why I love the wide-open aisles of our slightly more expensive village Edeka! My cashier was far quicker than the half drunk dudes in my line (paying for mini liquor bottles in coins, of course), and I spent so long waiting that I missed the next train! The worst part (for me) at those stores, is the midget-sized shelf at the end. If you buy more than 3 things, there’s no way you can bag faster than it seems to pile up. I’m with you on the prep moves though… Wallet out, bags arranged and opened, boxing stance assumed…

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    1. I know, right?! You just have to! And even then, you’re fighting a losing battle most of the time! I just about coped just now with around 6 items – there were two ancient people behind me though so they didn’t seem in any hurry 🙂 I miss Kaisers 🙂 Do you have it in your parts? They didn’t in Hamburg…

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      1. As long as you get the wine in the bag, who cares about the rest. 🙂 I don’t think we have a Kaisers around here, I’ve never seen one. I’ll have to comparison shop when I get to Hamburg one of these years.

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        1. It’s a bit of a trek for you I guess! 🙂 I don’t have an Edeka within easy walking distance so I don’t bother with them. There’s one at one of the main train stations here that opens on Sundays though – it’s always out the door busy!

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  13. Sweet baby Jesus. I think I broke out in hives just reading this, the experience sounds so stressful.

    In comparison, I’m in Georgia this week, with the sweet as molasses (and just as slow) service: “How are y’all doin’ today, ma’am? Y’all have a lovely day now, ya hear.” No one’s in a big rush in these parts.

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  14. Ah, it takes one charming Irish lady to transform a regular German shopping experience into a new sort of sport 🙂 Take a friend with a camera next time, so you can have a recorded proof of your progress with each time 😀

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  15. I go nuts now when I am back in the U.S. at a grocery store. Slow. As. Molasses. “Hi there! How are you?! Is it still raining?” I came here to buy groceries, not chat. Start scanning. “Did you find everything ok?” My pet response to that is “Nearly.” – They don’t know what to do. I am now in the check out lane and there are people behind me. What the heck difference does it make at this point if I DIDN’T find everything? I admit, I prefer German efficiency to superficial American friendliness.

    I am incredibly patient in line at the store and even give people pleasant looks when they turn to me starting to grumble about someone else taking 20 seconds longer than they should, but I can re-cart my groceries like a champ! As long as I don’t drop something and fall behind, I’m every bit as fast as the cashier. I should teach classes. 🙂

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    1. You can come here and give me a couple if you like! I wonder what they’d like you to do – ‘oh no, wait, I didn’t find sugar. I’m going to go back and wander around the supermarket until I do if that’s alright with you. I’ll just leave this stuff here in the meantime.’ 🙂

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  16. In the “old” days, the Aldi cashiers had to type in the prices on a keypad, none of this easy “scanning” rubbish! They got special training for it (because they had to learn prices off by heart!) and were lightening fast. It was quite scary to watch.

    Was in Ireland last week and Aldi/Lidl were much more relaxing. And people don’t breathe down your neck in the queue! Who knew?! 😉

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      1. Think Germany has rubbed off on me: a friend on a night out was telling a story which included the words “down there”, “down where?” I wanted to know, “vagina?” I said… tumbleweed…

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    1. I now understand! I never felt under pressure at Kaisers as they have the split packing area, so you can take your time! In Lidl, the amount of space is crazy! I sometimes end up hurling stuff at the windowsill so I can get over there and pack in peace 😉

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      1. I don’t think we have Kaiser’s. There used to be one near Jan’s work but it turned into a REWE. The only place I know that has a proper split packing area (with the little moveable divider) is REAL.

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  17. I LOVE Lidl and Aldi and can’t wait until they arrive here. The quality of the stuff is great. Back home it compares well with all the big brands but here it’s actually much better than the branded stuff. (I am finally beginning to believe that branded stuff here is inferior to the same brands at home, having been made using lesser quality ingredients to be sold at a lesser cost.) People actually sell Lidl washing powder, washing-up liquid and soaps, etc. in the markets here because they’re known to be better quality. You’ll get used to that little adrenaline rush. You might even begin to crave it!

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    1. Ha, I’d probably miss the efficiency if I ever moved somewhere else! Do you think they will come to LT? I think LV were blocking them – they prefer overpriced, poor quality Scandinavian supermarkets clearly…

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  18. College tip: Go grocery shopping with a roommate and let one person handling shoving things into a backpack while the other pays be careful about the bread being under things or the roommate will throw a tantrum)

    Post-college tip: Live close to a grocery store and buy less items at a time

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    1. Yep, I have to do another little run today! I have 4 supermarkets within a 5 minute walk of where I live so I’m quite lucky 🙂 Lidl, Aldi, Kaisers and REWE – have to pick up a jumbo pack of toilet roll today – Germans buy in bulk 😉

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  19. I have no idea why they are so fast, they must have special training. Have you noticed how they glare at you if the bar code is slightly mangled and won’t blip?

    I wonder how much trouble it would cause to mangle every bar code before reaching the check out. Food for thought?

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  20. Oh man! Your Lidl lady would go absolutely bonkers here in India.

    Natures Basket – one of our computerised grocery stores – has folks checking out items at a snails pace. I think they live under the threat that if they miss catching one coding error and the consumer underpays, the money is deducted from there salary with an extra penalty! So every item is scanned, checked then double checked to make sure the correct amount has been charged.

    One guy in particular is sooooooooo maddeningly slow I will wait in line longer to avoid him. And once gently suggested he work with one of his cohorts to up his speed from three times snail pace to regular snail pace.

    I want your Lidl lady!!!

