I just was published on a website. I won’t make any money from it, but hopefully some notoriety! I wrote an article for International Almere on the perils of shopping in Holland – you can find the link to the article here – “Grocery Shopping – Dutch Style”, but I’ve also placed the article here for you to enjoy. It was my first foray into this style of writing for a long time, so be gentle with your criticisms :).
It’s actually a blessing in this country that there is some sort of competition between supermarkets without domination by two major players. I have to say that groceries here are much cheaper comparatively to Australian prices, although fruit and vegetable variety is a little more limited, with a much heavier inclination toward the seasonal, rather than all year availability.
Anyway, I thought I would share my views on supermarket shopping here in my experience. Please note these are my views, and do not reflect the views of many sane people out there who probably enjoy the whole grocery shopping experience.
When you walk into your local supermarket – whomever out of the many choices we have here, you are greeted by the standard and usual things you’d expect to see – the trolley stand (usually full, you must get that 50 cent investment back should you need use one!) and the always empty basket stand, the tobacco/post office/flower desk that also masquerades as “customer service”, and the usual promotional material advertising the latest “bonus” buys, special “korting” and of course, the freebie with each 10/15 euros spent – more to come on that one.
If you value your sanity, you avoid Wednesday afternoons (early school finish) and Saturday afternoons (OMG! It’s Saturday afternoon! We must SHOP!) as these seem to be the busiest times. The checkout queues are ridiculous, the shelves are empty and it seems that every unclaimed child in the city is lurking, waiting to jump out unexpectedly in front of your trolley and force you to make manoeuvres only seen in Formula 1 racing.
Product layouts are a little confusing but I am getting used to it. If it means you find your eggs in the coffee section, so be it. After 6 months of living here, I’m now able to find most things with ease, but some still defy logic. Seriously, who puts sugar next to coffee?? It belongs with baking stuff! And don’t start me on the miles and miles of cheese. As a registered cheese-o-phile, I have taken it upon myself to sample each and every variety available – much to the dismay of my arteries and my posterior.
So once you consult your list at least 6 times, ensure you’ve walked every aisle in desperate search of the basic items you need – locating these in unusual places, and filled your basket, you are now ready to take on the checkout, young Padawan.
At all supermarkets here, you bring your own bags. You unload onto the conveyor belt, careful to spread your groceries over as much of the belt as possible so the person behind can’t unload just yet. If you can successfully place the divider at the very end of the belt, you have done your job well. The scanner will greet you with something that resembles ‘Hallo!” then proceed to process your goods at high speed and send them flying down the chute at the end where you can play a bizarre form of catch and stuff into your bag. (Best done with 2 players — one to catch, one to pay). You then are asked if you want a receipt — hand over your cash, and then juggle the change whilst you’re trying to place the last few items (usually stuck at a really odd angle or just out of reach) before the next person’s stuff comes flying down at alarming speeds.
Of course, you could have the joys of the “PINKASSA” lane – where either you are told several times that this is PIN only in tones that are not exactly dulcet, or you get stuck behind the little old lady who has unloaded her entire trolley onto the conveyerbelt, had everything processed and then tries to pay in cash.
After your purchase, you are then usually asked if you are collecting “zegels” (Nee) and if you are collecting the – FREEBIE OF THE MONTH!!
Why did this get capitalisation and exclamation marks, I hear you ask. Never, in my life, have I seen anything quite like this sensation. Most supermarkets, except those designated as budget ones, have some sort of regular promotion that if you spend a certain amount, you will receive a small freebie. Since I’ve been here, I’ve seen animal cards, football stickers, mini groceries … and that’s just a few. Seeing the animal cards “dierenkaartjes” are the current promotional product, I’ll focus on those as the sample, however, it’s much the same as all the rest.
To earn your dierenkaartjes, you must spend 10 euros. For each 10 euros you spend you receive 4 cards. Of course, there are special promotions that get you extra cards, and the obligatory album that you can purchase to hold your well earned prizes.
Here comes the scary part. People are crazy for these cards. I’m not just talking kids, I’m talking grown adults. As I write, I’m looking at my desk and seeing specially designated piles of cards I’m holding onto for various people. But that’s not the only thing. Adults hold swap meets to collect the cards they haven’t gotten. Kids stand outside the supermarket asking people for their dierenkaartjes as they leave. I’ve seen checkout operators cop mouthfuls of abuse for forgetting to ask if their customer is collecting dierenkaartjes. There is a national obsession over whichever collectable is in store, and most people will not rest until they are the proud owners of a complete collection.
There must be some level of prestige associated with a complete collection, judging by the snatchy-grabby behaviour of the locals when it comes to the freebie of the month. I am yet to see someone decline cards at the checkout, because I’m sure that if that happens, a hush would fall over the entire store, perhaps some tomatoes hurled, maybe even a neon sign from the roof questioning the person’s intelligence, or maybe even those sirens we hear on the first Monday of the month fired up, warning us that someone just said no to dierenkaartjes, and now, the world really will end …