There is no choice in taking on German ‘thriftiness’, our correspondent says, because spending money in Germany is no fun.
In the dark days of the financial crisis, the raging debate has been focusing on stimulus and consumption: But how does anything inspire Germans to spend when they don’t even during boom times?
Well, I have another theory: Germans may be known for being thrifty but actually, there is a simpler reason: Spending money in Germany is no fun.
Years ago, I noticed an interesting German shopping habit: Beyond loving a bargain, quality is valued. People might think twice about buying in general but nothing at all about spending EUR 80 for an electronic pepper mill or EUR 300 for an espresso machine. Even my thrifty boyfriend spent 10 times what I did on a water boiler: These models are worth it, he said.
On the flip side, it is hard to spend money here if you don’t place such high value on gadgets: There isn’t much variety available for other ordinary items compared to the Anglo-Saxon shopping paradises: I know many Americans and Brits who import towels, sheets and clothing because if they find anything in Germany that is not in every home (read: IKEA, H&M), it costs a fortune.
The second problem is customer service. Often I am ready to buy and can’t find a cashier, locate one chatting on obliviously to a colleague or have to walk half a block to pay. As an American, I am not particularly patient when it comes to purchases.
And I was raised in that great tradition of actively voting with my wallet. I was treated rudely at a Berlin Canadian deli I used to regularly frequent – I don’t go there anymore. I have a silent boycott on a big Berlin bookstore because they wouldn’t let me return a book I bought doubles of: I click away on Amazon now (with most of my purchases being imported from the UK or US)
There are a whole host of stores that are now on my s*** list.
Food is a special problem. I find it fascinating that very few servers have the patience to listen to your entire order. So I practice it in my head before repeating as fast as I can to servers trying to make a quick get-away: I-would-like-the-tortellini-and-a-cabernet-AND-a-side-of-broccoli-with-that. It seems as if they only want you to order one thing.
And getting the bill? It will take 15 minutes at least to pay, or longer.
But grocery shopping is my special bête noire.
I will salute my local grocery store, Kaisers, for expanding their hours to midnight in a revolution I thought I would never see in Germany. But at this mid-range local supermarket (I loathe the cheaper, closer Aldi’s surly cashiers), the first problem is space.
I have no idea why they have shopping carts in a store, which has aisles so narrow that shoppers trip over one another trying to get by. Another problem is discovering a product you like. Try finding it again.
But it is checkout etiquette that does me in. First of all, hopefully you brought your own bag. Second, while everyone is in line sighing or snorting, invariably someone is going to be physically pushing you forward, as if that will make the cashier work faster.
Then ‘Ready, Set, Go’: the race begins to put everything on the very short checkout belt as fast as possible, get your money out, present your customer care card, answer ‘no’ to the question, ‘do you collect the Kaiser hearts,’ bag the groceries, accept and put away your change and make sure you are out of the way before the next customer’s purchases start piling on top of yours. Yes, I can walk and chew gum.
My solution: Pay with an EC card. It will buy you a few precious minutes to do the Octopus dance.
Still, there is one German buying habit I wholeheartedly applaud: consumption for travel. As the world’s leading travellers, I guess Germans have figured out that it is easier, and more fun, to spend their money abroad.