Tote bags in one hand, wallet under the left arm, supermarket trolley ready to roll.
I am standing in a supermarket queue on a rainy Saturday morning. It seems that,when it rains, there’s a higher propensity for shopping so, the queue is longer than usual. The same appears to apply to me since I usually only fill up a basket but, this time, I needed a trolley. The pace is pretty fast and there’s really no reason to complain for waiting too long. I’m, definitely, not used to that. Where I come from, waiting in endless checkout lines is part of the whole experience of going shopping at the weekend. People are used to waiting and,even if they mind, they do not really tend to complain. At least, not loud enough for the bad service to change.
At the checkout, there’s a woman in her mid-fifties who is mostly efficient but who still manages to attempt a smile before repeating a formula which isn’t yet completely familiar to me.
In the line, waiting with me, there are half a dozen people, some of different origins among the majority that is most obviously German. The young couple in front of me, with their trolley full of different types of sodas, crisps and appetizers which allow me to guess that they will be throwing a party of some sort, speak in Turkish. I can also hear English spoken with a Spanish accent coming from the end of the line and the man who’s paying is, at the same time, enthusiastically speaking on the phone in a Slavic language. However, they all keep a reasonable distance between themselves. Maybe because no one from the adjacent queues seems particularly interested in jumping in line and everybody appears to resist the temptation of pushing the fellow customer in order to hasten the pace.
It’s my turn to put my shopping on the conveyor belt right behind the divider that the young Turkish mother placed on the belt with a smile. I have been noticing that, here, placing the divider on the belt once you’ve have emptied your trolley is part of the tacit knowledge shared by decent supermarket customers.I remember that once I have forgotten to do it and the lady behind me gave me a look of disapproval which, for a couple of minutes, kept me wondering about what I could have possibly done wrong. After a few times at the supermarket, I realised my mistake and never repeated it ever since. That’s how primates learn and I am not an exception.
After amonth in Germany I guess I will no longer do what isn’t expected of me while queueing up.
I move the trolley forward and go to the end of the checkout counter. My bags are open and I’m ready to clear my stuff as fast as possible, like everybody else. The lady behind the cash register greets me in the same fashion but there’s no smile on her face. She tells me something in German which my A.1.1 level still doesn’t allow me to understand. It’s pointless asking her to repeat so I say in English that I don’t understand hoping that she’d be tolerant enough with my lack of knowledge of German which always makes me feel guilty. Instead, she gets visibly upset, raises her voice while repeating the same sentence. That wasn’t exactly helpful and the only thing I know is that I am a source of some sort of disappointment to her. So, in a sudden movement, she gets up from her chair and places my trolley right at the end of the counter so she can throw the goods in it, directly after registering them. The trolley, placed in an oblique position, geometrically fits the design of the counter and then, I realise I am not supposed to waste time putting my shopping in the bags while standing in the line. That should be done afterwards, and that’s why there’s another long counter by the window. That is what all the customers with trolleys are doing. How could I have missed that?
Mental note made, since it is my goal to completely assimilate the German supermarket organization culture once and for all.