11 tips to help you shop like a European
When you first move to Germany, you are completely overwhelmed with the new place, new culture and new language. It’s a bit intimidating to say the least. When I first arrived, we had a furnished apartment off base, and I was terrified of even going to buy coffee at the little grocery store in the village because I didn’t know the language. After I passed my driver’s test, I did everything on base. I didn’t dare wander off into a store. I thought it would be drastically different. I was also worried that I wouldn’t find any allergen-friendly foods that I needed. After being in Germany a couple of months, I braved Globus for the first time, and I was pleasantly surprised. I couldn’t believe I had been intimidated. I was amazed at how similar, yet different it was. After living here a couple of years, I have created a balance of on-base and off-base shopping. I want to share my tips for shopping like a European, so you can jump in with both feet.
BYOB: Bring your own bags
When shopping off base, you will have to bring your own bags or purchase them at check out. You may also notice people putting the items right back into their carts. Some people do this because they have bins in the trunks of their cars.
Buy seasonally and frequently
Germany is big on seasonal produce, including white asparagus (Spargel) in May, strawberries (Erdbeeren) in June and pumpkin (Kürbis) in the fall — you’ll find these items in stores and on restaurant menus. Taking a local cooking class with the USO can help you discover German recipes with local cuisine. Europeans are big on shopping several times a week to avoid waste. Create a menu for a few days, buy only what you need, and remember that space in your fridge, freezer and pantry are limited.
Shop at different places
I got in the habit of buying meat on base and produce off base. I now have several different stores I frequent. Check out the options in your area, and make grocery lists for each location to help you stay organized. If you don’t want to deal with the ration card, you can buy coffee off base (the same goes for cigarettes and alcoholic beverages).
What you need to know for baking supplies
If you are into baking, you need to familiarize yourself with the different names for flour (Mehl). German grocery stores sell a variety of flour. Look for baking powder and vanilla sugar in packets, instead of containers.
Terms to know:
• Backpulver – Baking powder
• Dinkelmehl – Spelt flour
• Roggenmehl – Rye flour
• Speisestärke – Cornstarch
• Vanillezucker – Vanilla sugar
• Weizenmehl – Wheat flour
• Zucker – Sugar
Shop at the local village bakery and butcher
I love going to my village bakery (Bäckerei) for fresh bread. I have gotten to know the ladies behind the counter. They know I speak English and accommodate me even after I attempt to pronounce the items I want to purchase. When I first went, I loved seeing the villagers line up with their bread baskets. The local butcher (Metzger) will have a variety of fresh meats, often including housemade bratwurst and ground meat. You can find specialty cuts here.
Terms to know:
• Hähnchen or Huhn – Chicken
• Hühnerbrust – Chicken breast
• Lamm – Lamb
• Rindfleisch – Beef
• Schinken – Ham
• Schweinefleisch – Pork
• Truthahn or Puten – Turkey
Learn the metric system
Americans are accustomed to weighing in pounds. In Europe, produce and meat are weighed in kilograms. Flour and sugar are measured in grams. A good conversion to remember is 110 grams = 1 cup.
Shop at the farmers’ market
Most communities and major cities have a number of farmers’ markets throughout the week. There you may find even more local meat, produce, cheese and flowers. The same rules apply — bring euros (especially coins and small bills) and your own bags. Arrive early for the best selection.
Buy your drinks by the crate
I was surprised when I saw stores specifically for drinks (Getränke). People buy beverages by the crate and return the bottles and crates to the store for recycling. Some stores have recycling machines, making it even more convenient to return bottles. When you return the items, you’ll receive a refund receipt that can be used toward future in-store purchases.
Make sure you have euros when shopping
Don’t assume all stores take credit or debit cards. Always carry euros, and ask about the use of VAT forms. Because the tax on groceries is only 7 percent, some stores allow you to bring in one form at the end of the month with your grocery receipts for a refund. Also keep in mind that you may need a euro coin to get a grocery cart, which you’ll receive back once the cart is returned.
You can find substitutes for special diets
If you have food allergies, you can find quality products at the commissary and local stores. Globus has the widest range of lactose-free, vegan, dairy-free and gluten-free products. Wasgau, Kaufland and Edeka also have good selections. Alnatura is a natural food store with an array of items.
Local stores are closed on Sunday
Yes, stores are closed. However, most commissaries are open on Sunday. If you need something, you still have access to the grocery store. It’s best to plan ahead and purchase before the weekend. Also beware that off-base grocery stores are closed on all German holidays.