In my opinion, the top five most difficult things to understand are as follows:
Yes, you read that right. LIDL is easily the most difficult thing to understand in the known universe. Having a good grasp on the concept of a space-time fabric that can be warped by the effects of gravity or being able to get your head around the existence of particles that can exist in two opposing states at the same time is a piece of cake compared to understanding how LIDL works.
This realisation arose thanks to a recent trip that I made to the aforementioned German supermarket chain. I must admit that I was pretty much uninitiated in the workings of this particular establishment. On the face of it, I had assumed that it would be like any other trip to a supermarket, only with odd looking foreign variations of the tried and trusted brand name products that I know and love.
I was certainly right about the products, but horribly wrong about everything else. Here’s how it went down….
Quite generously, I was given a small hamper of homemade products as a present from some friends of mine. On reflection, this is the sort of gift normally given to homeless people and other unfortunate souls, but as it housed a jar of pickled onions, a jar of chutney and an entire Dundee Cake which contained more whiskey than a 1920's Chicago Speak-Easy - I was most pleased and very grateful for the kind gift.
Suffering from a terminal bout of skint-itus, I decided to have a quiet night in one Friday, and decided, as you do, to utilise the contents of my newly acquired hamper have myself some cheese-board action (that's not a euphemism by the way). In short, I planned to prepare a delightfully delicious gastronomic concoction the likes of which the world had never seen!
Trouble was, I was missing some key ingredients:
- Cheese - I was down to a quarter block of slightly mouldy mature cheddar. Not acceptable.
- Grapes - No cheeseboard is complete without a handful of these sweet, juicy little buggers.
- Cream Crackers - The platform on which all great cheeses must make their presence known.
- Red Wine - My knowledge of Red Wine is enough that I can tell the difference between a Shiraz and a Stella. Beyond that I haven't got the foggiest what wine buffs are on about - but I do know that for some reason, Red Wine goes with Cheese Boards like George Osborne goes with the word pillock.
So, shopping list at the ready, I jumped in the car and nipped round to my local Waitrose which is pretty close to where I live. For those unfamiliar with this establishment, Waitrose has got a bit of a rep for being the supermarket for posh people (I swear I saw a man wearing a cravat in there once). Now I hold no allegiances to such elitist organisations, but damn it, If you're looking for a fine selection of cheeses, then Waitrose is your ticket. Plus, I must admit that it is nice to go shopping in a place where the danger of being stabbed to death is minimal (The chances of making it out of my local ASDA with your kidneys intact is usually about 50/50).
Unfortunately though, Waitrose was closed and the only other place that I could think of that might stock all of the necessaries on my list was a local LIDL 'supermarket'. However, I happen to suffer from a clinically undiagnosed psychological condition that I have informally christened Lidlstrauma which takes hold of me whenever I try to use these foreign supermarket chains - and shopping in them is a complete nightmare for me.
The Backstory (and associated psychological condition - a.k.a Lidlstrauma)
You see, although I said earlier that I had no experience of shopping in LIDL, this wasn't entirely true. While it was true that I had never previously bought anything from a LIDL, I had been in on several occasions. I had also frequented LIDL's bastard cousin ALDI too, but again had never bought anything. This lack of purchasing is because of the Lidlstrauma, which overwhelms me every time I go in.
I don't exactly know what Lidlstrauma is , but it seems to affect perception, balance and the pituitary glands (hence the sweating). The only sensation that I can liken it that feeling you get when you are in a dream, in a place that you think you know well, but where key details are skewed. For instance, you're in your house, but when you open the door to your bathroom, you are instantly led into a large open field or some other ill-fitting location. Know what I mean?
Anyhow, this is very much how I feel when the Lidlstrauma takes hold of me. I know that I'm meant to be in a supermarket , but then I look around at the indecipherable foreign labels, the weirdly abstract aisle layout and the sparse fruit and veg section, and everything just seems wrong and I get the onset of some sort of panic attack. Naturally, the first time this happened to me, I turned round and hastily headed back towards the entrance desperately in need of a gulp of fresh air.
