Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Eight Tips Series: Shopping in the Netherlands

If you want to come home from a shopping expedition in the Netherlands with your sanity in tact, retaining any semblance of a good mood, there are a few guidelines to follow. Whether it is a trip to the local supermarket, or some retail therapy in your local high street or shopping centre, you need to be prepared.

1. Avoid shopping on Saturdays
Regular high street shops are open from 9.00 to 5.30 (6pm if you are lucky) from Monday to Saturday. On a Monday, many shops won't open until lunchtime. In addition to this, there will be a koopavond in your town - usually a Thursday or Friday, when the shops are open until somewhere in the region of 9pm.

Sunday opening is scattered, controversial and not worth relying on. Hence, the stampede on Saturdays as the entire Dutch population descends on the local high streets; little wonder as most people are working when the shops are open the rest of the time. If you like elbow shoving, queuing and moaning, then save your shopping for a Saturday afternoon.

2. Big Supermarket Shops are for Saturdays Only
Don't think you can walk into any supermarket at anytime and load your shopping trolley up to the brim. If you do this in the evening, around the time people come out of work, you can expect sighing, tutting and catty comments about how your type should be banned from supermarkets. Evenings are for those people who do their shopping daily - those grabbing vegetables, milk and bread - and not for you to do your weekly shop.

Before you ask, no it is not the supermarket's fault that only two of the eight tills are open during the busiest period of the shopping day so queues form: it is YOUR fault because you do your weekly shop outside the legally designated times.

3. Take Carrier Bags Out with You
If you go shopping empty handed, you must either juggle your purchases under your armpits, have big pockets, or pay for bags. Some shops will give you free bags, but you take the risk of needing hospital treatment for cuts inflicted by the inappropriate handles attached to the dangerously thin bags.

4. Shop Online Around the Holidays
Shops in December are no-go. Everyone is frantically buying Sinterklaas gifts, promptly followed by Christmas presents. However, the snag is that Dutch shops offer to wrap your gifts for free..... Yes, for free... and this means the Dutch are queued out of the shop doors in their droves for their free wrapping. Unless you are partial to Bart Smit or V & D wrapping paper, do yourself a favour, shop online and wrap your own presents.

5. Smiles are not Included in the Price of your Shopping
Dutch customer service comes as a surprise to foreigners. In fact, you can spend your first few months in the Netherlands trying to find customer service. There is a rule to obey in shops - failure to comply is at your own peril.
"Thou shalt not interrupt employees whilst they are talking to each other about their weekends or homework and don't talk to employees whilst they are on a private telephone call." Accept that they clearly have better things to do than what they are actually paid to do. If you can ring up your own purchases, then all the better.

Returning your trolley is an art form in the
6. Strategically Return your Shopping Trolley
Always put your shopping trolley back at the end of the longest row of trolleys, even if this means returning it to a row which trails over the main road, blocks the entrance to a lift or path or crosses a motorway. Your aim is to hinder other shoppers and block the passage of cars. You need your 50 cents back right? And your legs have given up the will to live after your tiring shopping excursion? You can't possibly walk the extra few metres to the short row of trolleys.

7. Combine Supermarket Shopping with a Workout
Try to see hopping over empty boxes, careering around stock carts, and pegging it back to the shop entrance for that one elusive product they keep moving around, as exercise. Don't complain about products stacked high and out of reach - see it as a chance for a good stretch (or alternatively a way of getting into conversation with a tall Dutch person).

8. Plan the Emptying of your Shopping Trolley
Conveyor belts in the Netherlands are mini versions of those in other countries. Hence, if you place your bread anywhere but the end of the belt, you have approximately 2.3 seconds to run past the cashier to the end of the belt to save your bread before it turns prematurely into breadcrumbs. If you are planning to make breadcrumbs with your loaf, then this will save you effort and time later. However, if you want to make sandwiches with it, place it at the end of the belt when you empty your shopping, or practice your sprinting, because the employee behind the till will not rescue it for you. See tip 5.

On a similar note, do not open bottles of fizzy drinks, beer or wine directly on your return home. They will need to settle after their hazardous journey along the, albeit short, conveyor belt.

And on this subject.. don't pack your shopping into bags or crates at the end of the conveyor belt. Throw it all back in your trolley and pack it into bags whilst you hover at your car boot in the car park. It's much more efficient and you can't get your car out yet anyway because of the line of shopping trolleys across the car park......

Good luck!

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