Lucerne, Switzerland

Lucerne, Switzerland: How Not To Buy Apples

Derek Switzerland 29 Comments

Lucerne, Switzerland
Swans. A great deal of swans, and ducks. Bridges, wooden bridges, too. And flowers. Flowers everywhere. Lots and lots of flowers.

This is Switzerland after all, and one should not expect anything less than swans, wooden bridges and an abundance of flowers. And yes, I was greeted by all of those things upon arrival in the town of Lucerne, along with the Swiss Alps, lakes, rivers, ancient town walls complete with watch towers, as well as clean streets, manicured gardens, efficient public transportation and of course, empanadas.

Empanadas?

Actually, the very first thing I did upon arrival in Lucerne was to eat empanadas.

I had been strolling around Lucerne’s main train station looking for a quick bite to eat when I ended up in the basement of the terminal building. I turned to the left and walked towards a group of people sitting in comfy armchairs and then, suddenly, I found myself standing directly in front of an empanada stand. This wasn’t an ordinary empanada stand either, it was a Mexican-owned empananda stand that served up chicken mole empanadas.

Empanadas in Lucerne

Before I knew it, I was speaking Spanish with the woman behind the counter, a woman who had only arrived in Switzerland four weeks ago from Mexico City. And given that I’ve spent a significant amount of time in Mexico lately, I was ecstatic to be speaking with this women. In fact, I became so engrossed in the conversation that I forgot that I was not actually in Mexico.

Our chat lasted for about twenty minutes, with her serving up fresh empanadas to a steady stream of customers the entire time. After devouring two impressively tasty, yet shockingly expensive ($5 USD each), chicken mole empanadas myself, I finally decided to leave her to her work and said goodbye. And then, as I walked away, I could not help but break into laughter at the fact that the first person I ‘met’ in Switzerland was a Mexican and the first meal I had consisted of a Mexican snack item.

LESSON ON BUYING APPLES

After a few hours of wandering the streets of the Old Town on my second day in Lucerne, I suddenly felt an urge for some fruit and so I entered the first supermarket that I came across. I went straight to the fruit section, placed two golden delicious apples into a bag, then grabbed some orange juice and some yoghurt and went upstairs to the check out area. After a few minutes, it was my turn at the cashier and the woman at the register scanned the yogurt and then the juice. Next, she grabbed the bag of apples, started searching for something on the outside of the bag, and then put the bag down, quite roughly I may add, while giving me one nasty stare.

And then, as I stood there somewhat confused, I was reprimanded, in Swiss-German, and quite severely it seemed, because I had forgotten to follow the one vital rule of European fruit shopping. You see, when you want to purchase fruit at a supermarket in many parts of Europe, you must first weigh the fruit on a scale that is located in the fruit section and then print out, and place onto your bag of fruit, a price sticker before bringing it up to the cashier.

I make this mistake every time I’m on this continent. And unfortunately, while I would have been perfectly happy to go back downstairs and print the sticker myself, the cashier chose to bark out a few sharply worded lines at me and then angrily storm off downstairs herself to the fruit section.

So there I stood, causing a major backup at Register #12, with people asking me, in German, what was going on and me trying to explain that I screwed up with the apples. I’ve never seen so many people walk away from me while shaking their heads in disgust.

River Reuss, Lucerne

NAMASTE, LUCERNE

It was a cold night and I was hungry. And even though the apartment where I am staying is a good thirty minutes walk away from the center of town, I threw on all of my warm clothes and began the hike anyway. Up and down the hills I went, with my mind focused on one specific destination that I had passed by earlier in the day.

And let me tell you, as soon as I walked up the stairs and opened the door to the Kanchi Indian Restaurant, I wanted to hug every waiter and waitress that glanced my way. In fact, the waitstaff turned out to be so incredibly friendly that I don’t even think they would have minded a big embrace from a random tourist.

For the next hour and a half, I was beaming as I devoured a magnificent vegetarian thali, joked around with the waitress (who admitted to me that she only knew five words in German and was happy to be speaking with me in English), and enjoyed the toasty atmosphere, brought on not only by the heater in the room, but from the fifty or so densely packed patrons, all of whom were Indian apart from me.