Unfortunately, LIDL entrances rarely serve a dual purpose as exits and I was trapped. So, in order to evade the clutches of the LIDL house of horror, I had to traverse the strange wonderland of communist era food products and third-world electronics brands and make my way to the tills, empty handed, amidst a sea of stares and accusing looks from those customers (LIDL-ites as I will call them), staff members and freakish looking security guards, all of whom were clearly indoctrinated into the cult of LIDL.
As I ran for for it - I darted straight past the rows of Melangerie Brazilian blend coffee pods , past the thirty piece bicycle tool kits and the shelves of Parkside custard creams and right up to the check-out tills. Trouble was, in a style that I now know to be typical of fortress LIDL, despite there being several rows of tills, only one of them was being operated and the rest were blocked off. To compound my woes, due to a trolley bearing LIDL-ite in front of me, I was unable to pass.
By now, the sweat was pouring down my face. Full blown Lidlstrauma had fully set in me and I was ready to explode.
"LET ME OUT OF THIS GODFORSAKEN PLACE", I screamed........in my head.
Eventually a gap appeared between trolley and till that looked sizable enough to squeeze my frame through. Mistake number two - too fat.
Now I found myself pinned between the adjacent till and the LIDL-ites trolley, with both the till operator and the LIDL-ite staring at me with a look of contempt that might suggest that I'd just spat in the faces of their children. More worringly, the hulkish security guard was now eyeing me with all the steely determination of a tiger about to make a kill.
There was only one thing for it. With spots now appearing before my eyes, and the room spinning like a whirling dervish, I summoned all the gusto I could muster, and in my best, 'I'm a hapless idiot voice', I said....
"Ha! Would you believe it? I've only gone and left my wallet in my car haven't I. Honestly, I'd forget my head if it wasn't screwed on.....".
At precisely this moment the LIDL-ite and the till operator gave me a understanding nod, the vice like grip trapping me between the till and the trolley was loosened and like a mouse that had managed to wriggle out from under the paw of a house-cat, I was free!
Continuing my charade, I acknowledged the guard with an equally moronic 'I'm a bit of a dunce' expression, which seemed to placate him and cancel his 'red-alert status'.
The ruse had worked and I had made it to the exit door, which parted before me and released me back into the wild.
The sweet taste of freedom hit me, I rushed to my car and hastily drove off. As I looked back into the rear view mirror at the bright neon LIDL sign which grew fainter with every passing yard, I said to myself, "never again will I set foot in that place".
Of course, I soon forgot about this experience and had a similar breakdown in ALDI (which for all intents and purposes is the same sort of place) only weeks later. Fortunately though, in that instance, there was no one way system to speak of, so when the presence of strange foodstuffs such as Dairyfine Romeo Bars (shit versions of Bounties) and Holme Farm lamb chump chops finally overcame me, I was simply able to take a deep breath and casually walk back out of there with my dignity intact.
The 2nd Assault
Roll forward to the night of the aforementioned cheese board hunt. With Waitrose closed, and all other small off licences offering at best, inferior cheese board components, there was no choice left in the matter. If I was to enjoy a finely assembled cheese-board on that very eve, I was going to need to stare the demon in his eyes, master my fear and set foot upon the soil of LIDL once more.
As I pulled up to the car park of the LIDL from which I had so hastily retreated from all those months ago, I remembered the famous words of Franklin D Roosevelt; "The only thing to fear is fear itself". I steadied myself, slowly opened the car door and stood brazenly in the LIDL car park.
Cheeses. Wine. Grapes. Crackers. I knew the list, and I knew the objectives. I'd be like the Andy McNab of Cheese-Board shopping:
- Acquire items
- Cash Payment
So I strode confidently towards the doors, knowing from my prior experience of the LIDL one way system, that once I'd passed through them, there'd be no turning back.
