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 …
8 Replies to “A break in proceedings …”
This is great! I wonder if you will eventually get suckered in to COLLECTING ALL THE THINGS!!!111!!!
*cough* I’m collecting for sister in law … *shifty look* 😉
Are you not notorious enough?? Comparing supermarkets in different countries is both mind-blowing and frustrating. Cultural differences for such a simple feat as grocery shopping is incredible. Some things the US do would either irritate me no end but there were other things (like having machines for empty cans and bottles where you got 5cents per bottle so you’d get a little reciept which you could use to knock off your shopping total) which I still think we should do over here.
If you’re interested, how your Dutch experience compares to my UK one 😉
We have five major supermarkets so there’s fierce competition. And usually it comes down to choosing between cheap prices (Tesco, Morrisons and Asda) or better quality and more choice of product (Sainsbury’s and Waitrose).
Our trollies take pound coins which is some serious investment in a trolley. Do you not have the fake trolley coins there? Baskets are usually overflowing, but then our trolleys come in different sizes now!
We used to have more seasonal fruit and veg but these days the season is much longer because of them all being shipped from abroad. And therefore costing three times as much. My mother will generally go for locally grown produce though 🙂
Busy times are Friday afternoons and Saturday mornings, because everyone is shopping then in preperation for the weekend. Best time is usually as close to 9am as you can get it because most parents dropping their kids off at school haven’t got to the supermarket yet.
My mother always tries to write her list in the order stuff is in the supermarket but there’s those fun times when stuff gets changed around for seasonal items (Easter, Summer, Back to School and Christmas).
Some supermarkets now are starting to charge for carrier bags and so more people are taking their own but there’s still a huge amount that don’t. I know Sainsbury’s will give you a small credit for each of your own bags you use. My mother has always used her own bags so I’ve followed suit.
When it comes to the tills, we have basket only lanes, normal lanes and self-checkouts. I’ve found that it’s better to group your shopping in the order you’re going to pack it, rather than just chucking it randomly on the conveyor belt. Also, with regards to the speed the assistant scans, if it’s anything like the UK, they have items per minute targets to meet.
Then once you’ve paid, you’ll get your reciept and a couple of coupons which will cleverly represent absolutely nothing you have bought despite how it’s supposed to be something you would use on your next shop. “You have bought washing powder! Here is a coupon for 50p of fresh flowers!!” As for the freebies, the nearest thing we have are the vouchers for schools which tend to be done by Sainsbury’s and Tesco’s. The amount of vouchers the shopper get depends on how much they’ve spent although when it’s close to the end of the offer, several assistant will just give you a stack without bothering to count them. There can be quite a fever to getting as many as possible because it means schools who have joined the promotion will get additional money or provisions for equipment, particuarly for sports or cooking. It’s not quite as bad as the Dutch freebie fever although I have know people collect the coupons for friends, relatives etc just to help the school get as many as possible. Not everyone collects them though and it’s not unheard of for the person to either offer them to the person behind or for the person behind to ask if they can have them.
Wow … thanks for the insight Nathaniel! LOL. I group everything on the conveyor belt how I want it scanned, but the checkout operator always manages to mix it up. I now hold onto the bread till the absolute last so it doesn’t smoosh, but what has to be done to a french stick for bicycle transportation is just … well … frightening … 😉
I love the school vouchers at UK supermarkets, it’s such a worthy initiative. So much better than the stupid collectors items here. Having said that, my husband is in the process of selling his garbage pail kids cards (remember those from about 1990?) for 80+ euros!
They did a similar thing at Coles supermarkets in Australia – the schools for sports thing where vouchers got schools sporting equipment.
Far out, I need to start collecting these things!!!
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