Supermarket loyalty cards are for mugs.

As anyone who has even been employed in an Austrian company will testify, the water cooler culture of companies in other countries gives way to the Teekuche culture.

The Teekuche – best translated as a kitchenette is usually rudimentary in terms of its equipment. There will be a microwave, typically at the bottom end of the range, a kettle and often a coffee machine, usually filter coffee or one with a bean hopper and water tank. The latter type of coffee machine invariably has a laborious Entkalkungsmodus (descaling cycle to stop it getting irreparably furred up) that renders it inoperative for about a third of the working week. And there will be a dishwasher, which no-one is ever seen loading or unloading, with dirty dishes arranged in a rickety Jenga tower-like configuration.

Invariably there will be a stack of passive-aggressive notices, in the good old days handwritten, now printed out in bold text, and occasionally even in Comic Sans (that typographic antithesis of corporate life). The repartee is not of a standard seen in the Anglo-Saxon world, where such a notice is seen simply as an invitation to use withering wit to escalate the original aggrieved party’s undoubted Frust. Among such warnings there might be a note advising of the current descaling of the coffee machine, or even a warning about safe usage of all electrical devices (the Teekuche is a bastion of extension leads running off extension leads, fuses tripped by running the dishwasher, fridge and kettle at once).

But the piece de resistance of the Teekuche will be the crockery and cutlery. It becomes a shrine/museum or gallery to rebranding, corporate giveaways and/or free mugs periodically offered by Austria’s supermarkets. At my last employer, the Kaffeekassa was held by a secretarial staff member, and she had a loyalty card for all the nearby supermarkets. Coffee was bought in the – 25% weeks and stockpiled and we all chipped in every now and again towards coffee. Her running a “tight ship” meant that there would be large quantities of coffee bought, and this would result in the accrual of bonus points that could be exchanged for whatever promo was running. This led to a cull of chipped cups and water glasses, each replaced with the freebie glasses or mugs on offer at that time. None of us batted an eyelid at being a serious outfit with freebie Mickey Mouse cups.

Since I am no longer part of a corporate coffee club, my interest in “freebie” mugs has flatlined. My wife and I have shared a Merkur card and a Billa card for our shopping. Our ruse has been instead to claim a birthday bonus to get a 30% off voucher to cash in on the most expensive bottle of gin or whisky. I realise of course that this is merely a reward for my giving them an insight into my consumer habits.

I also make use of the discounts they offer on meat, wine and beer. Some of the “craftier” beers that I try for a change are only affordable once they have a 25% discount on them. It amazes me that very few people don’t have the same idea, and instead usually head straight for a crate of 24 half litre bottles of beer.

However, Austria has now come kicking and screaming into the 21st century, even getting the Palfreder in his Kaiser get up to endorse the jö card that is Rewe’s attempt to revolutionise the whole loyalty card. Quaintly, possibly harking back to the era of the Schilling, one collects Ös (formerly the abbreviation of the formerly beloved Schilling).

Like paycard, introduced last year, it tends to replace a slew of loyalty cards, pooling rewards and all sorts of trickery and magic, if you believe the marketing behind it. However, I see it a bit more cynically, in that by linking your purchases to a single card it will able the participating stores to glean far more from your data, to draw far more sinister conclusions about your retail proclivities and accordingly minimise your opportunities to outwit their fiendish algorithms.

Supermarket layouts have long been tweaked to encourage reckless spending (go in for a loaf, come out with a hard-sided suitcase?) but no doubt the boffins in Rewe Towers will soon be salivating to the sound of figuratively more frequently ringing cash registers. And the sad part about it is that as their retail savvy increases their profits many of their employees, from the hardworking cashiers, shelfstackers, cleaners, logistics people, bakers and the like will doubtless only receive very scant recompense for their hard efforts, while the management give their boffins a hearty pat on the back.

Finally, I return to the “free” mugs. They aren’t free. It is all about collecting say 10 stamps/poonts with a stamp/point per €10 spent. Suddenly you have a three figure outlay to get a cheaply produced mug, in unnecessary packaging. Amazingly some people try to recoup a loss, by willhaben-ing their mugs, but this attempt at pseudo-capitalism only yields scant rewards.