I’m not sure I’ve ever been in such a warm, friendly Indian restaurant. Even many of the other diners came up to me just to say hello on their way towards the exit after finishing their meals. I did not want to leave this place, even after I had scraped up every last bit of aloo matter with my crumbs of nan bread. Knowing that I had a 30 minute, mostly uphill walk back didn’t help either.

However, eventually, after one last look at the requisite Ganesh poster on the wall and a good luck tap on the requisite wooden elephant’s head, I said my goodbyes to the staff and left the restaurant. Back on the streets of Lucerne, I once again, just as I did after walking away from the empanada stand, had to remind myself that I was actually in Switzerland.

MY SHORT VISIT COMES TO AN END

Yes, I know that none of the above involves much in the way of typically Swiss experiences, but hey, that’s how my time here has panned out so far. On the other hand, I did spend the rest of my short visit eating my fair share of pastry items from the famous Bachmann’s Bakery, walking along the shores of the Vierwaldstaettersee (Lake Lucerne) and sitting in a beer house next to River Reuss. I did try to admire the towering mountains that surround this town, but I only managed to see them for a quick two minutes one evening as they have remained shrouded in fog the rest of the time.

Lucerne Switzerland

Anyway, I knew from the start that my time in Lucerne would be abnormally short as I simply chose this town to be my starting point. Such a short stay obviously doesn’t lead to the most fulfilling of travel experiences but on the other hand, it does certainly benefit the wallet by ensuring that I’m not completely broke by next Tuesday. (All I can say is that Switzerland is expensive, $11 USD for a bottle of water at a normal restaurant type of expensive!)

So, tomorrow morning, I shall board a train to Vienna, which will mark the first true leg of my Eurail adventure. I’m looking forward to the 9-hour journey as it’s been a while since I’ve traveled by train in any country. And what better way to get back into the comofort of train travel than with a trip across the Austrian countryside.

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Comments 29

  1. G

    hahahah this made me laugh so much. However, as a ‘native’, I have to say that my initial reaction whilst reading through the bost was to just think … oh oh somebody is gonna get into trouble.

    However, keep in mind it is equally confusing to move across the pond – as I did. You should see the looks I got when asking for the weighing machine in the produce section…

    Just forgive the ‘rudeness’ that faces people that ignore social norms in this tiny country 🙂 Hope you still enjoyed it though.

    1. Earl

      Hey G – Don’t worry, it takes a lot more than that for me to not enjoy a place 🙂 And I can imagine there would be similar stories from people who have headed the other way too…hopefully nobody reprimanded you when you asked where the scale was!

  2. Cole (FourJandals)

    Haha same thing happened to us in Paris with the apples. First time to Europe first day in a supermarket. Very confusing with our limited French. She just kept shaking her head and handing them back to us until after about 5 minutes we realised what she wanted us to do!

    1. Earl

      Hey Cole – Haha….well, I guess you learned the lesson quickly as well! The shaking the head part seems to be universal and makes it all too easy to know exactly what was going through the cashiers head at the time, ‘dumb tourist!’. I know that’s what she was thinking in Lucerne at least 🙂

  3. charmine

    Hi Earl! Looks like you had a short but enjoyable trip here. This thing about weighing fruit & placing a sticker on the bag happens in Indian super markets too,there’s a person in the fruit section that does this for you and even if you goof up no big deal…guess some people are just plain rude.

    1. Earl

      Hey Charmine – I couldn’t remember about India, probably because there is so much fruit for sale at local markets! But I like the idea of having someone there to do it for you…that way it’s almost impossible to mess up the system 🙂

  4. Bama

    The fruit shopping thing also applies here in Indonesia. In fact I didn’t know that actually in some other countries it is a normal thing to just bring the fruit to the cashier. Could you tell me in which countries does this rule apply? So that I wouldn’t embarrass myself when buying fruit in those countries. 🙂

    1. Earl

      Hey Bama – That’s good to know! Actually, in North and South America, the Middle East, Australia, etc. you would normally just bring the fruit up to the cashier in a bag and they would weigh them right there. Hopefully you won’t get yelled at like me in one of these countries 🙂