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    1. Ha ha! They should send over a German trainer for a couple of weeks – that ought to shake things up a bit! 🙂 That guy sounds so frustrating! When I go back to Ireland, I’ll probably be like “Um, I’m sorry, why are you chatting to me when you should be scanning?!” 🙂

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        1. I find that I really like it the first few times, then I get impatient and want to start shouting, “WORK DAMN YOU!” Preferably in a German accent though the Germans are far too polite to ever engage in this sort of behaviour 😉

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  21. Hm… I wonder what I would do. If my competitive spirit took over, I would totally perfect the process till I beat it. If my American F-U spirit had won out, I would smile the most deliciously evil/innocent smile and take my damn time.

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  22. The checkout cashiers in just about every supermarket in NYC are surly and hard-eyed. I think it’s part of the job description.

    That’s why I go to the self-checkout area. I scan my items and pack them myself. I was a checkout cashier when I was a teen so I know what I’m doing. 🙂 I wonder if I could give those Lidl Ladies a run for their money.

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    1. I don’t know why German supermarkets haven’t started doing this yet! I used the self-checkout area all the time in the UK – very handy! Shopping in NYC sounds like fun 🙂 The Latvians could give them a run for their money, I’ll bet 😉

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          1. Not sure if your self check-outs work like this, but in most US stores (where you can buy booze) you can scan the booze first and then keep scanning. The attendants usually get to you before you finish.

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  23. One of my good friends was a cashier at Aldi’s back in college. They had a minimum items per minute speed rate they had to meet. They were hard core strict about it, too.

    We do a lot of shopping at Aldi’s. My favorite part is the chain on the shopping carts and you have to pay a quarter to get a cart. The fact that they can get every single customer will bring their cart all the way back to the front of the building for a quarter is an amazing bit of commercial psychology.

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    1. What the hell, there’s Aldi’s in America? I havent heard of that store till …um, NOW.
      Btw, in Russia, French supermarket chain Auchan does that same oin-chain-card trick. Only with a 10-ruble coin.

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    2. And after all that money they save, they’re still desperate to get that quarter back 😉 Ah, interesting to know about the item per minute thing! That explains a lot!

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  24. Bahaha! I only laugh because I’ve been in your shoes! If there were an Olympic sport for cashiering, Aldis and Lidl would place gold and silver every time. We have Aldis here in the US now, too, and even the American cashiers are faster at Aldis than at other stores. I can’t figure out how Germans can juggle their groceries and wallet as quickly as those Aldi cashiers. They never seem to go all clustermuck like I get when faced with a speedy Gonzales cashier!

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    1. I must visit one in Ireland and see if it’s the same there! And I didn’t realise they’d made it Stateside – wow! They’re taking over the world, one speedy cashier at a time!

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  25. I have got one long German word to end all your troubles: Einkaufswagenchip. This is the coin/chip which you can insert into the supermarket cart (it’s is not a real Euro coin). You can buy it at certain supermarkets (got mine at Kaufland) and put it on your key chain. This way you have a cart each time you’re at the supermarket, the Lidl Lady is defeated and you can pack at your own pace.

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  26. It’s times like these that you’ve gotta ask yourself a question: “Do I feel lucky?”

    I suppose at least you have an excuse for putting the milk on top of the bread – I do it and am not rushed, and then I get home and am like >.<
    Though (and call me crazy) but there is something about that sort of efficiency that is sort of a turn on….

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      1. You get the sullen teenager, or slow and not-technologically-savvy elderly person, but generally it’s not too bad. If you’re pleasant, they’re pleasant. 🙂

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          1. I just make sure to say “Thanks so much, have a good day” or something, and if they are grumpy, it’s not my fault!

            If you’d like to experience American grocery shopping, please feel free to pay me a visit 🙂 (But we’ll not go the day before a holiday or a snowstorm!)

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              1. No bread, no milk, NOTHING on the shelves. Given the 280cm+ of snow we’ve gotten – constantly – this winter, you think people would have learned that clearing out the grocery stores isn’t going to do much.

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    1. I don’t eat that much 😉 But it’s all good stuff! Fresh veggies, minced meat, pasta, sauce, cheese, sliced meat for sandwiches, and wine 😉 I’m cooking more here than I ever did in LV – inspired by H&H I guess 😉

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      1. Still, it’s 50 € a month, and I rarely spent less than 70 when I was out of work (it was almost 120 last month, and I’m not exactly stuffing myself) – and I only eat what I cook myself, always have, and I don’t drink. 🙂

        I know that some things are cheaper in Germany (like many cheeses), but I somehow suspect that you use very, very small plates at home. 🙂

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  27. The best thing to do is to have the items you want at the bottom of your bag go through first, this way there’s no waiting for that stuff to come through. I also subscribe of going to the market every few days. It’s far easier and I can make it out far faster.

    My ancestors may been 2-300 years removed from Germany, but there are plenty of times when I can feel my inner German trying to get out.

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    1. Ha yes, I do try to put the heavy stuff through first, but then when it all starts piling up, I panic! They’re just so fast! And having so many pairs of eyes on you as you struggle just makes it even harder! 😉

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  28. Reading your post gave me a minor heart attack! Just buying two things was hard enough for me, buying a weeks worth of groceries is an amazing feat. My hat’s off to you! I would have panicked and left half of my food.

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  29. So true! But I think it also depends on the time of day you go. Nevertheless, it’s almost worth making multiple short trips throughout the week to avoid the mass cramming and destruction of goods (been there, done that). Great read!

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    1. Thank you! Yeah, I’ve gone at lots of different times – it’s definitely easier when there isn’t a mob of impatient Germans watching you pack your stuff! 😉 I’m guaranteed to fumble under the pressure! Thanks for reading and commenting! Linda.

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