It’s Cross-Cultural Wednesday

Here at the blog, it’s cross-cultural Wednesday.

During the previous week the simple cultural differences about grocery shopping came up. When I was young and had never been to Europe I had heard that the Europeans were more likely than Americans to do daily grocery shopping and to get less at a time.

Now it is decades later: is it still like that? So far, in my own humble experience, which may not be typical, the difference that I have felt the most is this: 1) In the USA, usually, if a customer dares try to assert their right to use a re-usable bag they brought with them, the cashiers normally manage to force at least one or two more plastic or paper bags onto the customers. Those who accept being supplied their bag by the store, may be allowed to choose paper or plastic. 2) In Germany, many shoppers show up with their own basket. The situation is the opposite of how it is in the USA. If you have really neglected to bring your reusable bag or basket with you, the shop can sell you one – but they are able to trigger your sense of guilt or just social faux pas. Germans bag their own groceries except that they re-use their own devices meaning their skills at packing and estimating exactly how much fits both their budget and their basket – and often to ride their bike or walk it home.

For Americans in Germany the shock of the cashier staring at you as if you are nut job for not having brought your basket is profound. For Germans, I imagine that it may be truly upsetting – especially for the environmentally conscious, to bring in their basket and have unecessary plastic bags forced on them and to have cashiers look at them as if only naughty idiots touch their groceries immediately after purchase. In either direction, one can adjust but I think it is natural for someone to feel weird when confronted by the other approach.

Granted many of those who only use one shopping basket either shop often even though they are not financially poor or because they are. A lot of married women in Western Germany have not had careers and if their husband has not provided two cars or if she has not traveled with him in order to retain control of the car while he is at work, they are left with bikes, or public transit and their own feet. As a side effect, there are a lot of married German woman out there with their baskets as one means of getting out of the house even if they don’t have jobs.

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