It’s the “Little Things,” Part 1

When one moves abroad, there are a lot of adjustments to be made. You leave behind friends and family, for example, and have to accept that you’ll only be able to see them occasionally. You change jobs or become a student, and adjust to these new circumstances. And there are usually language challenges that affect daily life, too. The list goes on and on. There were a lot of things that took some getting used to back in Scotland. Some differences I grew to love, while others drove me bonkers up until the day I left (the totally unpractical, split hot & cold water taps, for example…that’s right, taps – I’m referring to you and your evil ways of burning me with scalding hot water!)

I cope with the big stuff pretty well. It’s actually the “little things” that make me sort of crazy when I move to a new country.

So I thought it might be fun to share my list of the top three things in Germany that are currently driving me bonkers with frustration. I’ll share number three today, then number two in the next entry and finally, number one. At some point, I’ll do a list of the top things I’m loving about Germany, too, but let’s first pick on Deutschland a bit 😉

No. 3: Drugstores without Drugs

Shopping in Germany is a very different experience from shopping in the US. There are things I like about the experience in both countries. In the US, we tend to have superstores where one can get just about everything in one stop. This is very convenient. I also really enjoy the experience of browsing around a Super Target, for example, and having a look at everything from the electronics to the pajamas to the food. In Germany, there are some superstores, but they’re not nearly as big or as well-stocked with goods as ones in the US. There’s a Toom, for example, within driving distance that is a little like a Wal-Mart, but is mostly a big grocery store with only some clothes, electronics and appliances. What I like about the German system (and this probably outweighs my own selfish indulgence of appreciating the convenience of a superstore) is that it means smaller, local businesses actually have a shot at survival. Most people in Germany go to different stores for the different products they need, and this gives everyone at a chance at having a business rather than making a ginormous company like Wal-Mart or Target even wealthier and more powerful. Family run local businesses are in serious danger in most cities and towns in the US, and I think that’s pretty sad. But I’ll also be the first to admit I do enjoy shopping at a Super Target when given the opportunity. I’d like to believe that the two can co-exist and both thrive, but that’s probably naïve on my part.

Anyway, I’ve gotten way off track from my no. 3 frustration with Germany: Drugstores without Drugs. Here’s the thing: I’ve adjusted pretty well to doing my shopping in various stores rather than one superstore like back in the US (I was basically already living this way in Scotland). I don’t mind buying my tea from the tea shop, my sprouts and other organic goodies from the bio store, or my camera from the family run camera shop. But what gets me is that drugstores here sell everything that a CVS or Walgreens would sell back in the US, like hair products, snacks, toothpaste, toilet paper, vitamins, make-up, etc., but they don’t sell any actual drugs. You won’t find any aspirin, ibuprofen or cold medication in a German drugstore. Where will you find these items? In an Apotheke, or pharmacy.

A typical German Apotheke

So add yet another stop into yet another shop to your shopping trip. But that’s not what really annoys me. What really annoys is the price you pay for products in a pharmacy. The Mr. warned me about this when we first arrived in Germany. We were out walking around, and I really needed an aspirin but didn’t have any on me. I asked the Mr. if we could pop in somewhere and buy some. He explained what I’ve just explained above; that we would have to go to an Apotheke to get it because a drugstore wouldn’t sell it. He warned me that it would probably be expensive, too. Back in the UK, I think I paid about 60p, or less than a dollar for a packet of basic aspirin. We went into the Apotheke and I can’t remember the exact price, but I think it was around 5 euros for a packet of basic aspirin. My jaw dropped and we walked out. When I was back in the US in June/July, I bought huge bottles (100+ pills) of aspirin, ibuprofen and Tylenol (paracetamol). I’ve figured out a way to get around the Apotheke’s high prices, but I still find it annoying.

(As a side note, I stumbled onto this article and found it interesting as I think this author would probably argue that the Germans have actually done things the right way when it comes to where your drugs should be sold: http://trueslant.com/tinadupuy/2010/02/22/drug-stores-are-totally-unethical/) Not sure that she’d be happy with the high prices either, though….

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About bittenbythebug

I love travel and have always been fascinated by other cultures. Back in 2004, I began my life as an expat in Edinburgh, Scotland. Fast forward 5 1/2 amazing years later to 2010 and the new chapter in my expat adventure: Würzburg, Germany.
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4 Responses to It’s the “Little Things,” Part 1

  1. cliff1976 says:

    One might argue that our “drugstores” (thinking of a Walgreens or CVS) are poorly named, nicht wahr? They’re really “pharmacy, toiletry, assorted retail convenience items” stores. Müller, perhaps also Rossmann and Schlecker, don’t call themselves “drugstores” — but what about DM, which stands for “Drogeriemarkt“? “Drogerie” translates to “chemist” or “pharmacy” — so there would seem to be a disconnect there. Indeed, on the wikipedia page for the DM enterprise, they also list Schlecker as the largest Drogeriemarktkette — so maybe the term “Drogerie” doesn’t really mean “pharmacy” or “chemist” after all. Mrs. 1976 reminds me to mention how specific Germans tend to be (and why I, as a Hair-Splitter Extraordinaire, can spend so much time thinking about stuff like this). Prescription medication is available at the Apotheke. And since virtually all medication is prescription medication, you have to get it there. Or stock up at Walgreens on your next U.S. visit. We have found that the Costco-sized bottles of Aleve expire before we can consume them, so we stopped buying that stuff there. Shaving cream, toothpaste, deodorant, etc. still gets purchased at Costco, and every time we come back from the U.S. — like yesterday — we are pushing the weight limit on our checked luggage.

    P.S. — have you ever been to Wall Drug?

    • Yeah, you’re probably right, Cliff – our “drugstores” back in the US are somehow poorly named! I also tend to stock up on a lot of things when I go back to the US. It’s annoying because I actually have a lot of personal possessions I’d like to transport back, so it’s a struggle between the cheap aspirin and the photo album! And we, too, probably won’t be able to work through one of those huge bottles of aspirin before it expires, but I’ll be darned if I’m paying 5 euros for 10 pills instead!! And no, I’d never heard of Wall Drug. I googled it, though, and if it’s the place in South Dakota you’re referring to, wow – my husband and I need to go check it out!

      Did you have a nice visit in the US?

  2. Sarah1976 says:

    I kind of took to the niche shopping of Germany, but it was really difficult to disentangle my concept of ‘drugstore.’ I still think sometimes that I should be able to pick up razor blades, shampoo, a trashy magazine and cough medicine in one trip.

    Also, 5 Euro for a packet of aspirin?! Holy cow. That might be a regional thing, because I can get a 15- or 20-tablet pack for under 2€.

    • Hi Sarah,

      Yeah, I double-checked with my husband on the aspirin price just in case my memory of it was off, and he thought it was even MORE expensive than I had recalled – 6 euros or something! I do think it was around 4 or 5 euros as I know it was enough that I had him double-check that it was the absolute cheapest, most basic type of aspirin available which the salesclerk/pharmacist (I guess they are trained pharmacists, aren’t they?) confirmed. Maybe I should do my aspirin shopping in Regensburg from now on =)

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