In-Continents Abroad: Bayern 101 – Grocery Shopping
Oh, the joys of intercontinental travel. Following one nine-hour flight, two lost bags, a long taxi ride through the Bavarian countryside, and a few celebratory schlugs of some absolutely foul “bierschnapps” (“The taste of freedom!” one of my erstwhile Wesleyan classmates exclaimed), my companions and I found ourselves at our student apartments in the city of Regensburg in time for some eating and drinking.
“Regensburg ist eine gute Stadt für essen und trinken,”—a good city for eating and drinking—a friendly old lady, with whom we shared our taxi that morning, informed us with a smile. Excellent. Wie sagt, man,“Famished?” I needed to eat some food, sober up, and catch a nap before our official orientation activities began. Seeing as my apartment is located in a quiet residential neighborhood, removed from the center of town, and given that I didn’t really know my way around, my options were limited. So I walked down the block to the Netto, a European discount supermarket chain with a significant presence in Germany. As I entered through the automatic glass doors, I licked my lips in anticipation of my first grocery-shopping experience abroad.
The first thing I noticed when I entered the Netto was how much lower its prices are than virtually any supermarket in the U.S. Even the higher-end organic products seemed cheap, especially compared to Whole Foods or the It’s Only Natural marketplace. Immediately, I made a beeline for the shelves before realizing that I’d probably need to pick up a shopping cart for all of my loot. However, there were none by the entrance. Then it struck me that just about every single customer was carrying a personal shopping bag. Several moms with young children in tow had as many as four or five.
At that moment I felt as if I’d fallen head-over-heals—not only is this place affordable to virtually anyone looking to eat well, but it’s also sustainable to boot! I invested a whopping 30-euro cents in the requisite reusable bag and returned to browsing. After making several rounds through the Netto, I’d gathered some essentials—bread, cereals, jam, milk, apples, clementines, tea, cheese, tomato sauce, spaghetti, milk, and, of course, German wurst, all for 20 euro (about US $27)—however, one staple was missing: peanut butter.
Every savvy American college student knows that a staple dorm room comfort food is one of the best ways to stay sane amidst the Sturm und Drang of school work and social life. Now, imagine you’re a freshman all over again, new to campus and without a network of friends. Now transpose this experience to a foreign country where you have only a rudimentary knowledge of the native language. As you can imagine, the stress level increases exponentially. Therefore, by my estimation, the importance of one’s routine consumption of said comfort food increases by the same factor.
The food that keeps me grounded is peanut butter. At Wesleyan, nothing makes me happier than a toasted peanut butter and jelly sandwich or peanut butter on a banana in the morning. However, while I was seeing an abundance of other “bread spreads”—an entire bin of Nutella jars, a seemingly endless variety of jams containing esoteric fruits, and an abundance of liverwurst, my beloved “Erdnussbutter” was nowhere to be found. Apparently peanut butter is about as foreign to Germans as the notion of a disposable grocery bag.
However, in the place in my heart vacated by peanut butter, a new staple has come to reside. Since branching out from my morning culinary routine, I discovered the deliciousness that is müsli (or muesli, as some in the US might recognize it). Müsli is a mixture of rolled oats, wheat and rye flecks, cornflakes, nuts, and dried fruit. One flavor I’ve been eating contains apples, dates, raisins, bananas, pears, plums, and almonds. It’s so hearty, so good, so German, and hands down better than any cereal or granola I’ve ever purchased in the US It’s what I’ve been eating every morning for breakfast, and I don’t plan on stopping any time soon.
The road ahead to cultural and linguistic acclamation is undoubtedly long. Yet, symbolically, I think the adaptation of müsli into my diet bodes well for my journey. While I will miss the comfort provided by my beloved peanut butter, I am now deriving that same comfort from something quintessentially German. In ever so small a way, I now feel more at home in this foreign place.
Rashkoff is a member of the Class of 2013.