This Would Never Happen in America

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.


Filed under Berlin, Personal, Serious

7 responses to “This Would Never Happen in America

  1. Ben

    Yeah, the Lidl stores tend to be a little dumpy (though not all of them), Netto is generally neater (and has better fruits and vegetables). Also, not all Lidl stores refuse to provide baskets, it apparently depends on the location. :-/
    I greatly enjoyed your musings on Denmark in the least 2 years, especially since they offered some more insights into a country that looks decidedly more xenophobic from the outside (aka Germany). I hope you enjoy Germany (aside from the neighbourhood radio. But be fair, I’ve seen the appartements in the States. At least our walls aren’t made from cardboard).

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. Your “American” experience jibed with mine while I was living in Dallas, TX, but having moved to New York, my shopping is now much more like yours, including the cheap/expensive option. One huge bonus is that it takes me far less time – the store is half a block away.

  3. Peter

    I agree with Pavel, Mike, sounds like you moved to Manhattan. You might enjoy this blog:

  4. As an American living Norway, I cannot agree with everything you said here more.

  5. Vincent

    The Lidl in the neighbourhood here (in the Netherlands) also stopped providing baskets, apparently because they were stolen too often (they have since return, though). Nowadays, I prefer to pay a little more and just cross the street for my groceries in a proper store, whose prices indeed aren’t that much higher.

  6. Brandon Mayo

    While you make it sound like you’re barely scrapping a living, you know full well that it’s well within your power and budget to find an apartment that has a freezer, elevator and is built within the last 10 years thus eliminating the sound of your neighbors. You have simply chosen to plan your budget after other priorities, like travel. Which is all fair and well, but the cost of down-prioritising your living quarters and selection of shop can’t then be used when making a half-hearted comparison between the city (Europe) and the suburbs (the US).

    • Qualtinger

      I would assume in Berlin, same as in Vienna where I live and probably most of Europe, the buildings are sturdier, the longer ago they were built. I would therefor much prefer to live in a building built in 1900 than in 2000.