Oh, the horror!
Globalization comes to Philadelphia
I knew something was up the other day when I dropped by Aldi, the discount grocery store at 46th Street and Market. I was driving by. I needed a few things. Was I shocked. The checkout clerks were sitting by their cash registers. That's right! Sitting, in swivel chairs, at their stations.
“How come you're sitting?” I asked a clerk, as he processed my order in what was, for the most part, an otherwise normal transaction.
“Sitting?”' the clerk responded.
“Yes, sitting. You're allowed to sit?”
That explained it. German. European. EU. Equals French. Lazy! Socialism. Six-week vacations. Universal health care (read: socialized medicine). Subsidized university education.
Sitting by American shop employees, of course, is unheard of. In fact, sitting by all sorts of service personnel in this country is verboten, as the Germans would no doubt say if they weren’t so much lazier than we are.
And it's not only Germany, mind you. Throughout Europe, bank tellers sit. Postal clerks sit. Hotel check-in clerks sit. Rental car agents sit. Even airline check-in clerks sit. They're all sitting!
In America, of course, our clerks stand on their feet throughout their eight-hour shifts, as they should. If they need to sit, what are their two paid 15-minute breaks for? We're always on our toes. Ready to serve. No slacking off. That's why we're the World's Greatest Service Economy. Right?
Those happy, smiling Post Office clerks
Check it out. I get America's Best at my local Wawa. Cheerful, attentive service. Don't you? Don't dare complain about the line, always just about out the door, at the nearby Post Office. It's not the clerks' fault. They're right there. Happy. Smiling. Standing. Too many customers, I guess.
To be honest, I knew something about Aldi before I stopped at its West Philadelphia outlet. (There's another one in South Philly, too). A friend in London mentioned that Aldi is there as well. Actually, the chain is worldwide, founded by two German brothers who took over their mother’s store in Essen in 1946.
“Quite down-market,” my London friend sniffed.
I guess that explains, too, why Philadelphia's Aldi branches are located in such, ahem, '”transitional” neighborhoods.
No free bags?
As I confronted the Aldi clerk, my groceries slithered down the conveyor belt. He rang them up. But no bags. Instead, my goods were deposited in a nearby cart, sort of like a holding area. If I wanted a bag, it was ten cents, I was told. That buys a large plastic bag with a handle— like the free ones I get at Great Scot’s Rittenhouse Market and DiBruno’s.
That Aldi clerk I was talking to was in a garrulous mood. Normally, I'm not keen about interacting with shop assistants. Still, I listened.
He told me that the store has “new” cash registers that store bills horizontally, rather than our way, lying flat. And the company also provides a “double guarantee” on all products. Not happy? Return the product. Get another one. And get your money back.
The Trader Joe’s example
The store also wants to sell beer. In Pennsylvania? Don't they understand that doing so would threaten the viability of our beloved State Stores? And no brand names. Something suspicious about that, don't you think? I'm told that's how they save money, passing the savings on to customers. Damn foreigners.
OK, Aldi's prices are about 50% lower than those at the Rittenhouse and DiBruno's. But a good American grocery chain like Trader Joe's somehow manages to offer huge discounts plus clerks who stand.
I mentioned this example of Yankee ingenuity to the Aldi clerk.
“Trader Joe's?” he said. “Aldi — well, actually, Theo Albrecht, one of Aldi's founders— also owns Trader Joe's.”