Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Back OFF, Laddybuck!

I try really hard not to complain about anything over here, and quite honestly, I have very little to complain about. I'd have to make stuff up.

Other expat bloggers have mentioned the insane stress of being in the checkout line at the grocery store, and although I totally know what they're talking about, I'm pretty good at that. My husband - who is one of those Germans who has a look on his face in the grocery store that makes children, body builders, and old ladies scramble to get out of his way in the dairy aisle - taught me well. Get all your crap onto the conveyor belt, have your money handy, and fling those items back into the empty cart at least as fast as the cashier scans them. The Germans behind you in line would like you to be faster than the cashier, but that just doesn't work. For the love of God, do NOT bag your groceries in the checkout lane. Just throw it all back loose in your cart, pay, get the hell out of the way, and transfer your purchases to the reusable bags you brought with you at your car.

My parents will be happy to know that when I am the person waiting for someone else, I wait patiently, and if the person happens to look my way with an "OMG, this is taking SO long. Sorry!" look on his or her face, I grin in a friendly way. No problem! If the worst thing that happens to me today is that I have to wait a few minutes to pay for my groceries, things will be all right.

So I got the grocery store thing - not a problem. In fact, I find things move a bit too slowly for me in grocery stores in the U.S. by now.

American expats also commonly grumble about something I haven't had much of an issue with either. UNTIL TODAY. Americans need more personal space than Germans (Europeans?), and I'm no exception to that. I have frequently used a line from Dirty Dancing, "Hey, this is MY dance space, that's yours" to tell people - usually students of mine - to take a step back.

Today in the checkout lane I could tell there was a person behind me. He kept making the gesture of putting his three things on the conveyor belt before I had finished unloading mine. At one point I half looked at him, hoping he'd get the vibe. "Dude. The cue for you to start loading up is when I put the little plastic divider thingy on the belt behind my groceries. Wait for it....Wait for it...Wait....Ok, now!"

The person in front of me was not finished yet, all my stuff was on the conveyor belt, and guy behind me had spewed his three items onto the belt as well behind the plastic divider thingy. I dutifully flashed the man in front of me a smile when he glanced nervously in my direction, waited patiently, and felt an all-too-close presence behind me. "Ignore it," I said to myself. I bent over ever so slightly to get my wallet out of my purse, and something hit me in the middle butt seam of my jeans. WTH?!?! I turned more than half way around and gave the lad a piercing glance without looking exactly at him. He seemed young - 14, perhaps, with a vacuous "I don't have the foggiest clue about the world" look on his face. I think I had bumped into the bag he was carrying.

Next I'm up at the counter to pay having flung all my items back into my cart, and I feel the kid right at my elbow. Seriously - my husband doesn't stand that close to me in the store! There are many reasons why I do not want strangers rubbing up against me while I'm trying to pay for my groceries, and I doubt I need to go into any of them today. I did finally turn and look directly into his face with an "Are you kidding me?" expression, and he took a third of a step back. In hindsight I wish I had just backed into him to make him move back, but then he would have bumped against the cart of the woman behind him, which was pushed up against his backside. I didn't want to be responsible for the domino-effect mess that would follow.

Next time I'll try what other Americans have done: stay in front of the cart so that there is at least a cart's distance between the next person and me. This doesn't solve the problem entirely because then that person just bumps against my cart with his or her cart, leading to a whole lot of jostling, bumping, and banging, but at least there won't be any rubbing. I can't abide the rubbing.

Or maybe I'll practice this expression.

Photo credit: Xantheose (http://jhgvcgrsr.tumblr.com/)

Seriously, folks. BACK OFF!


  1. I admit that I am one that complains about the grocery store check-outs. Not only are they too fast for my American liking, the personal space issue also drives me insane. I hate getting bumped on the butt from the person-behind-me's cart (which happens often). Also, I almost got into a fight with an older woman yesterday when she decided to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with me as I was in line, and then yell at the cashier to just give her a pack of cigarettes as he was still scanning my items.

    Okay, I have to go calm down again. This topic gets me all fired up. :)

    1. Oh dear! Sorry to get you fired up... That does sound bad. My husband said tonight that when this happens to him, he sometimes fakes a stumble where he bumps against the offending person, who gets slammed back against the cigarette dispenser. Hehehe (fiendish giggle). I don't get how people can feel comfortable themselves standing that close to someone they don't know!

      I don't blame you at all for complaining about the check-outs! I just got lucky in that I got the system down quickly. On the few occasions when he and I shop together, he always says, "So...I'll re-cart and you'll pay?" (The money all comes from the same place anyway.) :-)

  2. It's not a European thing (the spacial awareness), I think it's totally a German thing. Possibly one or two other countries here may have a similar thing, but in England, France, Greece and The Netherlands, I never experienced this when I lived there. Only good old Deutschland lets this kind of thing slide!

    You reacted better than I would have. By this point, he would have received some salami to the face!

    1. Darn it, I didn't have a salami with me. Next time... I think it would be helpful to gather a list of polite but firm ways to deal with this situation. I'll get working on that.

      You know, I think this may be related to the general lack of queuing ettiquette in Germany. They are so used to cramming themselves into sheep huddles to push and shove into public transportation that personal space doesn't occur to them. This certainly doesn't apply to all Germans, but it's funny how many non-Germans have noticed it while spending time here.

  3. My husband does most of our grocery shopping, but I have so much trouble with this when it comes to the transport. People here prefer the rush the doors method of getting on the buses and trains rather than queueing or waiting for people to exit the train car or bus first. I often find that if I'm waiting near where the bus will pull up there is invariably someone waiting so close behind me we would have got kicked out of a middle school dance. It really bothers me because I can feel a stranger touching me and I'm not sure where the line between being squashed in a crowd and inappropriate contact is. I suspect quite a few times people have tried to see how close they can get to me until they make me so uncomfortable I have to move and they can take my place in line.

    I also get walked into a lot, something my husband has no trouble with. It's like I'm invisible here, or people expect me to leap out of their way. As a result I spend a lot of time walking directly behind my husband because I'm afraid someone will knock me down and I'm sick of getting hurt.

    1. This makes me sad - that you feel invisible here at times. :-( I have done my share of people-dodging, but sometimes they get out of my way, too. The pushing and shoving at trains...I'm afraid that's never going to change. That's a situation in which we Americans/Brits need to get more assertive, though I often think, "Look, if it's so important for you to beat me into the train, just go ahead."