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After moving from San Francisco to Berlin, perhaps the greatest shock was the rudeness of shopkeepers. And nowhere is shopping more unpleasant than in German supermarkets.

First of all, plan ahead, because the supermarket closes promptly at 8, except for Saturday, when it closes at 4, and Sunday, when it's not open at all. You had better be in line to pay by closing, or the staff will come "help" you make your final selections. Oh, and if you're buying fresh produce, get there even earlier, because it's all been put away by closing. Note: supermarkets in train stations are open longer hours by some special dispensation.

If you want a grocery cart, make sure you have a one mark coin on hand, because you'll need it to unlock a cart. Negotiate the obstacle course at the entrace of the store, where you and your grocery cart go through separate turnstiles. Now you can peruse the limited selection of items. Forget the exotic vegetables you liked in California. They don't exist. However, there are several dozen forms of pork product, and the best fresh bread in the known Universe (including Paris).

Don't forget to weigh your vegetables! They don't have time for that when you check out! The handy printing scale has pictures of the vegetables. This means there is only one kind of tomato, etc. but then that was already true anyway.

Now wait in line to pay. A long time. I learned a new German word waiting in line once, reading the signs in the store out of boredom--"Kassenstau", meaning "traffic jam at the cash register"--which the sign claimed didn't exist in that store, except I had twenty minutes to read it.

You will be inspected by the sharp-eyed, fast, and efficient checkout clerk. Don't dither for God's sake. Have your money ready. You had better have exact change. The clerk's responsibilities, which she will discharge with the full gravity they deserve, include the safeguarding of the store's supply of spare change. I will never forget the dressing-down I got when I had to pay sixteen marks, one pfennig (penny) with a twenty mark bill!

Did you remember to bring your own bags? No? Then that's twenty pfennigs apiece for plastic bags. It's "oekologisch" you know. Now bag your groceries as quickly as you can, because the next person is right behind you and coming out fast!

Note that most of these considerations do not apply to the Turkish grocery on the corner, where the customer is still (almost) always right.

While on a visit Germany in the summer of 1999, I received the greatest shock of my life in a supermarket. We were headed for Domburg, The Netherlands, a small beach town, for the weekend and we stopped to pick up supplies (mostly alcohol as well as some food). We were in Duesseldorf (ue is equivalent u with an umlaut, which most Americans screw up so don't dare correct me for adding an extra e, fool) and stop at what I thought was a rather small supermarket (if you even call it "super" considering the size it appeared to be) although it did look like it had an extremely high roof from the outside.

I asked my German friend, "Are you sure this place with have everything we need? It seems rather small."

With a laugh, he says, "Yes, you will not be concerned when you see inside."

Sure enough, upon entering, There is an escalator in this place! "What? An escalator in a supermarket?" I was thinking aloud. Sure enough, it was there: a conveyor belt sort of contraption that grocery carts could go up without trouble. The second floor explained the high ceiling and quelled my concerns about lack of variety. This was the most peculiar and unusual thing I saw in my three weeks there.

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