Everyday German Goals

Back in July, I wrote a blog post listing out some goals I wanted to achieve during my year in Germany. All of those goals still stand (well, besides Oktoberfest -- those plans fizzled when my schedule ended up different than I anticipated), but I thought it would be fun to make a new set of goals now that I've gotten more settled here. While the previous list was broader and more aspirational, these goals are more grounded in practicality and in the realities of my everyday life in Germany.

1) Figure out how to throw out my trash.  

Anyone who has lived in Germany for some extended period of time is familiar with this problem. Single-stream recycling is not a thing in Germany -- you are expected to sort all of your waste and make sure it ends up in the appropriate place. Outside my apartment building, I have no fewer than four different kinds of trash bins: 

  • The Biomülltonne, for organic waste (i.e. food and other biodegradables)  
  • The Gelbetonne, for packaging materials
  • The Altpapiertonne, for paper waste
  • The Restmülltonne, for everything else

This does not include glass and plastic bottles (or aluminum cans, though those are pretty uncommon here). Some of these products have a deposit built into the price (called a Pfand), so whenever you buy a pfand-product, you pay the deposit when you purchase the item. Thus, it's in your best interest to return your pfand bottles to a recycling station so you can get your deposit back. Most grocery stores have fancy machines that take your bottles and give you a voucher for the money you are owed, which you can then claim at the cash register. Glass items that are not pfand, however, have to be appropriately sorted by color and dropped off at a glass recycling station, which typically are located throughout a city.

When it comes to taking out the trash, certainly the temptation would be to put everything in the Restmüll and be done with it. And, occasionally, I do go this route (please don't tell anyone!). But I am trying to be a good German and make sure my trash goes where it is supposed to. We have different trash cans within the apartment itself, and my roommates are always available when I have questions, but I do miss the old days when I never had to first check to see if anyone is watching before I throw something away, for fear of being lectured if I get it wrong.

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2) Get better at paying with coins. 

One of the fastest lessons Americans studying in the Eurozone learn is that coins are precious. Whereas in the U.S. coins are usually viewed as a nuisance and paying with them is avoided at all costs, in Europe coins tend to carry a lot more value and thus are used more frequently. Thanks to the existence of 1 and 2 Euro coins, you can pay for a beer and maybe even a whole meal with just a handful of coins.

But paying with coins is a difficult habit for most Americans to get used to, and the result of this is that here in Germany I often end up carrying around ridiculous amounts of change, especially since the lowest denomination of paper money is the 5 Euro bill -- this means you'll always get more coin change from purchases than you would in the U.S.

Additionally, when you're still getting used to what the currency looks and feels like, it often feels a lot less stressful to throw down a 5 Euro bill rather than sift through your change, trying to find a 5 euro cent piece in a sea of 2 cent pieces (they're different sizes, but the same color. It's hard.). I always feel like the cashier is just staring at me, wondering why this foreigner is too stupid to find the right coins. That's probably not true (most of the time, anyway), but still. If nothing else I'd like to improve this skill just so my wallet will weigh less.

3) Master the Aldi Checkout Line 

My final everyday German goal is a little hard to explain to people who have never shopped at Aldi. Essentialy, Aldi is a discount grocery store chain (incidentally, it's owned by the same people who own Trader Joe's in the US, and sometimes you even find Trader Joe's branded products in German Aldis). There are Aldis in some parts of the US, but I've never been to one so I'm not sure how similar they are to their German counterparts.

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Anyway -- Aldi is a fairly cheap store that has reasonably high quality products. As such, it's usually tempting to do the bulk of your shopping there and buy only specific specialty products at the more expensive grocery stores. But one downside of buying large quantities of food at German grocery stores is that you always have to bag the groceries yourself (in the reusable bags you brought from home, of course, unless you want to pay for plastic bags at the store). So the more you buy, the more you have to pack away.

Toss into the mix that Aldi cashiers are usually extremely efficient and rather indifferent, meaning they will scan all of your goods at the speed of light (as you desperately try to pack them away as quickly as they come to you so you don't clog up the cashier line), and, once their job is done, rattle off the total price and stare at you, waiting for payment while half your groceries are still sitting on the counter, waiting to be packed away. Then you pay and try to go back to packing but the cashier has already moved onto the next customer. Aldi cashier counters also usually have shorter counters than mainstream grocery stores, meaning your groceries fill up all of the space sooner and if you get backed up, you're also inconveniencing the person behind you

Basically, every time I go to Aldi I feel like it's a race against time and everyone is staring, waiting for me to hurry up and get out of their way. This may not actually be the case, but I can't help but feel like I stick out like a sore thumb every time I go through the checkout line there. Someday, I'd like to walk out of an Aldi with my head held high, proud of the way I handled myself in the checkout line.

Maybe, if I'm feeling extra brave, I'll even take the time to pay with coins. Someday.