Mundane Tasks: Groceries

“Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore…”

Doing groceries probably doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it is to me. For two reasons: 1. I never cooked in the US and therefore never really needed to do groceries and 2. I do my grocery shopping in the Netherlands now, which is not where I’m originally from.

My first trip to the Plus during my first week here was an adventure to say the least. It also resulted in three trips in the same day because I wasn’t really sure what I was getting and had no phone to call my husband with for help!

It certainly is an experience and I do enjoy grocery shopping in other countries. Just to see how it’s done and what’s different from what I’m used to. One of my favorite things to do when friends and family come to visit is to take them grocery shopping with me. Sound boring? Think again! Here’s an idea of what it’s like to do your groceries in the Netherlands.

  •  There are several main chains of grocery stores: Aldi (actually a German franchise), Plus, Albert Heijn, C1000, and Super de Boer. I have only had the pleasure of shopping at Albert Heijn and the Plus, although I have stepped inside a nearby Aldi that, unfortunately, didn’t have what I needed. We do most of our shopping at the Plus since it works out to be about 200 meters round trip. 
  • Not everything can be found in the super markets. You may also need to pay a visit to a Toko (the Malaysian word for store. Tokos sell mostly eastern food items and the odd product like Mountain Dew and Cup O Noodles that are not found anywhere else), Turkish store, butcher, baker, or market in order to find everything you need.
  • Everything – for obvious reasons – is in Dutch. Meaning if you are heading out to buy ginger, good luck! You’ll have better luck if you look for gember. I still find myself looking up Dutch translations for an ingredient called for in one of my English recipes. Most of my grocery lists are a combination of items in English and Dutch.
  • In most stores, you weigh produce yourself. Although this is being phased out in some stores because of the “zakje thing.” You’re also responsible for bagging your own items at the checkout. This is different from many stores in the States where the sales clerk or a helper bags your things for you. (Totally off topic, but the grocery clerks here have nice cushioned seats to sit in as they ring you up! Almost makes me want to go to the Plus and pick up a job application… or not) Which brings me to my next point:
  • Don’t forget to bring your own bag. If you forget, be prepared to pay for a plastic one at the kassa. They usually run about €0.17. Most people bring their own vinyl bags for shopping in general. That or they stuff their purchase(s) in their purses, bags, backpacks, etc or just carry them by hand. So environmentally friendly!
  • Unlike in the US, food items here tend to be more on the fresh side. Meaning, they’re not overly processed or overly fortified with heaven-only-knows-what. Meaning that shelf lives of products are not so long. Add to that the fact that you can only fit so much into the pint-sized Dutch refrigerators, and we’re talking a trip to the grocery store almost every day. Your main modes of transportation to the supermarket are by foot and by bike. Buying enough food for a few months is all well and good when you can just load them in your car, but I certainly have no desire to try to transport the amount of groceries your average American buys in one go via Bonnie or my peds!
  • All stores are only open six days a week at most and are usually closing at anywhere from 6-8 o’clock in the evening. There are koopavonds (usually Thursdays or Fridays when shops are open sometimes till 9 pm) and koopzondag (the 1st Sunday of every month shops in certain cities are open for a special shopping day), but most grocery stores are closed at 7 pm and open for a limited time on Sundays if at all. Albert Heijn does, however, have some locations that are open until 9 pm on weeknights and from 4-9 pm every Sunday.
  • You pay a bit extra for the bottles your beer comes in. This deposit is called statiegeld and can be retrieved. To do that, just bring your empty bottles to your local supermarket and slip them into the designated machine. Once you’re done feeding all your bottles in, push the green button and out pops a receipt. Take the receipt to the kassa and have the amount on the receipt subtracted from your total. You can do this with one and two liter plastic bottles as well. The Plus gives back €0.10 for every glass bottle and €0.25 for every plastic bottle.
  • Many stores have rewards systems for loyal customers. Sign up for a grocery card for additional savings and coupons. Collect stamps to earn money or free grocery items. Sometimes supermarkets offer free entrance into theme parks or reduced train fair if you collect the specified number of stamps. These stamps are called zegels. Do you collect them? I do.

Not such a mundane task anymore now is it?

What differences do you notice between grocery shopping in your home country versus your host country?

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4 Replies to “Mundane Tasks: Groceries”

  1. I'm glad you'e getting used to grocery shopping in Europe, and in this case Nederland. Being a recycle junkie that I am and always carry my own bags to supermarkets (and other shops), it's a good thing they charge for plastic bags. Indeed, independent delis are good to have around to complete the shopping task and the weekly markets are as good too. The cool thing is some supermarkets (like AH) regularly have free food samples so when you get there at the right time and you're a bit peckish it can be a nice treat 🙂 About the refrigerators, they are not that bad here because the ones in the UK are super tiny and I mean in general. I know people who have big houses with a big kitchen and still have a minuscule fridge :))
    (Btw, thanks for sharing the John Fealy video on the Zakje link!! I had such a good laugh watching it!)

  2. I think the bag thing is great! Some do it in the US and most grocery stores have vinyl bags for sale, but you still don't see it happen very often. I know the lack of "choice" has been a complaint for some, and it's true if you stick to one store, but if you're willing to hit up a few places, there's almost nothing you can't find! I'm used to fridges 3 times the size of the largest one I've seen here! As for the video, I can't take credit, I saw another recording of it on A Touch of Dutch's blog about the AH 🙂

  3. I've had hair pulling out moments when I've wanted to find certain spices or foods Shopping is sooo totally different here and it took me awhile to get used to it. The only thing I wish they would change is their variety of fresh fruits and veggies..sometimes they are to the point of being rotten.

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