Prior to moving to Germany we had heard many things – one of them being that “everything is more expensive in Europe” and “groceries are going to be hard to buy, you will have to shop at the Commissary”. Well, we found out that both of those statements are completely incorrect. (apologies to anyone who told us that).
In Germany many prices on items are regulated so let’s start there. We find that in our area there are about four main brands of stores that are typical grocery stores. There are also the mega-stores that would be similar to Target or Wal-Mart in the US but we will skip those for now. The four main brands in our area of Southwest Germany are: Netto, Lidl, Wasgau and Aldi Sud. We typically shop at Netto because it is closest to us and tends to have things that we like but as I mentioned above, many items are regulated in price here. For example, basic whole milk is 69 Euro cents at any of the stores I have listed above. Haribo candies are 99 Euro cents a bag and jars of Babivita Baby Food are 79 Euro cents. I can walk into any of these stores and know that is what I will pay. They do run sales at all of the stores, however they tend to run sales on the same items each week so if I see something on special – say Haribo for 79 Euro cents, at one, I know it will be the same at the others. One of the things I find most ironic is that for a country that is so strict on trash we get ads from stores at least three times a week!
Overall we do find that items are less expensive here and of better quality. One benefit of shopping in Germany, especially with a one year old, is that so many chemicals and additives found in US food are banned here. I don’t have to worry that if I don’t quite understand the label, it is much closer to say an “organic” or “natural” item as it would be labeled in the US. On the way out of the store there is usually a fresh bakery so you can pick up a treat or loaf of fresh bread for the day as well.
There are some items that are so much better here it will be hard to transition back to the US varieties when we move back. The yogurt here is phenomenal and very inexpensive! If anyone wants to get into the yogurt exporting business I highly recommend it. There are also some odd items that take getting used to… for example the eggs are purchased at room temperature – they are not chilled. This completely threw me for a loop when we first got here and after doing some reading online and trying them we learned what the meaning of farm fresh is. Wow, are they good! Basically, in the US they clean the eggs using a process that then requires refrigeration and that is not done in the EU. The eggs are “dirty” on the outside but as long as you wash your hands after breaking them it’s not a problem.
Next, the plastic bottles. Drinks come in plastic bottles that are recyclable at the grocery store. All the stores have a machine where you put your cleaned bottles in and get your refund back. Now, the refund is 25 Euro cents! This is huge – around 35 US cents per bottle depending on the exchange rate. This goes for any bottle, .5 liter, 1 liter, they are all the same.
The other part of shopping in Germany… the checkout. First, it is typical to let someone behind you with fewer items (the way we shop as Americans this is almost always) go in front of you. Sometimes they won’t take you up on it but the offer is common and appreciated. Next, the bags. Bags here cost anywhere from 10 to 25 Euro cents – far more than the 5 US cents that we complained about in Montgomery County and Washington, DC! So basically everyone brings their own basket or box to take their goods – or they load up their cart and just unload it into boxes or containers when they get to their car. We haven’t broken ourselves of the bag habit and typically bring our own bags and load our own while checking out. This can tend to draw a few looks but we have gotten much faster and when it’s just me and Indi she can usually keep the person waiting entertained by waving and laughing.
Most of the local stores do not take credit or debit cards, only cash. You can get a Euro card from a local bank here that some will take but in 8 months here I have only seen maybe 2 or 3 people use a card to pay. Cash is king, and frankly once you are used to it, it is way easier!
Overall, we are spending far less on higher quality foods since we moved to Germany, so as myth busters would say – this myth is busted (or something like that, we don’t get that show here).