The doors slid invitingly open, I ventured through and then they shut ominously, but expectedly behind me. I found myself standing in what can only be described as the orientation aisle. In layout, it was a bit like the holding area for the ball bearings on a pinball table - long, narrow and designed to contain you briefly prior to your emergence into the full wonderment of the main aisles. The promise of reaching the greater array of LIDL produce was now just moments away. The smell of the place and the look of the weird foreign food labels was starting to affect me again though, and I could feel the Lidlstrauma setting in. A bead of sweat trickled down the side of my ear. But then a voice inside me screamed, 'pull yourself together man! You're THIS close to the perfect cheese-board!'
Buoyed by my forthright internal monologue, I started to proceed, but then a thought struck me. I'd already made my first mistake - and it was a potentially catastrophic one. I'd forgot to get a trolley. Shit! Worse still there were no baskets in the observable vicinity. Shit, shit!
Now I was stuck in LIDL, with a reasonably long list of items to procure, and no receptacle in which to place them. Even if I could have got back outside without having to suffer the humialition of naviagating my way through the tills empty handed again, I didn't have a bloody pound coin to get a trolley with anyway. And there was no freaking way I was going to ask the soul-less LIDL till operator for change. Lord knows what wrath that would have unleashed.
There was nothing else for it, I was going to have to ask the LIDL store assistant (who was busy barcode scanning several packets of Belbake all butter caramel wafers) if he could point me in the direction of the shopping baskets.
You see I am so used to shopping at ASDA where the shopping baskets are as numerous as the bewildered Polish immigrants who roam the aisles, that I had just casually strolled in to LIDL assuming that I would be able to pick up some sort of carrying vessel without any hassle. I couldn't have been more wrong.
Upon receving my query, the LIDL assistant looked at me as if I had the IQ of a cane toad. He spoke very deliberately, and somewhat more slowly that I felt was really necessary:
"We don't do baskets in LIDL. We never have. You'll have to get a trolley from outside" he replied.
Well. Didn't I feel like a senseless idiot! I mean, far be it from me to have assumed that I would be able to lay my hands on a shopping basket IN A FUCKING SUPERMARKET! Seriously, the idea that someone might want to come in and buy....i don't know....only a few items, well that's completely ridiculous, isn't it?
He then went on to tell me that some people (the aforementioned LIDL-ites) bring their own boxes...
I repeat. They bring their own boxes! What was this place, a Moroccan street market? Next thing I'll be seeing people coming in carrying enormous water vases on their heads to go and fill up with their weekly supply of Vitafit Apple Juice from a sodding well.
All I wanted was a bloody basket!!!
Anyway, the Lidlstrauma had now subsided slightly and was rapidly being replaced with obstinate rage. I now defiantly assured myself that I was going to carry everything that I needed straight to the till. Hell, I'd stick the bottle of wine under my chin to carry it if I had to.
Things started to improve somewhat after this. My first concern about their lack of grapes was to prove unneeded, as despite having a fruit and veg section that in its entirety consisted of three butternut squashes and a packet of radishes, there were two bags of red grapes (my favourite) in attendance too.
Next up, and almost adjacent to the fruit and veg section was the refridgerated area. Despite not being quite up the the gloriously high benchmark set by Waitrose, their cheese section was well stocked.
Now the key to a good good cheese board, I'm reliably informed, is to ensure the inclusion of your four main types of cheeses:
- Squidgy - Brie, Camembert etc.
- Hard/Crumbly - Cheddar, Leicestershire, Feta etc.
- Goats Cheese - Chevre, Perroche etc.
- Blue Cheese - Stilton, Gorgonzola, Roquefort etc.
There wasn't any Goats Cheese going, but the were plenty of the other types. I opted for a mature block of Mature Cheddar, a block of Blue Stilton and finally a big wedge of Brie. Things were shaping up nicely.
