Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Choices, choices, everywhere, and not a Cheerio in sight.

So, I suppose I could now call myself an 'Expat'. Without looking it up in the dictionary I suppose the definition is 'someone who leaves their home country and moves abroad to live.' However, I think more accurately it might be 'someone who moves abroad and on discovery of products (any) from their home country whoops with glee (inwardly)'.

I am intrigued by the whole consumerism thing I've decided. It came as a shock to me how little the german supermarkets had changed in 30 years compared (probably) to how much ours have grown and expanded in terms of choice. When I was looking for pasta sauce in a jar, I was, I'll admit a little horrified that there was little choice beyond choosing between one with basil, the bolognese one that actually includes meat (! that just seems wrong to me when it's not refrigerated) and another one that I didn't recognise. When I'm in the UK why, we literally have shelves, if not a whole half aisle or more of choice. There are probably a dozen different brands and these days even the supermarkets own brand is usually 3 brands where you have a premium version, a budget version, and a something in the middle version for those who are not feeling extravagant or miserly. But why do we need so much choice? I'll admit I am a bit brand loyal in my pasta sauce choices, but sometimes I do think 'mmm.. actually I might go for that one cause I fancy something that is a bit more basil-ly/ garlic-y/ etc'. But more often than not I either stick to the ones I always go for or go with what's on a special offer. But despite this, I am still a bit shocked not to have the choice at all. I'm beginning to suspect that I might actually be expected to make the stuff myself in order to tailor the basil/garlic/etc ratio to my requirements. I mean good lord, I've come here to cook? Not just stir?????

It's not just the pasta sauce section that suffers from such limited choice. Take bin bags. First off I struggled to find them. Initially I put it down to the fact that they do a lot of recycling here, so maybe they just don't have as much stuff that just has to go in the normal bin as we do. But then, I noticed that there are lots of places that sell bins, indeed I have spied quite a lot of very attractive, brightly coloured bins that take my fancy, but I've just not been able to find the bin bags. So then I discovered a shop that sells bin bags. One kind. I don't even know what kind they are yet, but I just bought them anyway, so pleased was I to have just found some. Maybe you don't spend too much time thinking about bin bags, but I seem to have tried nearly every kind you can get. In my not so big Tesco where I used to live we had a bother with their standard 'tie-top' bags in that they were too thin and would rip every time we took them out of the bin full. I also tried their standard 'drawstring' top ones and didn't like those either. Then of course their are the ones for all the different types/sizes of bins, the recycled ones, and our favourite, the somewhat sturdier 'heavy duty' bin bags. Occasionally I would forget this was the one I was after, and would purchase the 'garden' ones, or even sometimes the 'rubble' sacks. When they are all black(or sometimes green, or white), and the Tesco labelling not really that different between them apart from the name it's hard to tell, and you can't really unroll them and hold them up to the light to see how thick they are like a pair of 40 denier tights.

I've talked to Stevie about this whole choice thing. He is not really the ideal person to talk to about this as he is perfectly suited to the way of life here and I think is somewhat odd in that he has very little brand loyalty to him. "Oh, I just need shaving foam. Anything will do.", but he does understand that he lives with a person that spends a couple of minutes examining bananas before making a final choice because of their need to have them perfect. This often means we have no bananas or very expensive bananas. Now we just have bananas - with marks, bruises, and other bits and bobs that I don't like, but I'm still working on the German that will allow me to say "Hold on Mr Stallholder, let me have a look at those ones 3rd row from the back, 5 bunches in....nah, they have a black ridge on them. Wait, what about the ones 2 down from them and 4th in from the right? mmm...maybe not, they have too many dots, but keep them aside just in case they're the best you have". No here, I ask for bananas, he picks them up, and I just have to say 'Great, thanks'. Ha, ha, ha, I know, I probably sound mental being so pernickety about bananas, but it's just one of the many things that make me the lovely person I am. Oh, woe is me on the banana front....

Stevie thinks the way it is here is right. That we don't need endless choice, that life is simpler here, and maybe they've got their priorities right; that instead of wasting time weighing up which cornflake might taste better, they just buy THE cornflake, and stop thinking about consumer products the whole time. But me, I always quite liked that about food shopping. I'd get a little 'ooh!' of excitement when I'd see that there was a new brand of yoghurt, or that a brand I was already familiar with had now branched out into a slightly different area with a couple of new products. Have you seen the new Cadbury's chocolate cheesecakes and things? That was the last one that made me go 'ooh!'.

So here I am, where the only area of massive choice seems to be in Paprika crisp world. Why? Why? Why? I treid a different supermarket yesterday, called 'Neu und Gut'. I didn't hold out much hope for it. It had all the glamour from the outside of a pop-up flea market shop. The doors looked rickety, you could see toilet roll just piled up in the window in a scabby manner, but in we went. And I kind of fell in love with it a little bit. They had some British goods. A whole display stand of 'boxed' McVities Digestives, Milk Chocolate Digestives, and Hob Nobs. I stood in front of it and more than likely chuckled out loud. I bought some digestives and some milk chocolate digestives. I'm not that fond of digestives, but the kids might like them, and I would rather have had plain chocolate digestives than milk, but I was not leaving that shop without them. God knows, they probably cost me about 16 Euros, who knows, but what price is a little taste of home?


  1. I can see where you're coming from. I had a similar experience when we moved to the UK. I think after a while you may find there is plenty of choice in the things the Germans use a lot of - it's often just the things foreigners like that they don't need so much choice for.

  2. Choice is over-rated. Do we really need 50 different types of toothpaste? And, what is so great about dishwasher tablets that clean in 5 different ways instead of the, obviously sub-standard, 4 ways. Embrace the limits of the German shopping experience and think of all the time you will save not using up precious minutes trying to decide between Sun-dried tomatoes with a hint of garlic sauce, or Fresh garlic with sun blush tomatoes. You can spend that time updating your blog for the entertainment of family and chums!

  3. True, both of you. I have noticed that there are oodles of ham and cheese, though 4 weeks in I am sick of it (that doesn't bode well for my next 100 or so lunches does it...

    There are shelves and shelves of gherkin type pickles, but very little space given to hand soap - though there are other places to go if I want to stand in front of the shelves and ponder that for a while.

    Plus, I have just discovered a smashing supermarket. My first thought was that it had lovely lighting. Everything is nice and bright and modern feeling. Do you remember what the lighting in Littlewoods was like when you were a child. It was always very yellowy-brown, and just depressing. Not conducive to shopping. Anyway, I have found a lovely Edeka Reichalt which even has a British section which has some strange teas that claim to be from so and so of London, but look a bit odd, and 3 shelves of kettle chips. and some jam. The American section next to it makes for interesting browsing. It is all squeezy cheese, hershey bars and teeny tiny marshmallows, and Oreos. It's national diets encapsulated into 3 easy shelves!

    Oh and Anonymous, are you aware of my dishwasher issues??? If you are the German Ambassador in Kabul let me tell you, we'll be having words!

  4. The lack of choice here was a huge issue for me. I have discovered other markets that are better, but it's not France or the UK here. For food that tastes good and isn't pig, go Turkish all the way.By the way, every time I go to the UK, I come back with a huge wedge of cheddar in my luggage and Carr's water biscuits in my bag:).


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