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Word of the Week

Word of the Week: Kassentoblerone

Every German supermarket is on the brink of havoc: Customers' wares could get irrevocably mixed up at any moment. Luckily, a nifty device is there to save the day. Every day.

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Let us start tackling the sticky issue by naming the object in question. You know, it's that little bar separating your stuff from the next person's at the checkout in a supermarket. You might call it a checkout divider.

Knowledgeable Germans will call it a "Warentrenner" or a "Warentrennstab" (literally, the stick separating the wares). But in some cases, particularly in German-speaking Switzerland, it is referred to as a Kassentoblerone, or cash register Toblerone, after the three-sided Swiss chocolate bar.

Sweets aside, we all know the divider helps the cashier to the end of your groceries so they don't accidentally ring up additional items and then have to wait around for the manager to void the transaction. In Germany, it's not just convenient, it's non-negotiable. Don't dare leave an empty space in front of your lonely pack of gum. It would create unbearable chaos.

If you try to find out the proper etiquette with the Kassentoblerone or Warentrenner in Germany by simple observation, you'll be stuck with agonizing questions. Are you responsible for placing it in front or after your own stuff? Can you start loading your groceries on the conveyer belt even before you can reach one of the dividers? Should you thank someone who places it for you or did that person mean to show you should have done it earlier?

In any case, tension visibly arises at any German register when the dividers have run out or are all crammed at the front of the belt. Perhaps that's why the Toblerone chocolate reference is a fitting one: Consequently respecting Germany's penchant for checkout dividers will sweeten any shopping trip. Just don't use a real chocolate bar in place of the divider. That would be the epitome of grocery chaos - and you'll probably get charged for it.

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