Now for the vino. Again, I barely know good wine from antifreeze, but I know that paying about six quid will get you something fairly glugable, so again, from what was a reasonably well stocked wine section, I went for a £6.99 bottle of 2007 Chianti. Nearly there. All I needed were the cream crackers....
After searching a couple of aisles, I finally made my way towards the biscuit section. I say biscuit section, but what I really mean is biscuit/oriental food/fray bentos section. I spent several minutes scouring the aisle and found digestives, noodles and something that resembled an otherworldy interpretation of a giant wagon wheel, but alas, no crackers.
Remember that at this point, I was fully laden with the wine, three varieties of cheese and a big bag of grapes. Not a untenable load, but enough to require the use of my left little finger for grip. The race was on to acquire all my items and get to the till before a debilitating cramp could set in.
Next, I decided to try the savoury snack section, which in all honesty should probably have been my first port of call. Again I carefully perused the rows that were this time stocked with such wonders as Alesto: Nuts Royal and Knights Selection crisps, but to no avail. They were not there either
Now my patience was really starting to wear thin. My left hand was now doubled over in a claw-like fashion to accomodate a grip on my three cheeses and wine bottle, and I was starting to wander feverishly through the aisles, just trying to make some sense of the arcane LIDL stocking system, in order that I might find the blasted crackers. I was so near, yet so far...
I couldn't go on anymore, the Lidlstrauma was setting in again, I was forced to seek out the assistant who had previously informed me, rather condescendingly about the basket scenario.
Upon laying eyes on me again, and noticing that I was laden with shopping, he chortled;
"So you didn't go and get a trolley then?"
In my mind, the conversation thereafter should have taken place as follows:
"NO! I didn't go and get a trolley, you patronising twat! I decided that it would be much more fun to prance around LIDL, carting around all my produce in my barely sufficient grasp looking like the hunchback of sodding Notre Dame! Oh yeah, and while I've got your attention, can you please, for the love of everything good and holy, tell me how the hell I decipher the Enigma like code that is the LIDL shelf stocking system, and thus find the motherfucking cream crackers!", Said I
"They were right by the door as you came in. Right next to the 1kg value packs of Formil Washing Powder" Said he.
"Well that makes perfect fucking sense! I mean who could possibly eat a packet of cream crackers without having an industrial sized bag of cleaning product to go with it" Said I - at which point I also bludgeoned him to death with a bottle of Shepherd Neame Dragonfire Ale.
Of course the conversation didn't really go anything like that, and was more like this;
"Didn't go and get a trolley then?" Said he.
"No. I've managed ok thanks! I'm having a little trouble finding the cream crackers though" Said I.
[I awkwardly held up the three cheeses, wine and grapes to validate my cracker request]
"I've looked in the biscuit aisle and the savoury snack section, but I'm having no joy!" Said I
"They were right by the door as you came in. Right next to the 1kg value packs of Formil Washing Powder" Said he.
"Oh of course. Silly me! I must have walked straight past them. Thanks very much" Said I.
Having thoroughly emasculated myself in the eyes of this patronising LIDL twerp, I headed back over to the entrance, and as described, the cream crackers were sitting there, adjacent to the 1kg value packs of Formil Washing Powder.
Now with my list complete, and a 75p bag of Maynards wine gums added to my bounty (I can't resist them - and at 75p, what a bargain!), I stumbled, hands now at maximum capacity, to the till. And then the fun really began.
Things started well. No queue! However, the LIDL till guy was in the process of being berated by another fellow who I assumed that although clearly being around ten years his junior, was also his supervisor. The nature of the chastisement was unclear, but was being met with a shrugged acceptance, as in "yeah, yeah, whatever like". The 'supervisor', seemingly disappointed by the lack of enthusiasm expressed by his underling, retreated scornfully and disappeared into a room marked EMPLOYEES ONLY. I could only assume that this room might have been akin to some sort of military control centre, where the LIDL staff congregate over a table top map of the world to discuss their plans for world domination. Well, either that or it's where they kept the excess stocks of Nairns Oatcakes.
