I spent two hours today buying groceries. It’s not that I had to buy something elaborate or hard to come by. It’s just that I hadn’t bought food since Sunday, so I had to stock up. Plus, I wanted to make a few big meals so I could have leftovers for lunch at work the next few days.
First I went to Lidl, the Ryanair of German grocery stores. For some reason the cheap grocery stores here no longer provide baskets, so you’re left with the choice of either pushing a shopping cart or carrying your groceries like some kind of Denny’s waitress.
This was actually my first time in Lidl here, and it’s every bit as dire as people make it out to be. There are barely any fresh fruit or vegetables, the lights flicker like an airplane bathroom and there always seemed to be a baby crying somewhere in the distance. The prices weren’t even that good. I bought bratwurst and a few cans of beans and put them in my backpack, along with my laptop and some dirty tupperware.
Teetering, I headed for the proper grocery store. Five years in Europe has taught me that the best way to get both value and selection is run through your shopping list first at the cheap grocery store, then fill in the exotics at the upscale grocery store.
After Lidl, I walked into Kaiser’s like an East Berliner crossing over to the west for the first time in 1989. The choice! The ambience! The baskets!
Between the two trips, the commute, waiting in line and struggling with two bags and a cinder-block backpack on the way home, it was a full two hours from the time I left work til the time I arrived home. Dinner wasn’t on the table til 9.30.
The American in me wants to bitch about this, like somehow I’m entitled to pick up my groceries once every 10 days in my station wagon, the bagboy attending to my every whim.
Life takes more effort in Europe than it does in the States. You have a tiny apartment without a freezer and a Liechtenstein of counter space. You climb four flights of stairs to get there. You can hear your neighbors’ every musical obsession, telephone argument and orgasm.
This is the cost of living in a place people want to live. You share a little more than you do in the States. You work a little harder to hit the reset button every day. Days like this are probably when I should miss the US the most, but instead they remind me why I’m here.