A Comparison – Shopping

Let’s keep chatting about the differences between the cities where we’ve lived today. If you want to go back to the post that started it all, click here.

Okay. Shopping in Johannesburg is simple. The shoppers are mostly laid back and the cashiers are friendly. There’s no rush either. People wait in line patiently and kind of take what happens as it comes. Of course, all of this is for the most part. Every rule has an exception. Sometimes folks have bad days, but as long as everyone is friendly – and South Africans are friendly – shopping is effortless.

Shopping carts are free. No deposit needed, and they also don’t have any design element that will bar someone from taking them outside of a specific shop or parking lot. The isles in shops are mostly wide enough to allow you to pass another shopper with a cart too.

In grocery stores (and some others) you have a cashier and a bag packer ready to assist you. In those stores where there’s no bag packer, the cashier will also pack your purchases in a bag for you. In fact, when it comes to purchasing things or enjoying your shopping experience, you have many folks who will assist you, from the petrol attendant (AKA the person who fills your car with gas) to the car guard (AKA the folks who hang out in the parking lot, making sure no cars are stolen). The car guards will even help you put your shopping in your car sometimes, and while the petrol attendant fills your car, you’ll also be served by someone who washes the windscreen or pumps up your tyres.

Produce is cooled and lasts a good while after purchase. In fact, produce shops in SA are pretty and colourful, with the products packed neatly in display stands.

Johannesburg shopping involves malls or shops grouped together in the open, usually joined by roofed walkways. You do still get individual shops in the city centre, but since it’s almost guaranteed there’s a mall within a kilometre or two from your home, why would you go to the city centre (though of course, it’s super convenient to those people who work in the city centre)? That said, individual shops have been moving into houses along the bigger roads to the malls, and these have gained popularity in the last few years.

Banks run on limited hours, but everything else is almost always open. Most grocery stores run on an 8 to 8 schedule, no matter what holiday or what the weather brings. Before Christmas, operating hours are extended even more.

Many folks opt to pay with credit or debit cards, though you still have those who pay with cash. In my personal experience, the cash payers are usually older folks, or cash is used for smaller purchases.

As for price, things are a little more expensive than they used to be (according to family and friends who still live in SA). When they tell us what things cost now, we find that it compares well to what we pay. So, prices have adjusted to be in the same region as prices in the rest of the world. HOWEVER as this happens, salaries tend to remain in the same region, so folks struggle a bit more to make ends meet. Haircuts and similar services are less expensive in Joburg than the other cities we’ve stayed, but the minimum wage is so much lower in SA and since skilled work is more valued in the rest of the world, skilled workers are paid better.

Okay, one down, two to go!

Our experience in Mülheim an der Ruhr was MUCH DIFFERENT.

First of all, you need a deposit for your shopping cart. That was a huge shock to this Joburger. Then, there’s less space, so many of the grocery stores have narrow isles, not wide enough for two carts to pass one another. Of course, there are bigger, wider-isled shops too, but those are fewer and often more expensive.

People in Germany as a whole are less zen when shopping. Saturdays and after-work hours in the grocery store often mean crowds. People want to get out of the chaos, so there’s a lot of shoving and pushing. Then, when you pay, you have to pack away your own groceries as quickly as possible, because the people in the queue get very annoyed if you take too long.

Most shops are open for longer hours during the week, but all shops are closed on Sundays, with the exception of petrol stations, some stores in train stations and certain bakeries that are open for two hours on a Sunday morning. The same can be said for public holidays – everything is closed up. Banks also run on limited hours, and some of them close for an hour or two in the afternoon.

Most people still pay with cash in most German cities. There are obviously some folks who pay with cards, but they’re the minority.

Produce isn’t cooled in most grocery stores (the ones that do cool their wares are more expensive) and don’t last as long. For this reason, most folks buy produce multiple times per week. Milk is ridiculously cheap in Germany, since the government subsidises it so heavily. Many other products are less expensive than in the rest of Europe for the same reason. Pre-cooked meals are of high quality and low prices in Germany. We could buy a kilogram of lasagne, made with high-quality ingredients, for under 3 Euros. The value for money is unbelievable.

I’ve lamented about the price of makeup and toiletries often since we moved away, because the prices of these items are also much lower in Germany than anywhere else. I also miss some of the brands because of the following point.

The overall quality of everything you can buy is better in Germany, even if you shop at the Euro store. I miss that. Kayla still hasn’t worn out some of the clothes and shoes we bought her there.

Shops are more diverse in Germany too. You get everything from your high-end mall to your little shop in the city centre, and then some. I adored the city centre shopping culture. There’s something about hanging around on cobbled streets with a muso playing for coins every block or two, and the scent of baking bread keeping your stomach growling.

The bakeries. THE BAKERIES. Friends, I miss those.

But before I get too hungry, let’s talk about shopping in Canada.

It’s kind of what the child of shopping in SA and Germany would look like. The people are friendlier and more zen, the shops are bigger and wider-isled, produce is cooled and lasts longer, but you need a deposit for most shopping carts and you have to pack your own stuff after purchase. Some carts are free, but have long poles attached to them so they won’t fit through the shop’s doorframe, and will have to be left inside.

People pay with both cash and cards, though most of the people I’ve spoken to prefer cards.

Shopping hours are similar to those in Johannesburg – everything is always open. The banking hours are insanely long here, they’re even open on Sundays.

You also have the malls, the grouped shops and city-street shopping, which is awesome.

And that’s about all I can think of now. Do you have anything to add? Please do! I love hearing from you.



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