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The Quirks of Shopping as an Expat


Suddenly, on your way home, you remember that you need some cashew milk, eggs, poppy seed bagels, and your favorite locally brewed IPA. You swing by your neighborhood store, grab a basket, head to your designated aisles, and check yourself out in under 10 minutes. Easy, simple, done. Now imagine you recently moved abroad to Germany.

Supermarket Challenges  

Shopping carts that need a coin deposit to use them.

Rental shopping-carts

You head to a shop that’s down the block from your new flat, you try to grab a cart, but you need a coin to “rent the shopping cart,” you try to ask the person at the register, but you do not speak the language. Finally, someone offers to break a bill into some coins, you head off, through a baffle gate, drift your way through the aisles, where things are vaguely familiar yet completely different. The brands you know and love are nowhere to be found. You stare for minutes at each label, perplexed, trying to decipher what’s truly inside.

The metric system is challenging you in ways that would make your high school math teacher feel ashamed, so you reach for your phone but, alas, no reception within the confines of this underground grocery store. You wander over to the dairy section and see the eggs stacked on nonrefrigerated shelves. You open the egg carton to find feathers still on them. As you meander to the bread section, the infinite choices overwhelm you. No luck on the poppy seed bagels but there is an unbelievable amount of rye, pumpernickel, whole grain, three seed, sunflower seed, farm bread, sourdough, and five seed bread to name a few.

Bread machine in a typical German market.

Bread machine in a typical German market.

Eventually, you decide on one. It slides out as an entire loaf, you see a slicing machine to the right but choose not to use it, afraid you might lose a finger in the process. After a staggering 55 minutes, you head to the checkout. As the cashier scans your items, you calculate how many bags you will need at 10cents a piece. Finally, she stops ringing and utters a price. Frantically you glance at the register and hand your credit card over, after a few embarrassing moments that seem endless, two shoppers back chime in that no credit cards are allowed, only cash or bank cards. Fortunately, you have enough money to pay for your items. You hastily pile the groceries back into the cart and push it over to the bagging table where you commence to bag and pack your fares amongst your fellow shoppers. You walk over to return your cart, take the deposit back, sigh, and hurry back to the comfort of your new home.

Although it is easy to feel dejected over such an occurrence, don’t. Moving abroad is not easy.


Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, We Are Here to Help

Two men sitting on a bench and chatting.In our blog from last week, we talked about the hurdles many expat parents face when choosing a school for their children. This week, we wanted to look at a more lighthearted issue but equally unnerving feat: grocery shopping abroad. From dietary practices such as veganism or vegetarianism to gluten-free and allergy concerns, kosher, halal, or simply craving a staple treat from home, eating as an expat is both an exploration of cuisine and character. Of course, in our interconnected world, specialty shops and online stores catering to expats have popped up. Even though major urban centers share certain commonalities, this does not negate the initial trepidation one feels when creating a new life abroad.

With CAI tailored Destination Services-Area and Orientation Tours- we provide individuals and families alike an in-depth exploration into their new city and neighborhood to ensure a smooth transition abroad. Our local experts are an excellent source of guidance to ensure this new chapter is a positive one.


About CAI

CAI LOGOCultural Awareness International, Inc. (CAI) has close to three decades of remarkable history working with HR and Business Leaders to create unique, personalized solutions that develop their employee talent to perform skillfully in the global marketplace. A woman and minority, privately owned and operated company, we holistically address organizational needs for global competency development, diversity and inclusion training, intercultural communication and global leadership with flexibility and innovation. Additionally, we provide comprehensive destination services that assist both assignees and their families in relocating to a new home and settling into their new community. Our experience collaborating with global companies across all industries and scope gives us invaluable insight to anticipate and address our clients’ needs. Our solutions target not only the needs of globally mobile individuals and their families but also that of teams and senior leadership. CAI’s expertise, creativity, and agility deliver the best sustainable solutions to hone and enhance the skills of your globally mobile talent. Please click here for more information.