  5. Sabina

    Earl, pretty much that exact scenario with the apples happened to me in Germany several years ago. Except in my case it was bananas. How was I supposed to know they weigh them before taking them to the cash register? The cashier angrily stormed off with my bananas, as yours did with your apples. Seriously, they could have just motioned for us to go do it ourselves…

    1. Earl

      Hey Sabina – Well, if it makes you feel any better, the morning of my train ride to Vienna I stopped in a shop to buy bananas for the trip and I made the same mistake again 🙂

  6. Linda, I'd rather be traveling

    Well, I’m so excited to be reading from you…..slowly, my husband is beginning to accept a travel abroad to Europe as I share your travel blog with him. …..we hope and plan for 2014 for 6 months. Keep writing, as it is inspiring. My fruit shopping in Europe was decades ago, the people were friendly to teach me. Some cultures appear to be milderd then others, Keep your spirit up high!

    1. Earl

      Hey Linda – That’s excellent news that you’re planning a 6 month trip!! I hope that really does work out for you….I’m sure it will if you’re determined to achieve such a wonderful goal.

      And you’re right, some people are friendly than others and I’m sure the reason why the cashier was so upset was because she had to walk downstairs, across the supermarket, all the way to the back corner to the fruit section. She seemed bothered by having to go for such a long stroll!

  7. diana

    Nice city but very expensive as you noted – we went up the furnicular (sp?) to a very expensive restaurant and promptly came down again. Ended up having a very expensive pizza somewhere not far from the lake and bridge. Looking forward to your upcoming adventures – Happy trails!

    1. Earl

      Hey Diana – I don’t think it’s possible to find anything in Switzerland that could be classified as cheap!! The restaurant prices, even at small, local eateries are certainly more along the lines of outrageous for those not from the area 🙂

  8. N!N

    Hey Earl,
    Great to know that you love Indian food so much and that you found one resto over there 🙂
    I’m sure you are enjoying your trip… best wishes 🙂

    1. Earl

      Hey James – I’m sure there are many great places to visit in Lucerne and I was certainly happy with my quick stay. I think it would be much better to have someone who knows the area well to help one find the better places to visit!

  9. Matthew Karsten

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve made the same mistake with the produce. It’s done that way here in Panama too.

    The worst is when I’ve been standing in the checkout line for 30 minutes before I realize I didn’t weigh them, and am forced to leave and get in line all over again. Doh!

  10. mike@earthdrifter.com

    A few days ago in Bangkok I made the same apple mistake. Except there you’re supposed to bring them to a person who bags and prices them before you head to the checkout. The other difference is that the cashier just smiled and handed the apples to another person who took the apples to the appopriate woman in the fruit area and brought them back to the cahier with the price sticker. The people behind me had to wait a minute with the cashier and me. I said sorry a few times. No one seemed upset at all. It goes to show that Europeans and Thais treat you quite differently when you make a mistake. 🙂

    1. Earl

      Hey Mike – If something like this is going to happen, having it happen in Thailand is probably the best for everyone involved given their laid-back culture. I could picture Thais finding it quite amusing while here in Switzerland, nobody found it funny at all. People were definitely upset at having to wait for the cashier to return!!

    1. Earl

      Thanks Dave. I also pissed off the cashier at another shop the very next day when I did the same thing with the bananas. I shall try the cheese next and perhaps make this a trip all about pissing people off because of my shopping ignorance!

  11. Jasmine

    That’s hilarious. Your story reminded me of when I arrived in Trinidad, and the first people I met were Colombians. I think once we identify with one culture or another, we are hyper-aware of their presence in other places and feel like we’re at “home” a little bit.

    1. Earl

      That’s true Jasmine, even when it comes to other tourists in general. Suddenly, it doesn’t matter where each of us are from, we are all tourists/foreigners and so we seem to find each other with remarkable ease.

    1. Mike

      and i forgot to say, that we know exactly how you feel getting reprimanded in a foreign tongue for something that isnt really a big deal. oh, customer service, lol.

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