A break in proceedings …

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!!

Dierenkaart­jes. The lat­est super­mar­ket craze.

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 …”

  1. 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.

    1. 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 … 😉

    2. 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!

      1. 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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