Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Grocery Shopping, Casual German Racism and the Critical Mom

The Critical Mom--New York born and New York bred and when she dies she's New York dead--can't resist a bargain.  "Why pay more?" is my mantra.  Always on the hunt for delicious bargains, never forgetting the sight of two determined women struggling over the last porcini mushrooms at the Fairway on West 74th (shoving behind them a gay man who was too chivalrous for his own good) I hunt, but in this German town, which shall remain unnamed, I don't often find.  
Oh, vegetables exist here.  Glossy, big bright-red and bright yellow and bright orange and bright green bell peppers.  But not the adorable tiny ones you can throw into a pasta dish.  
Unless, naturally,  you pay through the nose at the local farms where, while handing over 42 euros for three marinated lamb fillets, you can feast your eyes on rows upon rows of "bio," that is, organic, fresh pasta, homemade wines and jams.  Heading back to your car,  you can look at a hen house filled with well-fed, clucking, organic-feed consuming chickens.  Beside them a cage filled with fluffy guinea pigs and their young, the babies boasting the enormous feet of the newborn.  Somewhere in the background the clopping of horse hooves completes the portrait: a world of farm-fresh rosy-cheeked white people in Marc O'Polo jackets who eat fancy sausages wrapped in butcher paper instead of plastic.
On the way home from the farm with the New York prices, my nine-year-old remembered that her friend with the Moroccan mom and the Palestinian dad shopped at a different store, and we pull up to a friendly, shabbily genteel place bursting with fresh vegetables, every kind of dried bean you can imagine (much cheaper than Edeka!)  endless varieties of Bulgur, a cornucopia of risotto and sushi-style rice at a fraction of the price you pay for the "bio" kind.  Finally I felt at home.  It was like being at the West Side Market, but the prices were New York c. 1952.  
So I mention this place to my German lady friends and they say, "But it's not clean!" or they say, "But it's dirty!"  Now, I have heard this comment before and I have heard it about an excellent local ballet school where the linoleum on the floor is slightly worn but the instruction is stellar.    But these German ladies feel insecure when surrounded by anything not new, not polished within an inch of its life, and not German.  
The very thing I love about the other grocery store--the fount of spinach, so fresh the earth from which it was ripped is still moist on it, the piles of parsley overflowing the bin--is what they mistrust.  The place isn't neat.  It's not tidy.  Vegetables (according to their cosmology) should be so clean that a city child might believe they were produced in a factory.  It's true, a German chicken will occasionally sport a feather, but a tidy feather.  The zucchini, the German ladies believe, is more aesthetically pleasing in a little net bag or in plastic wrap.  Not sticking up all over the place!  Sticking up!  In every direction!  Reminding one of things that intensive housekeeping tends to make one forget.  The German ladies.  They tidy me up:  Stepping off the tram once I was startled by an older woman grabbing my coat to let me know that my pants leg was sticking into the top of my boot.  She thought I'd want to straighten it out.
I don't like straightening things out, in general.
The patrons of the grocery with the wonderful Bulgur and the fresh vegetables and the juicy, delicious, Halal lamb (far less expensive than that at the fancy farm) are mostly not German.  They are Turkish and Arab and foreign--like me, the former New Yorker, and like my husband, who comes from a different region of Germany.
It's one place we can go, join the other outsiders, and get a good deal. 


  1. Aw. Not everone is like that, surely? My mom's been buying veggies from the Turkish shops for a decade at least, since I dragged her in there once. The generation before my mom, I could see that being true for many of them. That said, I'm certainly not from a 'representative' family.

    And yes, their fruit and vegetables are usually very good quality, a decently priced. Not to mention some of the more exotic treats they sell -- have you ever had cardamon flavor chiclets?!

  2. Hurrah for being from a non-representative family. I'm surrounded by certain stereotypes who love to wash windows, polish floors, and hand children pre-packaged sandwiches and piles of gummy bears. And--here's another scandal--who don't bake their own cupcakes for birthdays but use that (Blccccc!) Dr. Oetker mix.

  3. P.S. And I must try those cardomom chiclets!