New category alert… Ever since we moved to Germany (yeah, I know I haven’t posted about that, yet. I have a post or three pending about how that came about, but if I waited until that was done, I’d never get to the fun stuff!) there have been a number of things I’ve noticed that make living here, um, different than living in the US.
So I thought I’d start a fun thread of things that are different here. And I mean no more or less than that; they’re different, not wrong, not weird (well, there are some things that are just downright weird, but that might just be me. Yeah, mostly me), just different. And there are plenty of things to write about. Puh-lenty.
I’ll start off with shopping carts. Why shopping carts? Because one of the main jobs in this new gig is feeding the 21 high school boys in my charge, and that means food is needed. Lots of it. So I spend way more time pushing shopping carts in grocery stores than I ever dreamed possible.
Shopping carts in the US are pretty standard fare, and I never really gave them much thought; metal or plastic baskets, two swivel wheels on the front, two fixed wheels in the back, a spot for a kidling to sit close to whomever is pushing, etc… One of our neighbors, a retired gentleman, worked part time at a grocery store for a while, and would talk about having to collect shopping carts from the parking lot; that made me think a little more about carts in recent years, and made me a bit more mindful of where I left my carts when I was done with them. It also annoyed me when I saw others leave them standing out in the middle of the parking lots or just shoved together in the corrals with no concern for who is going to have to sort them out. Pity the poor grocery store employee who draws the short straw and has to go out to gather up carts in the cold of winter on an ice & snow covered lot. And if the parking lot is wet, icy, or cold, the chances that the shoppers will leave their carts in weird places increases.
The Europeans have come up with a totally ingenious way to avoid all the hassles of cart wrangling; each cart has a little chain attached to the handle with an end that fits into a lock slot on the handle of another cart. To unlock a cart, you simply stick a coin (50 cent or 1 or 2 Euro) into a slot in the handle. When you return the cart and snap the chain from the next cart into the lock on yours you get your coin back.
The deposit coin is all the incentive that’s needed to get the customer to return the cart. In the US, without that incentive, people just assume that someone will take care of it, so they don’t think twice about leaving it wherever or leaving a mess in the cart corral.
It sounds like some Canadian stores have also started using this system; the US market would be wise to follow suit. A couple of the stores we’ve visited had lock boxes on the carts that looked to be add-ons; a quick Google search led me to Maciver Enterprises, who markets a retrofit “Kartloc” system. I’m sure introducing a new system like that wouldn’t be without a few hiccups on startup, but I think people would adopt it readily, and it would be totally worth it.
One gripe I have about the shopping carts is that they have four swivel wheels, which makes steering them a pain in the neck. And the knees, and the back. In the US, the rear wheels are fixed and the front wheels swivel, which makes it far easier to keep a cart going in one direction. But with swivel wheels on all four… negotiating a turn in the store – especially with a full load in the cart – takes a bit of doing. Get that same cart on an uneven surface, like in the parking lot, and it’s next to impossible to get it to go in a straight line. This guy explains the issue pretty well:
I guess having four swivel wheels makes the carts easier to push around the stores, which are generally smaller than what I’m used to, have narrower aisles, and are more crowded… At least when the cart only has a small number of items in it. But when the cart is heaped with the quantity of stuff we buy on a regular basis, the four swivel wheel thing fails miserably. The one store I’ve visited that had fixed rear wheels was Carrefour in France; that store is a bit larger than most around here, but the aisles are just as crowded and narrow as most others, so I’m not sure what motivated them to deviate from the others.
And yet another thing that makes grocery trips difficult is the way you deal with the groceries after they pass by the checker. In the US, there is typically an area behind the checker that’s as large or larger than the belt in front of the checker where the groceries can be put so that a bagger can pack them up for you. Here though, store employees don’t bag for you (they don’t provide bags either); all the groceries get put in a small spot behind the checker, and you need to put them into something. Usually we put the groceries back into the cart, then push the cart to the parking lot where we have a number of plastic bins to hold the groceries until we get them home. With the volume of groceries we buy, and some of the large quantities, you really need to be on the ball so that your ten cartons of milk don’t end up on top of the bread or vegetables you already put into the cart. That is easily the most stressful time of shopping, except when the cashier rattles off a question in German and you have no clue what she just said or how to respond. Did she ask, “Would you like the promotional points with your purchase?” or “Are you as stupid as you look?” I guess it all works to keep life interesting, and to keep me humble.