Sunday, 24 March 2013


When it comes to groceries, the Dutch do not “stock up” like Americans. Americans tend to buy in bulk at enormous supermarkets that sell not only food for dinner, but microwave ovens for cooking it, something to wear while making it and perhaps a dining table at which to sit and eat it. The Dutch shop more frequently, buying smaller quantities from many smaller, specialized stores and markets. The super-size mentality has never caught on in the Netherlands; as ever, the Dutch prefer the small and cozy. Perhaps it is  also a function of less distance to travel for groceries, less storage space for bulk quantities, and the limitations of what can be carried home on a bike or on foot! Such practicalities shorten your shopping list considerably, and make you prioritize and think about quality rather than quantity.

Less is also more when it comes to choices. Consumer choice in America can be downright paralyzing, with aisles and aisles of different versions of the same product. With or without seeds? With or without pulp? With or without added calcium and/or Omega 3? Organic? White or brown eggs, from free range or cage free chickens? Which of 10 different scents and color schemes?  So much easier to just grab something from amongst two or three options, toss it in the cart and reserve the existential anguish of life-changing decisions for the local baker shop, with so many degrees of delectable to contemplate!
Speaking of carts, they are not free. You have to put a coin into a slot that releases the cart from the nest, which you get back when you return the cart. Perhaps a practical solution to the phenomena of forced shopping cart disappearances and the ubiquitous orphaned shopping cart adorning American parking lots, streets, alleys and even remote places like river beds! However, most people just use shopping baskets, which are always free. I was quite puzzled at first by the very long extra handle on these baskets, until I saw someone unfold one and then use it to tow the basket. This basket-cart hybrid is the Smart Cart of the grocery store!
Bags are not free, either. No query of paper or plastic, it is strictly BYOB – bring your own bag. No idly standing by while a chatty cashier asks about your day and a bagger sacks up your purchases. Cashiers here are friendly enough but strictly business, quickly scanning items and piling them on the counter. You must pay for your groceries and then quickly scoop them into your bag before the next person’s items start piling up behind yours. Like bicycling in traffic, you are flustered at first, proceeding clumsily and annoying everyone behind you. (Thankfully, no pinging bells!) And, you have no one to blame but yourself when inartful bagging results in your bag  breaking at an awkward moment or getting home and finding that your (generic) eggs have broken and made a mess of your (generic) box of cereal. Oh well, tomorrow is another shopping day. Don't forget your bag!

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