For the first seven years after my divorce we lived in Germany. I had a hard time getting used to the German way of life. I was a single mom, working full-time with no room for shopping. In the ‘90s the stores would close at 6:00 pm Monday to Friday, and would only be open from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm on Saturdays. And yes, ALL stores were closed on Sundays.
I arrived home at 5:00 pm. So you would think 60 minutes would be enough to get those groceries into the cart. However, store employees started cleaning the store at 5:30 pm, the doors closed at 5:50, and when the clock struck 6:00 pm, the lights would go off and you better be out the door. In addition, the store would often be sold out of basic items in the evening, there were barely any fruits or vegetables left .
All my life I never liked any kind of shopping but these conditions brought my dislike for shopping to a whole new level. “Dislike with a passion” aka hate was more like it.
The odd time I would do grocery shopping by myself. If I wanted to actually buy all the items on my shopping list I had to it on a Saturday morning. Shopping on a Saturday morning also meant I would have three kids in tow.
The youngest always got to sit in the cart. The middle one would complain so much that in order to get things done and not irritate fellow shoppers I would lift her into the shopping cart as well. A German grocery shopping cart is only half the size of a North American shopping cart. Two kids, no matter how small, in that shopping cart meant no space for groceries. Unless, of course, you lined up your kids in the cart facing each other and asked them to straighten their legs so you could place your groceries on their legs.
What kid sits still in a shopping cart? Do you think two kids want to face each other for any length of time? A store contains far more interesting things than your sister! Their eyes find the colorfully packed products; they want to touch or even grab a few items as you rush through the isles. My kids would stretch and stretch until they would finally lift themselves up, but by doing so the grocery items would shift and slide. After grabbing whatever item got their attention they would sit back with an oomph and realize the groceries under their bum. Do you get the picture?
If they sat on cans or any other items in “hard case packaging” I would only hear an “ouch!” but so many times the bread got flattened, bananas got squished or worst-case scenario: they tipped a carton of eggs or even worse, sat on eggs or a cake.
Hey, I still had a third kid with me. The stores were packed on Saturday mornings, and the aisles so narrow, my oldest had to either walk in front of the cart or behind me. If she walked in front of the cart, I couldn’t move fast enough. Plus, I would so often “hit” her with cart. She was not fast enough for this “speedy Gonzales” mother. If she walked behind me, I either had to insist she hold on to my leg or the bottom of my jacket, or I would keep talking to her so I knew she was still behind me. No matter where and how she walked, my oldest always got a few items into the cart, too.
Now you also must know that in Germany, even in the 90s, you brought your own bags to the store. Nobody bagged your groceries. The store sold plastic bags, but even those were reusable. The cashier would ring the items through with lightning speed and shove (not place) your groceries into your cart. No considerations for any breakable items like eggs or a cake. I had to be faster than the cashier to get those items out of her hands or just in time before they would hit the bottom of the cart.
By the time I would get out my wallet to pay, the cashier would be ready with change for a 100 DM bill. Whenever I dared to pay the exact amount, counting my change, I would get this glare of highest disapproval. Oh, how I longed for more pleasant shopping experiences in Canada, it would drive me nuts to be treated this way.
Over time I learned exactly where to stand at the checkout and how fast I had to move in order to transfer my items from the hands of the cashier into my cart. I also learned to place my shopping items in a certain order on that belt so it was easier to fill the cart at the checkout. The third thing I learned and enjoyed most was this: I would not pay the cashier until all my items were in the cart the way I wanted them to be. Then I would turn around and get my wallet out and pay. I didn’t always use a 100-bill. No. I am stubborn, too, you know.
Now I had my shopping cart to push to the car and to navigate three small children. At the car the groceries were stowed into our reusable bags or baskets. Every time I would discover items my kids had added to my shopping cart and I had paid for. Sometimes they chose chocolates, but very often I would find useless items, like a can of pears (do I really find a recipe for it or just eat the pears?) or a box of crackers that no one liked (but the package had looked so appealing to my child) or some tube of cream…
Today I laugh about it, but at that time it was extremely stressful. Most times I would be drenched in sweat by the time the groceries were in the trunk and we would leave the parking lot. Heaven forbid, we were not done with our shopping yet and I had to go to a second or even third store and repeat this all over, and do it all before 1:00 pm… There were times I thought I could not do this for another hour or another day.
Today I am simply grateful I have survived. I did not always manage to stay calm and graceful. I lost it more times I would like to admit. Today, when I see a mom shopping with her young children, I know how much energy and patience it takes to shop with small children. Because I have been there…