Observations on America, II

Continuing the post from last time about things that have struck me since being back in the US…

I was finally starting to get used to German grocery stores when I left, so now I miss the routine I was falling into. I’ve even gotten into the habit going to the store every other day or so, and of stocking up food for Sunday when the store will be closed. That one’s not too bad, but it’s still pretty disappointing that I can’t get fresh bread for fifteen cents three blocks from my house at all hours, and marzipan-chocolate bars are basically only sold in specialty stores if at all.

For several weeks after my return, I kept feeling slightly startled to remember that people like cashiers or at the post office spoke English just like me. I spoke English enough while I was in Cologne that I got used to the idea that I would need to switch to German if I were speaking to an unknown person, and now it’s weird to not need that anymore. Now it’s no longer store attendants that provoke that response, just people on the other side of the street (“I’m speaking English so they won’t really be listening – oh wait they are English speakers too”). This sounds like a pretty silly problem, but if you live in a foreign country for a while, you might have some silly culture shock problems when you come back too. ;)

Speaking of people in grocery stores, the US is definitely not a cash economy like Germany. Even for $4 purchases, it’s fine to swipe your plastic and sign – and so no one really uses coins. In Germany, the woman entrenched at the register will make you extremely aware if you give her an inefficient amount of change – they want to be able to give you 50¢ of change, not 49¢ (where most American cashiers won’t even blink before counting out the handful of coins). So they often ask if you have a penny loose in your wallet to hand over, or ask if you have a smaller bill so they don’t have to shell out so much change. Recently at the store, I gave the cashier $2.11, expecting her to take it and give me $0.50 back, but she handed the dime back and wanted to give me an “inefficient” amount of change. tsk tsk.

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