A Week’s Groceries Around the World

From a series of photographs showing the weekly food shopping of families around the world, here’s what the Melander family of Bargteheide, Germany eats in a week [h/t James R.]:

Germany - weekly groceries

Three kinds of beer, plenty of mineral water, meat, and of course gallons of yogurt and fruit juice.  All of which is probably delicious: German consumers have high standards, so even ordinary groceries are usually quite tasty.  Follow the link to see other pictures from Japan, Ecuador, Mexico, Bhutan, the U.S., and Italy. 

From a cultural comparison perspective, the food’s interesting, but so is whether any (or all) of the people in the photo are smiling.  Note to those unfamiliar with Germany: The Melanders are probably quite nice people, even though their facial expressions in this photo seem to range from sullen hostility to detached melancholy.  Germans are just like that.

16 thoughts on “A Week’s Groceries Around the World

  1. Notice also that the Germans spend more than any of the other families in the TIME report. Groceries must be cheaper in the US and Japan than in Germany….


  2. @FJM: You may notice that, but remember that the Euro exchange rate to dollars is much higher than any of the other currencies. That said, I know from myself and friends that we prefer higher standards in croceries although we are students and do not have that much money.


  3. Of course we can’t conclude anything specific from this sample. We don’t know if the consumer behaviour of these families is repesentative of their countries; we don’t know if they are relatively well-off or relatively poor (although we can guess that from the photographs, but hey, the Melanders might just have posed with their MONTHLY food shopping in their wealthy uncle’s living room). I just found it funny that the Germans are so far out, although exchange rates may play a role (IF the TIME people just converted the weekly expenditure into dollars given current exchange rates).

    Another interesting fact is that the Melanders are the only family to proudly pose with their booze. Given that their kids are still quite young, the Melander parents seem to down four bottles of red wine and 30 bottles of beer per week. Not bad….


  4. I read this on SpiegelOnline a few months ago. The interesting part for me was that the shopping was paid for… Now look at that: 30 bottles of beer and 4 bottles of wine for 2 adults in a week?!? There are three possible explanations for that: (1) The Melanders are alcoholics, (2) they used the opportunity to stock up for a party with the neighbors the weekend after, or (3) the authors added the beer to feed German stereotypes in the study. – I call BS on either the sample or the methodology.


  5. If the shopping was paid for by the survey – even if they told them “buy just what you normally buy for yourselves” – then that might explain a lot. The amount of beer in the picture seems enormous for one week, but maybe Mr or Mrs Melander had invited friends over to their house that week and took advantage.

    Also to my (German hence biased) impression, nobody in the picture seems to express “sullen hostility”. I see boredom in some faces, but Mr Melander’s face and body language express confidence to me. The lack of smiles is, however, indeed representative: remember Michael Glos’s golden words: “We smile honestly”. (But we don’t play by the rules if someone else is paying)


  6. Doing just a multiplication of dollars into euros (or yen or pesos) would be meaningless. I would ask how many hours do Herr u. Frau Melander (and the other families) have to work to earn their ‘taeglisches brot’?


  7. @Sven: Maybe it’s (4) The children are alcoholics too?

    Well, I assume the Melanders took the golden opportunity to part some fools and their money.


  8. I can’t even say how relieved I am at the amount of liquor on that table. I am Durchschnitt – hear me roar.

    Granted, I’d rather eat at the Egyptian place featuring that many fresh vegetables.


  9. “. . . seem to range from sullen hostility to detached melancholy.” With the emphasis on “seem.”

    Along with Norbert, I would say that “sullen hostility” is overstating the case. To me, they seem earnest and reflective, not necessarily unfriendly. Moreover, the father looks like someone with whom I might enjoy sharing one of those bottles of wine.

    Many Americans, when visiting Germany, are put off by what they interpret to be expressions of hostility or unease. Or, as one American acquaintance put it: “They all look like they have chronic indigestion.”

    My experience has been that the German psyche has a protective ring of barbed wire which, however, can be easily lifted to reveal personalities of not little engaging charm and even, yes, humor.

    It is an Anglo-American invention that Germans are humorless. Whether in Berlin or in the Rhineland, I continually meet Germans with a highly developed sense of irony, and it is a real pleasure to converse with them. Moreover, look at the literary traditions… Karl Kraus… Erich Kästner… Wilhelm Busch… Thomas Bernhard… Marek Möhling….

    The conception of Germans as “mercilessly efficient but humourless engineer[s]” (Spiegel) is a stereotype.

    The German counterpart is that old cliché: “das amerikanische ‘Keep Smiling’,” as Germans call it.

    I have never understood the Germans who, after returning from my native country, complain bitterly about friendly, smiling Americans as further proof of American superficiality.

    Better a superficial smile than a profound scowl….


  10. Totally agree with you on the “German counterpart cliché”, Paul. There is often this akward thinking that a fake smile is dishonest and superficial. This is akin to saying “don’t do me a favour, if you don’t really mean it”. Even if the smile is 100% fake and dishonest, so what? If you need a reason to smile, just think that a smiling person looks nicer than a grim person and that’s all.

    (BTW: Thomas Bernhard is Austrian)


  11. I meant humor in German-language literary traditions, meaning both the Austrian and German, but you’re right, Norbert, to call attention to the fact that Bernhard was Austrian.

    Germans and Austrians, and their respective humor, do differ.

    After all, “Der Preuße sagt ‘die Lage ist ernst, aber nicht verzweifelt’; der Wiener sagt ‘die Lage ist verzweifelt, aber nicht ernst’.” (“The Prussian says ‘the situation is serious, but not hopeless’; the Viennese says ‘the situation is hopeless, but not serious’.”)

    That latter observation is Bernhard’s sense of humor in a nutshell.


  12. “the Viennese says ‘the situation is hopeless, but not serious'”

    A very Italian POV as well, in my experience. I recently visited my favorite Italian friends. Their answer (to many things) is to sigh, shrug shoulders, and move on with their personal lives and things under their control. It’s a wonderful place to visit and to live in for a year or two, but my observation is that Italy can drive outsiders a little crazy after a while.


  13. Folks: way OT, sorry.

    > Posted by: Paul | November 15, 2007 at 01:14 PM
    > Moreover, look at the literary traditions… Karl Kraus… Erich Kästner… Wilhelm Busch…
    > Thomas Bernhard… Marek Möhling….


    Thx, Paul – I should check GJ and it’s commentary section more often! Yes, us ugly, racist Islamophobes have traditions, too! btw: I always wonder whether “Islamophobe” needs capitalization. In all likelihood you offend someone either way…


  14. I don’t want to defend the German family too hard, but to be fair I think one has to add three observations:

    1. While generally agreeing with Andrew (that typical German expressions quite regularly “range from sullen hostility to detached melancholy”, living in Berlin I know all about it ;-)), when you compare the German family with the rest they don’t stand out sooooo much anymore. I mean, look at the Japanese (or the egyptians), there even the TV shows a threatening guy! But sure: They are at the lower part of the smiling-scale. *g*

    2. I think one reason why the German table seems so full is that they and the Mexicans are the only ones that really put all their weekly drinkingsupply together. Take the Italians, eight bottles for five persons for one week?? Or the Japanese, hard to find anything to drink in that picture.

    3. Apart from the indeed strange amount of booze the Melanders proudly show, they just seem the only ones not ashamed of putting booze at all, best proof: Where is the vino with the Italians?

    The most important question remains though: Why weren’t the English and the French included? Theories for both come to my “racist” mind just too easy, so maybe I better keep those for myself. ;-)))


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