What are they asking after I buy my groceries? — German shopping vocabulary

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What are they asking after I buy my groceries? — German shopping vocabulary

Working with the expat community in Zurich there is a question I hear again and again and a short story that gets recounted. It goes something like this:

“I was in the Migros the other day and I bought my groceries. I didn’t understand how much the cashier asked for, but I saw what I owed, CHF 18.55. I paid with a 20 franc note and got the right change back and then she asked me a question, but I had no idea what she asked. A little panicked I quickly packed my stuff up and left. What do they ask at the grocery store?”

I love this story because it makes me laugh a little, but it also opens up two important other points. One is cultural and one us linguistic. But one of the best things is that I see that even if they don’t understand German, they do understand that they are being asked a question. This shows that a great deal of understanding German is paying attention to intonation, which is similar to English — your voice goes up at the end of a question sentence. (Read more about questions and answers in German here).

The answer to the question is one of three things.

1. Receipt / Quittung

They are asking you if you’d like the receipt. This is the linguistic point of today’s lesson. There are several words for receipt in German. Here are the German and Swiss-German variations:

receiptQuittung, dieQuittig
receipt / sales slipKassenbon, derKassäbon
receipt / sales slipKassenzettel, derKassäzättel / Kassäzätteli
receiptBon, derBon
slip, receiptZettel, derZättel / Zätteli
receipt / sales slipBeleg, derBeleg

After your purchase you might hear the following:

  • Quittung? (Receipt?)
  • Möchten Sie Ihre Quittung? (Would you like your receipt?)
  • Hätten Sie gern Ihre Quittung? (Would you like your receipt?)
  • Hätten Sie gern die Quittung? (Would you like the receipt?)

Good responses are:

  • Ja, gerne. Danke. (Yes, please. thank you.)
  • Nein, danke. (No, thank you.)

**Note here that the gender of Quittung is feminine the other words masculine. The question places the word receipt in the accusative (direct object) so if we exchange Quittung for Kassenzettel for example the question would be:

  • Möchten Sie Ihren Kassenzettel? (Would you like your receipt?)

2. Points card / Treuekarte

They might be asking you for your Supercard (Coop) or a Cumulus Karte (Migros). Coop and Migros are the two largest grocery chains in Switzerland and have many other shops under them. That said, chances are that you’ll spend a great deal of money there, so why not get loyalty rewards. Migros will send you coupons at the end of the month in correlation to what you spend and the Supercard collects points that you can use to pay for things on select items at the Coop supermarket or all purchases at Coop City.
Stores that also in the to Coop and Migros groups

DennerCoop City
Ex LibrisInterDiscount
InterioDipl. Ing. Fust AG
GlobusImport Parfumerie
MigrolChrist Uhren & Schmuck
Office Worldmicrospot.ch

After your purchase you might hear the following:

  • Haben Sie eine Superkarte? (Do you have a Supercard?)
  • Haben Sie eine Cumulus Karte? (Do you have a Cumulus card?)

Good answers are:

  • Ja, habe ich. Bitte. (as you give card) (Yes, I do. Please.)
  • Nein, habe ich nicht. (No, I don’t have one.)
  • Nein, noch nicht. Wie bekomme ich eine? (No, no yet. How do I get one?)

3. Stickers and Toys / Marken und Spielzeuge

They might be asking if you’d like stickers or the toy giveaways. Both Migros and Coop are always running giveaway programs. Migros tends to be more child oriented and gives away things like collectable toys — they had great success with the Nanomania and are currently running a dinosaur campaign called Animanca.

Coop on the other hand is more practical for adults and allows people to collect stickers (Marken / Märkli). A 10 Franc purchase equals 1 sticker. You collect the stickers on cards – usually 30 are required to fill a card. Once you’ve collected an entire card’s worth of stickers you can purchase things for the kitchen or for travel at 60-70% off the normal price. This is how I got great quality pots and pans back in 2009. The current campaign is again for pots and pans from Fissler.

After your purchase you might hear the following:

  • Sammeln Sie Märkli? (Do you collect stickers?)
  • Sammeln Sie Animanca? (Do you collect Animanca toys?)

Good answers are:

  • Ja, gern. Danke. (Yes, please. Thank you.)
  • Nein, danke. (No, thank you.)

Do you need a bag?

Shopping in the German-speaking countries isn’t like in North America. The cashiers (Kassierer) sits and doesn’t stand and there are no teenagers vying to pack up your groceries. You pack them yourself and many people bring their own shopping bags, because they try to be environmentally friendly and they don’t want to buy bags. Yes, you need to pay for the bags you use unless it’s just a small think plastic one that can’t hold anything.

Right before you pay therefore, you might hear the following:

  • Möchten Sie eine Tüte? (Would you like a bag?)
  • Brauchen Sie eine Tüte? (Do you need a bag?)

Good answers are:

  • Ja, danke. Lieber Papier/Plastik. (Yes, please. Paper/Plastik please.)
  • Nein, danke. Ich habe schon eine dabei. (No, thank you. I already have one with me.)

Some different words for bag that you might hear:

bagdie TüteSäckli
sackder SackSäckli
bag / pouch / pocketdie TascheTäschli

A little more grocery store vocabulary:

aisleder Gang

cashierder Kassierer / der Kassier / die Kassiererin

checkout / cash registerdie Kasse

to stand in lineanstehen / Schlange stehen (literally to stand in a snake)

department / sectiondie Abteilung

For a full list of vocabulary in a great visual presentation, visit the Pons site. The Pons dictionaries (Wörterbücher) are also great for learning. They have two that I highly recommend:

  • Pons Bildwörterbuch (ISBN: 3125178762)
  • Pons Deutsch als Fremdsprache (ISBN: 3125170478) For more advanced learners.

Don’t forget to say goodbye

Once the you’ve finished all of the paying, card, and sticker business, it’s polite to say goodbye. A simple “Ich wünsche Ihnen einen schönen Tag/Abend noch.” will suffice here as will “Auf Wiedersehen” or if you’re really good at dialect “Uf Wiederluege“. Avoid using Tschüss or Ciao as these are very informal.

Now that you’ve read this post, you should be able to more confidently go grocery shopping and hopefully interact a little more with the cashier. One final tip: When you’re asked a question, take a deep breath, stop and think for a second taking in where you are and the present situation. I’m sure you understand more than you think at first. Then answer.

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  1. MeredithMeredith10-25-2012

    Great post! Thanks to Newly Swissed’s link on Facebook, I have found your blog. I especially liked your words of encouragement. As an expat learning the language, I also try to ‘read’ the intonation, and think about the context. It’s when the cashier goes off the script, or is unusually friendly, that I sometimes fumble!

  2. Brilliant post Christian. I came to Zurich as a fluent German speaker (Germanistik studiert) and therefore thought i would fit in here no problem! The swiss german took me a while to get used to.

    At the start in Coop, i thought there were 2 types of bag – a säckli and a säckliwelle, ie somehow a smaller bag. Took me ages to hear that they were running the auxillary verb in at the end!


    • ChristianChristian10-31-2013

      That is brilliant. Totally didn’t even think of how the speed and fluidity of Swiss-German causes problems. Thank you for your comment and observation!


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