englishman abroad

How to fail at shopping

On Sunday, we had a friend over for an authentic British Sunday Roast Dinner ™ 

Normally this would not be a big deal, I’d go to a British supermarket, go to the aisle that specifically has all manner of roasting joints in it, and choose a nice rib of beef or shoulder of lamb or large chicken to roast. But I live in Germany, where nothing is ever as straightforward as it should be. Here is the story of how I failed at food shopping. 

 First thing Saturday morning, I made a shopping list with all the ingredients I needed for the Sunday roast. The list included a roasting chicken and some roasting potatoes e.g. Maris Piper. I grabbed my debit card for some cashless shopping and zoomed down to my local supermarket… 

Problem number 1: you will need a pocket full of shrapnel to go shopping. 

While it’s true that most supermarkets take card payments, not a single supermarket seems to trust its customers with the trolleys. Therefore, if you don’t have a euro or some other small change to hand you cannot use a trolley. Cashless payment, Yes. Cashless shopping, No. It makes no sense. Never mind, I thought, I’ll just get as much shopping as I can here and go to the market later. I went to look at the potatoes… 

Problem number 2: German conformity strikes again. 

The supermarket I went to had ten different brands of potato for sale. All of them were white, small, and ‘Festkochend’. Exactly the sort of potato you want for boiling and mashing, not baking or roasting. I asked one of the assistants if they knew what sort of potatoes they were and she read the sign to me as though I was a simpleton. “yes, but are they Maris PiperKing EdwardPink Fir Apples or what?” 

Unfortunately, she merely pointed me toward the apples and muttered something pejorative. Consoling myself with the thought that they would have a much better selection at the local market, I moved onto the fruit and veg… 

Problem number 3Would you really eat this? 

I like some greens with my roast dinner and it’s too early in the year for kale, so I looked for a savoy cabbage. Good news: they had Savoy cabbage! Bad News: It was of a terrible, yellowing, moth-eaten quality! The supermarket had just hit strike three, so I left and went straight to the local market, which takes place in a small square outside a church. I looked for a decent butcher’s stall and found one with a large chicken, exactly the sort I wanted to roast.  

Problem number 4No. 

“Hello,” I said. “I’d like to buy this chicken for a roast dinner”

“A what?” 

“I’d like to roast this chicken” 

“No” 

“Excuse me?” 

“You can’t roast this chicken. It’s too big. This is a soup chicken, it’s for soup” 

I looked long and hard at the chicken. It was far too large for even the biggest pan I own, it would have fit comfortably into my oven, though. 

“Are you sure? What chicken can I roast?” 

“Here” she said, showing me the tiniest, gangliest-looking, little runt of a chicken I had ever seen. 

“I really would rather buy the larger chicken, there’s lots of people coming…” 

“No, I can’t do that” 

I looked at Chicken Lady. 

Chicken Lady looked at me. 

“I see. Goodbye.” 

“Goodbye” she said, impassively. 

Thankfully, the market had a few vegetables I wanted, including parsnips and savoy cabbage. I decided to take my daughter with me to the much larger market outside the registry office. 

Problem number 5A sable cloud athwart the welkin flings 

Then it started to absolutely bucket down with rain. Child in one arm, umbrella and shopping in the other, I pressed on as it rained heavily. Not a blasted chicken to be seen, although I managed to pick up a few fresh-looking vegetables. Before finally…

Solution: Make do and mend 

It turns out that German stallkeepers can be quite canny, despite the ineptitude of Chicken Lady. One of them cunningly offered my daughter a slice of sausage which she took immediately. “Don’t talk to strangers” I’ve always said, but did she listen?  Well, you can’t just take the free sausage and keep on walking, can you? Sausage Lady had won this round and so I decided to opt for a joint of beef instead. We had a pot roast and it turned out very well, except for when I forgot how to make Yorkshire puddings and nearly set the kitchen on fire. Advice: don’t use too much oil. 

My shopping trip took over five hours. When in Germany, do as the Germans do – eat boring food.

englishman abroad, parenting

Home-grown Fairy Tales

It’s not easy to get a child to behave themselves sometimes. In an ideal world, a parent would always have the patience and temperament to sit the child down and explain exactly why certain behaviour is unacceptable. In an ideal world, the child would have the inclination to listen!

But this isn’t a perfect world and I’m not a perfect man. I have, however, discovered a way to avoid yelling too often. The answer is fairy tales.

It all started when my then-three-year-old daughter had to give up her dummy, which is called a ‘Schnuller’ in Germany. No matter how long her mother and I tried to explain that all Big Grown-up Girls of Three give up their dummy, no matter how rational and simple the argument for better teeth was, no matter how tempting the bribe was, my daughter simply wouldn’t countenance giving up her dummy.

Then my mobile rang and I received a telephone call from none other than The Schnuller Fairy herself, what are the odds of that? The Schnuller Fairy had a word with me and I passed the message on to Aurelia. Job done, dummy surrendered.

I have employed similar tactics recently. After the great success of Santa Claus’ omniscience for the last two Christmases, I decided to invent a new character. The Birthday Hen.

The Birthday Hen is male, by the way. Aurelia’s never questioned it. The Birthday Hen is from Australia and spends all day flying around the sky looking for naughty children. If he finds one, that child has their birthday postponed for a year and the child remains 4 (or whatever) for two years. If the child is naughty on their birthday then woe betide them! The Birthday Hen would swoop down and dive-bomb the party with rotten eggs and peck people on the ankle. Sometimes the Birthday Hen himself would telephone me and enquire as to Aurelia’s behaviour:

“Oh, no Mr Hen! I’m sure she’s in bed right now. I’ll just go and check!”

Lo and behold! Aurelia was suddenly and very convincingly asleep!

She’s had her fifth birthday now and I’ll admit it, I’m running out of ideas. Just today we were in Wilhelmshaven visiting The Pirate Museum when she became somewhat piratical herself. I very nearly invoked the April Eel, a wrathful eel who lurks omnipresently and sneakily nips the ankles of kids who don’t listen.

Not every story I’ve invented is of some omnipotent babysitter, however. I made up a story called The Little Strawberry Who Didn’t Listen, it’s one of Aurelia’s favourites. It’s a little bit long for this blog entry though, so I’ll share it with you next time.