As Americans, we take so many things for granted. One of these is the super convenience of shopping in the US. Of course, the trade-off of this convenience is the bombardment of commercials and advertising as companies vie for the ever decreasing share of Americans’ disposable income.
However, with that being said, in Germany, we quickly learned that shopping is nothing like it is in the US. The following are our 10 observations of the differences between shopping in the US vs. Germany.
1) Store hours are VERY different. Typically, most grocery or department stores close by 8pm. And, by close, I literally mean close, as in the employees are headed toward the door. There are no 24 hour stores that are open (the exceptions being gas stations along the autobahns). And, the stores open usually by 8am, if not 9am.
2) Almost all stores and restaurants are closed on Sundays. While Germans and those living here for some time will tell us, we will learn to love the peacefulness of Sundays, until we get use to this, this means our Saturdays are busy shopping along with everyone else. But, I am starting to see how not being able to shop or go out to eat on Sundays is good in that it’s a day meant to be with family, friends, nature, or your religion.
3) The listed price on an item also includes the taxes paid. So, there is no trying to figure out how much the final bill is going to be when checking out in case you don’t have enough cash to cover the cost. Just simply add up the items.
4) When buying electronics or larger purchases, even though there is a listed price, you should be able to negotiate a % discount, free delivery, or some other type of arrangement. It’s one of those things that it doesn’t hurt to ask, “Is this the best price possible?”.
5) Recycling is huge here! This means that those plastic coke bottles will add an additional 15-25 cent per bottle as a deposit. Just make sure to return the empty bottles to collect your deposit back, as this ensures they get recycled and not dumped into the garbage.
6) The US has basically become a plastic society either paying for things with a debit or credit card. I would dare say that most Americans, at least those younger than the Baby Boomer generation, hardly carry any cash on them. I know I was in that category! Here in Germany, it is totally opposite, where it is mainly a cash driven economy. Some stores and restaurants will accept a debit or credit card, but it may also be that they only accept the European type cards with built-in smart chips. So, it’s best to ask before buying if you are a little low on cash, or just carry around more cash just in case.
7) Paper or plastic? at checkout. The answer is neither! When going grocery shopping, you either need to bring your own bags or purchase one at checkout (about 99 cents per bag). And, you will bag your own groceries as the cashier sits behind the register after scanning your goods.
8) In the US, when you buy produce at the grocery, there may be a bar code to scan for the price or the price can be looked up and weighed at the register. In Germany, for most produce, you weigh it yourself at the produce section and place the bar code on the item. Not a big deal unless you forget to do this, and have to hold up the line to go get the price. The best alternative is to buy produce from the local farmer’s stand in the town.
9) US brand names are few and far between here in Germany. Sure there are the global brands like Coke, but even Coke sold in Germany is not quite the same since high fructose corn syrup is not allowed. But, then again, maybe that’s a great thing. Sometimes the logo is the same, but the name is different. For example, instead of “Mr. Clean” in the US, here it is “Miester Prosper” or instead of “Pledge Wipes” they are called “Pronto”. I imagine this is due to the translations of words meaning different things. But, what it means now, is just trying to buy the right things when we need them.
And, finally, #10) even though we are in a different country, shopping is done the same way as in the US. It’s just a matter of getting to know your way around. Yes, there are malls….maybe not as many malls, and definitely not the same size, as in the States. And, yes, there are mega grocery/warehouse stores….maybe with just a different name or some different items sold. And, yes, there are the familiar US-named stores here too….maybe just not in every little shopping plaza. But, what does stand out are the many, many small little stores, boutiques, street vendors, corner shops, etc. that are in a long gone era in the US.
So, while there are some similarities, there are many differences to know. And, that’s the best part of living in a foreign country, getting to learn about the differences, and most of all, respecting why the differences exists.