On my last blog, I promised to tell you how to offend people by going to a grocery store in Berlin.
The answer is easy. You just show up.
First, let me compare American stores with Berlin’s shops. In America, stores tend to be the size of an entire Ugandan village, stock everything from fresh fruit to charcoal, and is run by employees who smile, personally take you to the item you want but can’t find, and chat about the rash on their arm while they ring up the rest of your purchases.
In Berlin, a large grocery store is a rare thing. Usually one walks to the corner shop with one’s own canvas tote. The doors will not automatically open because there are no sensor pads in all of Germany. You can’t touch the fruit to test for firmness. The meat looks freshly stripped from the dead animal. The proprietor has never heard of hamburger. And there is no German word for “buns”. Their version of a bun is a tiny rock-hard lump of bread that fits around the meat like finger cymbals. It is rather like a bratwurst roach-clip. That way, the food doesn’t touch one’s fingers, and therefore, one doesn’t offend German culture by getting a smidge of uncleanness on one’s hands while in the midst of Germans. The wee rock of bread is delicious, but one needs the invincible teeth of a blubber-eating Eskimo to chew it.
The store’s checker, or cashier, sits on a stool behind a small runway where you can place your food. Then, while the cashier rings up your items at lightning speed, you bag it yourself by shoving it all into your tote as fast as you can without pausing for breath. If you, indeed, pause to pant for breath, the cashier will try to hurt you.
My first trip into a large Berlin grocery store quickly became my last.
It all started with the little old lady beating me on the back with her cane. At first I thought I was in her way, so I moved aside. So did she. I started walking faster. So did she. After about the fifth geriatric whack, I took off running and hid in the Schnapps aisle until I saw her toddle past. It seems that she just didn’t like me. She kept after me, but I steadfastly stayed out of her way by ducking whenever she would spot me.
Then, when we came up to the checkout, I didn’t seem to be fast enough in stuffing my tote. When the cashier got to the uber-bitter beer I had bought for my dad, she decided to throw it. I intercepted her hand – the bottles were 5 Marks each, after all – which made her even more angry. So she let loose a verbal slug-fest in German that called my morals into question, along with my parentage. Then she proceeded to threaten me. Meanwhile, I kept fast hold of her wrist with one hand while wrestling away the beer bottle with the other.
My mother, who was behind me in the line, tried to intervene, explaining in German why I wasn’t so fast in bagging my own groceries . . . i.e. that I was an American.
Even I knew that was a huge mistake. Most Germans deeply resent the first two World Wars, but are ready to start a third one. They truly believe that 3 times is a charm, bless their hearts.
However, it did distract the cashier from my bottle of beer. She let go and whirled on my mother. What verbally transpired between them was too fast and furious for me to follow. Needless to say, I took advantage of the misdirection of invectives to bag my stuff. And my mother’s. The inhumanely efficient cashier was still totalling up the purchases through all her screaming threats without even missing a beat.
Then, after attempting to slap both of us, the cashier let us go. Mom, having assimilated more Americanism than she would have liked, decided to complain to the manager.
Even I knew that would get us nowhere. I think insulting customers was the store’s policy . . . Nay, motto.
When Mom actually tracked down the manager somewhere in the store’s back rooms, he was furious with us for having the gall not to enjoy the whole experience. He told us that he couldn’t care less how his cashier acted since he knew her – he didn’t know us. Then he offered to let us out into the alley. Apparently, he truly DID know his cashier well. . . he recommended that we don’t let her see our faces again . . . ever.
On a more sedate note, my father did, finally, get his beer when we got home, along with a fresh box of liquor chocolates.
And on that tidbit, I will leave you with a few pictures . . .
Next time I write on my site, I will have a SPECIAL blog – the Sunshine Awards.
Then, afterwards, back to Germany – where I will talk about the yummy German food . . . and why you should never eat anything bigger than your head . . .
Until next time . . .