Of course, like any good employee in the United Kingdom, the till guy waited until his 'supervisor' had vanished before turning to his colleague (a fairly gormless looking security guard) to make disparaging comments about his oppressor. These in short consisted of:
- "What a dickhead"
- "I've never liked that twat"
- "I'd love to punch him in his fat face"
Whilst slightly annoyed by the till monkey's complete lack of attention in regards to me, the 'valued' customer, I was quite pleased to note someone else displaying the kind of spineless passive-aggression that I had been championing since I entered the shop. He was more than welcome to my crown.
With a near complete lack of regard for my very existence, he began to scan my items whilst still engaged in conversation with the guard. Upon recklessly chucking all of my items through to the collection point, he finally acknowledged me with a passing glance;
"£10.71" was the entire discourse.
With a queue of several people having now formed behind me, I paid the man, knowing that soon enough, I would be free of this awful place and heading back home to indulge in a little evening television, accompanied by a well deserved snack. I just needed one more thing;
"Can I have a bag please?" I asked.
"2p" he replied.
Please note that his entire conversation with me at this point consisted only of numbers. £10.71 & 2p. Honestly, I have had more rounded conversations with my pocket calculator. At least it can say BOOBLESS and ESSO OIL.
Now the rage inside me was swelling. I felt like Bruce Banner following the delivery of an innaccurate takeaway order,
"Fine. I'll just have one bag then" I barked
"They're round the front of the till" he responded. Proving finally that he could address me in something else other than a binary language.
He begrudgingly nodded towards the queue of people, where indeed, there were a pile of assorted plastic and material bags.
"Do you want a bag for life? he asked. "10p" he added, reverting back to his first language.
Not really I thought. To be honest, I'd like to completely erase all memory of this last 20 minutes from my life, so carrying a LIDL bag to my grave would not be my preferred choice.
"I'll just get a normal one"
"2p" he said again, once more proving his vocabulary was seemingly limited to integers.
As I apologetically moved a queing female LIDL-ite to get at the bag I needed, I noticed the till operator throw a 'he doesn't even understand the bag system' look at her, which she met with a triumphant nod towards her own receptable of choice, which was of course, a home-bought box. Smug fucker.
Handing over my 2p, I struggled to part the opening of the bag, which appeared to have been welded shut with some sort of industrial adhesive. Several excruciatingly long seconds later, I managed to rip a bloody great hole in the top of the bag - cue rolling eyeballs from the smug fucker LIDL-ite and the binary minded till operator.
'Thanking' the quite unhelpful till guy for his 'help', I trimphantly departed the shop, successful in my mission, but somewhat mentally scarred as a result.
So let me summarise, in the hope that any other uninitiated LIDL shoppers can avoid the pain and turmoil that I experienced:
- Once that entrance door slides shut behind you. You're trapped. Deal with it.
- BYOB applies. That's 'bring your own box'. Apparently 3rd world chic is all the rage.
- The cream crackers are usually positioned next to industrial sized boxes of cleaning products
- LIDL till operators are quite possibly cybernetic organisms who can only converse in numerals.
- Bags are not free and are awkwardly positioned between the legs of other queuing shoppers and have been welded shut with molten iron.
Still, at least I can now relate to 'Naam veterans, when they say; "You weren't there man! You don't know what it was like"
I do. I was there. LIDL 2012:
n.b. I still suffer from Lidlstrauma to this day and have not managed to purchase any further items from a LIDL store. Only last week I suffered another onset of the condition when I went and tried to purchase some Scandinavian sandwich fillings. Please Tweet me if you're afflicted too (@steveo556). I may set up a foundation if there are enough of us. The world needs to know about our affliction.