Saturday, July 31, 2010

An obnoxious American’s trip to the grocery store

Nothing is easy about moving to a new country. Every day I feel like I make some sort of mistake and continually brand myself as that “obnoxious” and/or “stupid” American. No one offers to help that stupid American who can’t figure out why the grocery carts are locked, or the obnoxious American who blocks the exit because she didn’t pay her ticket before getting to the gate. Nope, no one offers to help. Instead they act all bent out of shape as if my presence alone is annoying to them. I can tell you for certain that out of all the dirty looks I have gotten in the last few months, nothing can top a dirty look given by a grumpy old German man. That look alone can bring me to tears in a matter of seconds.

Thankfully, I am learning the ropes. Sometimes I can get by a whole day without feeling like an outsider. Here are some tips I wish some one would have told me before coming to Switzerland

1. You have to pay for your shopping cart
All of the shopping carts are chained together. In order to get one you have to put in a 1 or 2 frank coin to release the lock and then when you return the cart you get your money back. A brilliant way to keep people from leaving their carts everywhere but it makes for an embarrassing situation when you have never had to pay for a cart before.

(notice the little chain hanging on the right side of the cart. That is where you lock your cart to the next cart)

2. You have to weigh and print out a barcode for your vegetables

I am starting to believe that grocery store checkers in Switzerland have the best jobs. Not only have I heard that they make around 70,000 franks per year, but they also get to sit on a cushy little chair their whole shift while you bag your own groceries. On top of that, they do not even have to memorize a list of codes for the fruit and vegetables. The shopper is responsible for weighing their fruit and veggies at little scales and printing out tags for each item. This is another brilliant and efficient idea except for the fact that the “stupid American” is used to bringing all her veggies to the checkout person who weighs them for her. Imagine the embarrassing situation that ensues when the checker who doesn’t speak English will not take your bag of carrots and you do not know what you did wrong.

(these little machines are placed in the produce section. Each type of fruit/veggie has a number above it and after you bag your veggies you bring them to this machine, push the number, and out prints your barcode)

3. You must pay for your parking meter ticket BEFORE you get to the exit

Of Of course, nothing is free in Switzerland. If you drive a car you have to be prepared to pay for your parking. Even at the grocery store you get a ticket to enter the gate and park your car and you have to pay before you leave. Only difference is that in America I am used to paying my toll at the gate when I exit. So imagine our surprise one day when Luke and I were driving out of the mall and we reached the gate, put our ticket in the machine and it spit it back out and did not open the door. As the cars were lining up behind us, we kept trying to our ticket in the machine only to have it spit out again. We searched around to see if there was a slot to insert or money, but there wasn’t. By now we had several angry French and Germans behind us, and a closed gate in front of us. If it were just me I probably would have busted right through the gate rather than to have to deal with the stares of the angry German’s behind us. But thankfully Luke has thicker skin than I and he put the car in reverse and made all the cars behind us back up so we could go back to the mall and figure out how to pay for our ticket. As we walked back in the mall we saw an inconspicuous little machine right at the exit. It happily accepted our parking ticket, charged us a fee of 2.50 then gave us the same ticket back. Our 2nd attempt at leaving the garage was a success!

(Here is the darn ticket machine that caused us so much trouble)

Voila! Hope these 3 tips save our American friends some headaches when they come visit us!

And just a few other oddities about Swiss life:

-Your apartment does not come with lights. The previous tenant takes everything out of the house, including the light fixtures. Be happy if they leave you a light bulb.

-The refrigerators are tiny and the freezer can barely hold two trays of ice cubes. Be prepared to go to the grocery store at least 3 times a week.

-Milk is shelf stable. You won’t find it in the refrigerated section here. It will be in boxes right on the shelf.

-100 chf is the smallest amount available for withdraw at an atm. Everything else is petty cash.

-It takes at least 15 phone calls, 3 visits to the Swisscom store and no less than 30 days to get Internet installed. This is the reason for the lack of posts lately. Fingers crossed that we get Internet next week! I have a backlog of photos and video to share!


  1. Hang in there. I know it's not easy to live overseas. But embrace every moment of it, the good, the bad AND the stupid. =) Every memory you're recording, I like to think of it as one's development. Things will get easier over time. Hopefully sooner than later you will reflect on your first year and laugh AND think..they didn't get the best of me. =) You're a tough cookie. Believe in yourself and all you have to offer! Right now it's just the "settling in" phase. Unfortunately, it can take a year or two. Remember, life is an ever learning experience. You stop living once you stop learning. =D *hugz*


  2. Ug, so many of these things remind me of my own transition here! Hopefully, there's not much more left to make mistakes about, for either of us :) I know that this is your heart here, but it is a very entertaining collection you put together here, thanks :)

  3. I laughed so hard reading this.... I think I would jump off a cliff. God Bless you guys!