Sunday, January 15, 2017

Grocery Shopping and Laundry: A German exercise in planning

To continue in the theme of commonplace activities that are no longer commonplace...

Germany is known for efficiency and detailed rules. Americans on the other hand seem to have mastered the art of flying by on the seat of their pants. However, American expats in Germany get to practice improving their efficiency and planning through everyday activities such as grocery shopping and laundry.  These two unrelated tasks have both put the immediacy of the American culture into a new perspective for me.

In the US, if I needed to do laundry, I could easily wash and dry an entire load in an hour & a half.  If I realized as I lay down to go to bed that the kids had no clean jeans to wear to school the next day, no worries - I could start a load in the washer, stick the wet clothes in the dryer half an hour later, go to sleep and wake up to a load of clean, dry laundry.  However, here the wash cycle takes 3 hours.  (There are shorter cycles, which I've experimented with and can use in a pinch, but the optimal clean in my washer seems to take at least 2+ hours plus 20 min of high speed spinning which wrings out far more water than my US washers ever did.)

Then comes the drying.  Most homes don't have a vent for a vented dryer.  So, if you have a dryer at all, it works more like a dehumidifier.  These can take hours to dry a load and due to the time and their energy consumption, it's actually more common to hang dry. And you'd better hang those wet clothes at least 12 hours prior to when you intend to wear them if they are jeans.

To add a further complication, depending on your neighbors and where your washing machine is located in your house, you may only be able to run it during the day in order to be respectful of quiet hours. Ours is in the cellar 2 floors below our main living area and 3 floors below our upstairs neighbor, so I don't think it's a big deal.  But we can hear the final speedy spin cycle from 2 floors up, and I don't know if our neighbors can hear it or I'd rather not be hanging wet laundry at midnight, so I try to at least start the load during daylight.

Real life example: it is currently 4pm on Sunday afternoon.  Matthew leaves for his next trip around 5am on TUESDAY.  In order for him to have clean clothes (and avoid running the washing machine late into the night), I suddenly realized that I urgently needed to start laundry. Two. Days. Ahead.

I mean...If you know me at all, you'll know I'm a planner, but this takes it to an entirely new level.

Similarly, all stores are closed on Sunday and most holidays. All of them. Even H&M in the touristy downtown district. Even the convenience stores. Even the grocery stores. This has been an education in German holidays since this necessitates planning ahead or be stuck hungry.  (There are a few restaurants open on Sundays but only one in town has gluten free options.)

The complicating factor to this is that I go to the store every few days. Everything here seems to be 3/4 of the size of its American equivalent.  This goes for the refrigerator, food storage, and the food packaging itself.   (and the above-mentioned washing machine, too!).  I actually appreciate this for the most part - smaller packaging contributes to less waste, I can buy exactly the amounts that I need, and since I walk to the grocery store, it's easier to carry home.  However, it does not leave a lot of extra lying around for a "snow day"...or a Sunday.  :)

Here are some examples:
My European-sized refrigerator & tiny oven.  Being a convection oven, though, it cooks well even when multiple racks are in use.

My freezer is all of the two drawers at the bottom.  Since I like to freezer-can homemade chicken broth, tomato sauce, etc, I'm currently looking for a stand-alone freezer to put in the cellar. Also, this picture was taken on a Sunday...the fridge is bare.

1 Liter of milk. Our neighborhood grocery store does not carry a larger size. 

Tiny jars of mayo, mustard, soy sauce (gluten free!), and peanut butter. The bag of apple chips is a standard-sized chip bag.  All sitting next to normal apples.

Eggs come in packages of 10 or fewer. You can even buy them individually...which I never do.

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