If there’s one thing you can’t avoid doing while living abroad, it’s going grocery shopping. It’s also one of the places that lends itself the least to being patient with Ausländer (foreigners). At the end of the work day, the Verkäuferin (salesclerk) isn’t worried about the grammatical integrity of her sentences, and no wants to wait in the Schlange (line) while I check the denomination of each of my coins as I pay.
As you may have guessed, I have some anxiety around the supermarket checkout. What I read in my textbooks is never what Verkäuferin (salesclerk) actually says to me. She seems to have infinite variations on the same theme, and they’re all truncated versions, at that. Take for example:
Textbook: “Möchten Sie Noch Etwas? ” Real life: “Noch ‘was?”
I was so stolz (proud) of myself the first time I made it through an entire transaction without one “wie bitte?” or blank stare. I hadn’t so much figure out what she was saying, but what I needed to answer, without understanding her words. Here I present for you, in likely sequential order, the questions you may be asked, and how to recognize them in a noisy Supermarkt.
1. Payback Karte
After we’ve greeted each other politely, the Verkäuferin (salesclerk) has scanned my groceries and tells me the total amount due, she SOMETIMES (usually if I’m making a larger purchase) asks if I have a Payback card.
This is similar to a club card / membership card / points card that I’m familiar with. I haven’t done much to figure out what I actually GET by using my card, but I know I’m accruing points with every purchase, and like a good consumer, that is very appealing to me.
I usually actually AVOID this question entirely by either putting my card on top of my groceries on the conveyor belt, as I’ve seen some other Kunden (customers) do, or having it ready in hand when she finished scanning. “Haben Sie eine Payback Karte?“. As I’m usually in Rewe, they sometimes specify “Haben Sie eine Rewe Karte?” In real life, listen for pronunciation more like “pay-beck kart“.
The whole payback card situation already gets me on rocky ground, because I’m listening for the Payback card Frage (question) and distracted from listening to the total amount due. I’m also still slow on understanding spoken numbers, so I usually look at the computer screen to see how much I owe. Alternatively, I used to give them a big bill that would certainly cover the cost of my bread and milk, until I realized that I was setting myself up for an additional question that required at least B2. Haben Sie kein Kleingeld? (don’t you have some smaller money/change?) Gah!
3. Unterschrift (signature)
If you pay by credit card, you can either hand it to her or steck it in the Maschine in front of you yourself. In most supermarkets in America, if a signature is required at all, you “sign” on a screen with a softtip stylus. I was so surprised the first time I was asked in Frankfurt for a physical signature on the paper receipt that I laughed out loud. How quaint! Your task there is pretty clear, but you can listen for “Unterschrift” as part of some variation of “Ihren Unterschrift” or “Unterschriften Sie bitte“.
4. A Rose by any other Name…
Be ready, at any point after you start your payment for the question that seems to have the most variations of any in the German language. The point? Whether you want a printed record of your transaction. The full question she could ask includes any variation of the following options. You’re most likely to just catch the last word.
|Would you like…||
|Möchten Sie…||der Kassenbon|
|Brauchen Sie…||der Kassenzettel|
|Hätten Sie gern…||der Bon|
5. Cash back
Just when I thought I had figured out all the questions, I got my EC card and used it to pay at Rewe. Schme schma guilt? Wie bitte? Ob Schon hmee hey man?? Wie bitte? In my mind we had this exchange ten times before I got it: “Möchten Sie Geld abheben?” EC is a debit card, and supermarkets and Tankstellen (gas stations) offer the service of dispensing cash, which is great so you can avoid paying a Fee at a Geldautomat (ATM). In the US this is also widely available, and we call it “cash back”. I imagine this would be even more confusing for someone that’s not familiar with that service, to be asked at the grocery store checkout if they’d like to withdraw money.
(The next day in dm, though, the wie bitte conversation went the other direction when I asked if I could have 20 Euro. dm, apparently, doesn’t do cash back.)
6. Saying Goodbye
Finally you’ve reached the end of your transaction and you can exchange niceties with the Dame and bid her farewell. Luckily, the million versions she might say to you (ich wünsche Ihnen… Guten Abend) can all take one simple response. “Ebenso” (likewise). No pronouns, du versus sie, deklinations or agreement required.
The one possible outlier? Thanks for your purchase. To which ebenso makes absolutely no sense, but a German might make that same mistake with an automatic answer too.
Note! I usually shop at Rewe. If you need a bag there, you select it yourself and add it to your groceries on the conveyor belt, because you have to pay for them. At some stores, often smaller, they may automatically start to bag something for you if the bags are free, and you can politely decline the bag by saying “Ich brauch’ kein’ Tüte” or “kein’ Tüte, danke“. They may also ASK if you want a bag, which will be some variation of “Möchten Sie eine Tüte“, “Brauchen Sie ein Tüte“. Just listen for the “Tüte” am Ende (at the end).