Before I moved, I googled. A lot. Probably too much, and definitely got too much of the wrong kind of information, not that I knew it at the time. It’s like that saying about a going to a restaurant, a customer has a good experience and he will tell his friend, whilst a customer who has a bad experience will tell five of his friends.
Unfortunately the internet is full to busting with lists of ‘What you can’t find’ or ‘what to bring with you’, which on the one hand is great, new expats can be prepared and add items to their shipping container (in bulk if necessary) and this can really help with the transition/homesickness period
On the other hand it discourages people from actually getting out there and finding out what is or isn’t available to them personally or from making substitutions (which might even turn out to be better than the original product)
It’s also worth noting that most of these lists are ridiculously out of date and consequently, I kid you not, there are a lot of posts in forums like the one I saw the other day by a panicking potential expat asking ‘What do I have to bring with me? I heard they don’t have toothpaste in Germany’ *face palm*
So I’m going to help you out, you can benefit from my hours of schlepping, trials, frustrations and eventual wins. Unfortunately I can’t do the work for you, you have to be willing to put in some time, get out there and look too.
As a general rule the only products you won’t find in Germany are ‘own brand’ products from companies who do not have shops in Germany. Europe also has different rules and regulations about food, cosmetics and other products (get away from me with your SPF100), and whilst a product might appear to be the same (save for the Germany writing) the actual recipe/formula will likely be different. I once took Sudafed whilst I was in the US, since it’s a brand name I recognised from the UK, and it is not the same product at all and boy Americans must be disappointed when they take Sudafed in the UK!
Some products will be available just under a different brand name, do some research.
Imported products will cost you more, that’s simple economics and sometimes it does feel like there is a foreigner tax when it comes to items from home, but here they are specialist items. Do you really need that particular brand?
Medication is treated differently in Germany. The Apotheke is the only place to get non-prescription medication, but they will also advise you about medications and options without the need to visit a doctor. Expect to pay a lot more for things like paracetamol and Ibuprofen, I always ask guests to bring some from the UK since it’s so small, light and cheap, my German pharmacist friend even approves of my thriftiness in this case. You will also find skincare and beauty items here. If you can’t find your particular brand take in your current one and speak to the pharmacist, most will at least speak some English, look at it as a great opportunity for vocabulary broadening and hey hand signals go a long way.
Yes they contain Asian cooking ingredients but they don’t stop there, most contain a lovely selection of US/UK/OZ goodies too, and at a lower cost than the supermarkets! Over the years I’ve spent a fair amount of time stalking around these shops scouring the shelves for potential gold and found a fair few bargains. Tea, proper tea in the quantities that British people drink it! shortbread, crackers, baby shampoo, brown sugar, Palmers Coco Butter, mint sauce, well I could go on forever, go find out for yourself, no two shops have the same selection (generally). Also a source of fantastic asian ingredients (obviously) and a reliable place to find corriander (look in the fridge) which is something that in German supermarkets can be hit or miss.
The International Aisle
Rewe, Edeka, Real, Globus, Karstad, Galeria Kaufhof all have international selections, the choice will depend on that particular store so don’t just look in your local supermarket, try the one a town over, then two towns over. Going sightseeing? nip into a supermarket while you are there you never know what you might find. It’s also worth noting that even if a store doesn’t have a particular ‘International section’ you might also find products on a normal shelf. Heinz Beans and Cream of tomato soup are two don’t feature on a special display but both are widely available, you do have to look though! Expect to pay substantially more for these products than you would in your home country, do you really need a branded box cake mix or poptarts? I left the picture big so you can see the prices
Amazon, foodfromhome.de, britishcornershop.co.uk, expatsgrocery.com etc etc I have not ordered any good from home from these places they are simply the first ones that popped to mind and google search. Honestly I’m put off by the prices and would only consider using them if I absolutely had to and who needs fruit pastilles that much? hmmm well but other friends have had good experiences and if you club together with a few friends and share the postage it really would be a fun box to open.
I have however used Cadbury and clubbed together with a few friends to recieve probably the best parcel ever, you can get pretty much anything you want on there, which is great for picky sweet eaters like me. You can get Cadbury here but the choice isn’t great, Milka and Ritter Sport always get top billing.
I always have to go in an International shop if I see one, I rarely end up buying anything though because Wow the prices! I’m guessing for Americans it’s worse. If you need a treat however it’s definitely somewhere to look. Frankfurters you lucky people have the ‘Taste of Britain’ on your doorstep! Stuttgarters this place is the best, the prices are higher than the UK but it’s worth it (look out for an in depth blog soon), both these shops have bacon, sausages and pies! Hannovians this place looks fabulous. I’m sure there are more out there just waiting to be found, I always try to buy a few
luxuries essentials when I go in to support the shop and say a small thanks for keeping me sane.
I’m talking about Aldi, Lidl and Netto for the main part. In these places that have a week on week rotation of (in my families words) ‘fancy goods’ speciality foods tend to crop up a few times a year. Welcome to the expat world of being exotic, even if you come from Stoke. Lidl usually has an ‘English week’ twice a year (they do American week too) look out for it, frozen fish and chips, crisps (not paprika), cheddar, fudge and other random foods like vinegar peanuts, which I didn’t try. ALdi also had speciality cheddar before christmas and it was good, so glad that it freezes so well! Keep your eyes open.
Time to think outside the box
Countries around Germany
Sometimes it’s good to be landlocked, did you know that the French love British food? They even have crumpets, oh yeah, we actually went to Strasbourg at the weekend, beautiful place, you should definitely visit, this is the only picture I took there!
France’s massive hypermarkets and even their smaller stores like Spar will usually home good old English goodies, chocolate fingers anyone? Belgium is the same, as is Italy but when you get to the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary you will discover Tesco and Marks & flippin Spencer. I was pretty happy buying tights and Percy pigs in Brno. If you travel by car around Europe take advantage of the unlimited (well to the size of the car) extra space for extras.
Do you have an ever expanding band of people coming to stay with you? They are getting a free holiday and you’re cleaning up after them? Do not be afraid to ask them to bring you things that you can’t get easily here, if they are your friends they won’t mind at all. The best friends even offer and then bring tasty surprises too.
Make your own
Crumpets were my first foray into cooking to fulfil my homesick expat need, I would never have even attempted to make them at home when I could buy them at the supermarket. Germany made me do it, and I’m fairly competent at making them, they freeze well, and I know exactly whats inside them!
Go forth and urban forage for your very own goodies from home, is there anywhere you can recommend?