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Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Standing Up ....

... for Sitting Down

By Richard Carreño
Philadelphia:-- What is it with these Germans? Sure, they manufacture some of world's best cars. OK, their economy is the superstar performer within the European Union. But talk about lazy! They're almost French.

I knew something was up when I dropped by Aldi, the grocery store at 46th Street and Market, the other day. I was driving by. I needed a few things. Was I shocked. The check-out 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. My groceries slithered down the conveyor belt. He rang them up. But no bags.

My goods were instead deposited in a nearby cart, sort of like a holding area. If I wanted a bag, it was 10 cents, I was told. That buys a large plastic bag with a handle -- like the free ones I get at my local Center City grocers, Rittenhouse Market and DiBruno Brothers. (What's that bag policy all about? 'Green,' maybe?)

'Sitting?' the clerk responded.

'Yes, sitting. You're allowed to sit?'

'We're German owned.'

That explained it. German. European. EU. Equals French. Lazy! Socialism. Six-week vacations. Universal Health Care (ie. socialised medicine). Subsidised university education.

Sitting by American shop associates, 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. That is, if they had the same up-at-the-crack-dawn, two-week-a-year-vacation work ethic that we Americans have.

Even the socialist federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) -- no thanks to Bill Clinton -- still has a proper American spin to it: It's unpaid time off. The FMLA is free-loading. But, at least, it's nonsalaried free-loading! God knows, in Germany FMLA recipients probably make time-and-a-half.

And it's not only Germany, mind you. Throughout Europe, they sit. 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!

We have right it in America. Our clerks, as they should, of course, stand on their feet during their eight-hour shifts. Besides, if they need to sit, what are their two paid 15-minute breaks for? (Geezers with bad knees need not apply). We're always on our toes. Ready to serve. No slacking off. No skivvying. That's why we're the World's Greatest Service Economy (WGSC). Right?

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 figure.

To be perfectly honest, I knew something about Aldi before I stopped at the branch at 46th and Market. (By the way, there's another one in South Philly, near Oregon Avenue). A friend in London mentioned that Aldi is also there. (Actually, the chain is worldwide, founded years ago by two German brothers, Karl and Theo Albrecht).

'Quite down-market,' my London friend sniffed.

I guess that explains, too, why Philadelphia's Aldi branches are located in such, ahem, 'transitional' neighborhoods.

That Aldi clerk I was talking to was in a garrulous mood. (Normally, I'm not keen about inter-acting with shop assistants. But, still, I listened).

He also told me that the store has 'new' cash registers that store bills horizontally, rather than our way, lying flat. And get this. The company also provides a 'double guarantee' on all products. Not happy. Return the product. Get another one. And get your money back.

The store also wants to sell beer. In Pennsylvania? Don't they know we have blue laws in this state?

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. Yeah, right.

Yes, Aldi's prices are about 50 percent lower than those at the Rittenhouse and DiBruno's. But let's be candid: That's because Aldi is simply serving the less fortunate -- while sitting on its duff, no less. If Aldi were our kind of place, it'd be like 'stand-up' places like the Rittenhouse, or DiBruno's. Even Trader Joe's.

I mentioned this -- the standing up part, that is -- to the Aldi clerk.

'Trader Joe's?' he said. 'Aldi -- well, actually, Theo Albrecht, one of Aldi's founders, also owns Trader Joe's.'

Huh? What's next? Sitting at Trader Joe's? Six-week vacations for its employees? How French, er German....