Friday, May 08, 2009

Observations on D-Land: I Steal a Euro, and Meet a Cool Cop

So, here's what you need to know. If you go to the Kaufland (I mentioned the cool escalators before....), they have a system for getting carts returned. You have to put 1 euro in a little slot. (Useful discussion of Kaufland here). Now, the slot is grey, the same color as the surrounding handle of the cart, and you can't see it unless you know what to look for. What I'm saying is that it is not obvious that you have to "rent" the cart for 1 euro, unless you already know. By the way, you get your euro back when you put the cart back, chaining it back up.

Now, I did NOT know the above. And so I met some people, including the coolest cop in the entire universe.

1. Elderly woman pushing cart toward rack. I get between her and the rack, smile and wave expansively. In mime gestures I say, "I'll take that cart off your hands, ma'am, saving you the trouble of pushing it all that way." Her eyes widen, she dodges left, she dodges right, but there is no escaping my friendly and helpful grasp. I actually grab the front of the cart.

2. This little exchange, "I'll take the cart, so you don't have to push it all the way back," happens ALL THE TIME in the U.S. This elderly woman, however, unexpectedly started screaming and yelling, and gripped her cart fiercely. (This is why the Red Army took so many losses, even on the outskirts of Berlin itself: Germans do not retreat, even when faced with overwhelming force).

3. Not surprisingly, since the lady was really yelling loudly, a member of the polizei came trotting over. He wasn't full out running, but he wasn't dawdling, either. And he wasn't so much looking at the old lady. He was pretty much looking at me.

4. I took my hands off the cart, and step back. Das UberOma (she was five feet tall, in heels) rams the cart into the rack, chains it, gets her euro, and holds it aloft, a gleaming talisman of victory.

5. Cop stands right in front of me, pretty close, and says something in German. I confess I don't speak German (I should get a big button; it would save time). The cop says, in nearly unaccented English, "What are you doin'?"

6. I explain that I had no idea that there was a euro involved, and that in the U.S. carts are just there for the taking. Cop still staring, asks for ID. I don't carry my passport, with my work permit, but I do have my NC driver's license, my Duke ID, and my FAU-Erlangen Library card. Cop says, "You are a Duke professor? Really. My nephew went there for business school, that executive program." Cop says he had been in the German military, and had lived on or near U.S. bases for years. After retiring he had become a cop. He does recognize the shopping cart culture clash, and is really very nice about it all.

7. Then, half-smiling, he said: "She's still watching, isn't she? The old lady." I glance. Yes, UberOma is peeking around the concrete pylon in the parking lot,behind the cop's back. Cop says, "Okay, here's what we are going to do." And then he starts yelling. "I'M PRETTY SURE SHE DOESN'T SPEAK ENGLISH. SO IF YOU JUST LOOK SCARED, I THINK THIS WILL END OUR BUSINESS TOGETHER TODAY." He is also pointing his finger at my chest, and shaking his head pretty hard.

8. I nod, much abashed. The cop winks, and walk back toward his car (he may have been shopping, himself. Not sure why he was there). UberOma catches my eye, so that she can give the cut indirect, and then marches back to HER car.

I went into the store, and did NOT get a cart. I just carried my stuff in my arms, and went home and hid in the bathtub.


Unknown said...

I had a similar, although less entertaining, cart culture clash just a couple weeks ago in Würzburg. My friend yelled at me for not taking the euro out of the cart when I returned it at Aldi.

M said...

Love it! I am enjoying hearing about your German adventures :-)

Seth said...

Great story. Keep them coming.

Anonymous said...

Tommy the Englishman lived in Germany for over three months and managed to have fewer cultural fau paxs than you have had in what, four days?

br said...

I'm thinking, "National Lampoon's German Sobbatical".

Post a picture of the gbike. Is it light pink with matching pink and white streamers on the handlebars?

Anonymous said...

There are so many suave transcontinental know-it-alls out there that this honest, self deprecating travelogue is more refreshing than a 'merican soda cup full of ICE. I much 'preciate it. Keep it up.

Anonymous said...

Hiding in bathtubs is good for tornadoes. Don't be lulled, tornadoes are not unknown in Germany.

Shawn said...

shawn the not redneck is not surprised that a large boisterous man such as munger (via his blog/podcast personality, which is probably indistinguishable from his real personality) would be in the long tail of cultural faux pas.

I live there too; in the tails, that is, not germany.

Liam Quin said...

I've seen shopping carts here in Canada that lock with a coin, and you get a quarter or a dollar coin back when you return the cart.

And in those Macdonald junk food places they have a place to leave your child, and when you are done and return your tray, you get your child back, isn't that the same thing? :-)


Michael Ward said...

I was a visiting researcher from a US university in Mannheim last Summer. Mungowitz's experiences with the cart and tagging fruit bring back all too painful memories of my experiences with culture clash. However, I came to love the train system. Don't give up on it.

Also, enjoy Munich as the Marianplatz is truly beautiful.

Anonymous said...

Mike should be more aware of German culture.