GRAFENWOEHR, Germany — For newcomers, grocery shopping in a foreign country can seem like an intimidating endeavor. But it doesn’t have to be.
Knowing the ins and outs of where and how to shop on the economy will smooth those fears and make your first German shopping experience more enjoyable.
Aldi, Norma, Edeka, Kaufland, Netto, Real — so many choices. Each one has a slightly different set-up. Some do not accept American credit cards, but most of them have an ATM on-site. Food item prices include a 7 percent tax, while alcohol is taxed at 19 percent. You can use value added tax forms, or VAT forms, on alcohol at large grocery stores like Real and Kaufland or large Getränkemarkts, meaning drink store. You can purchase VAT forms on-post at Grafenwoehr/Vilseck, Hohenfels and Garmisch.
Kaufland, Edeka and Real tend to be larger stores with more foreign food options like Asian sauces and spices. Aldi, Norma and Lidl are smaller in size and variety, but offer great prices and every day necessities.
1. Bring your own bags
German grocery stores do not provide shopping bags. You are expected to bring your own or purchase them. Most places sell plastic or paper bags for ten to fifty euro cents and cloth bags for €1 – 2. Bags are located at checkout and are usually found under the conveyor belt. Invest in some sturdy cloth or plastic ones to reuse over and over again. After unloading your groceries, putting the bags back in the car is a great way to never show up empty handed.
2. Bring euro coins to get a shopping cart
If you want a shopping cart then don’t leave home without a fifty-cent euro, 1 euro or 2 euro coin. A coin must be inserted into the cart to unchain it from the cart bay. Don’t worry; you’ll get your coin back when you return your cart. Don’t have a coin? Most places have hand-held baskets.
3. Efficiency is the name of the game at the check-out lane
Checking out is a lesson in efficiency as you are expected to bag your own groceries. As the cash register employee scans your items, put them back in your cart, pay and move the cart to the side before bagging them. Cashiers and customers expect you to be out of the way by the time you have paid so that the next customer can proceed with check out.
4. Baked goods, meat and beer sometimes sold separately
Some stores have a bakery, called Bäckerei in German, which sells fresh bread. Others have an oven where you can toast your own. Want your loaf sliced? Schneiden, meaning sliced, is the word to know. Larger grocery stores have a Metzgerei or butcher attached to it or a meat counter in the store, while smaller ones have a refrigerated section of prepackaged meats. Certain stores have a wide drink selection with juices, beer, wine and spirits, while others have a separate Getränkemarkt, meaning drink store, attached to them. When you purchase a glass or hard plastic bottle, you pay a Pfand or deposit, which you can get back by returning the bottle to a Pfand machine. When you return the bottles, you get a voucher, which can be used towards your purchase or exchanged for money.
5. Recycle plastic and paper packaging before leaving the store
In most grocery stores, there is a special counter where you can recycle unwanted packaging. This makes recycling at home a little easier.
6. Get advice from other Americans shopping off-post
The best people to get tips on shopping off-post are from other Americans with experience. A number of community members have begun Facebook pages and groups to help aid you in the grocery aisles. Where can I get Korean food off-post? Who offers the cheapest beer? Which off-post grocery stores take VAT forms? These are just some of the questions asked. Check out these Facebook groups to help you in your grocery experience.
7. Know these basic German phrases and words