Are you ready to hear something totally crazy? I recently found out that one of my least favorite chores has now become something I look forward to. A pleasant experience that I enjoy, even! You guess it— it’s shopping for groceries! (Sorry, no bonus genius points here, it’s in the title.)
Grocery shopping is one of those things that is now on everyone’s mind because of the current Coronavirus crisis. We’re supposed to (and should be) going out as little as possible… except for grocery shopping! Many of us are also home much more than we’ve been before, and obviously, with all the closed cafes and restaurants, it’s also not crazy that we’re buying more food than ever.
I’m just glad that I’m doing all that buying in the Netherlands. The country is supermarket heaven! I know what you’re thinking; she’s probably exaggerating or has had too much coffee and is now getting hyper excited over nothing. Maybe you have a point there. It’s also possible that American grocery stores are just really, really bad.
When Sara, my girlfriend, first went to a supermarket in the US, she burst into tears. True story. There’s more context to it, like she had just moved to a foreign country and had trouble understanding people, but the supermarket was in fact the trigger. Let me tell you, I’ve gone to that supermarket hundreds of times in the five years that I lived in Philadelphia, and I didn’t see anything wrong with it. It was like any other normal supermarket that I was used to.
NOW I UNDERSTAND.
It is actually pleasant to be inside a Dutch supermarket. This is the first thing that I noticed when I walked into the Albert Heijn. The Albert Heijn is a popular Dutch supermarket, and you can find one every few blocks. Unlike the US, there are no food desserts when it comes to grocery stores in the Netherlands. You do not need to walk for 20 mins to buy food here. Inside the Albert Heijn, and other supermarkets here in the Netherlands, you’ll find that the food items are arranged in a way that’s oddly soothing and pleasing to the eye.
I know this sounds strange, but there is one BIG reason why the atmosphere in a Dutch grocery store is so different, and that is the lack of sharp florescent lighting. Dutch supermarkets generally use normal, warm lights. Shocking, isn’t it?
Also, the kinds of items actually in the store are different, which also makes the shopping experience so. much. better. When you first enter, like many grocery stores, you will walk into the fresh fruits and vegetables section. But along with vegetables, you can also buy nice pre-made “lunch” salads, as they are called here. So if you would like a salad for lunch at any points, you can simply pick one up! There is a whole section dedicated just to that, and the neat little boxes lined up next to each other just does something for me (I know I’m weird).
And I haven’t even gotten started on the baked goods section! Oh, the bread! So much fresh bread. And freshly baked pastries. I’m not just talking cake, I’m talking cream puffs, eclairs, and nepoleons! Basically, they have a lot of good shit, okay? And I looooove it. Back in the States, sure, there are cookie sections, and often a bakery section, but having three boxes of stale donuts next to each other doesn’t count! And those muffins prepackaged in plastic wraps? I get them all the time back in the states, and now, I just don’t understand them anymore.
You will not be overwhelmed with options. But options are good! No. Not always. There is a joke I’ve often heard from Indian students who study in the US for the first time. In India, there is one popular cereal brand, Kellogg. In the US, there is a whole damn isle of cereal. I can’t tell you how many Indians I’ve met who say that they stopped buying cereal because they were too damn confused or just too fucking overwhelmed to buy anything.
You can’t tell me that that hasn’t happened to you. Sometimes you just want to buy stuff without comparing twenty different items. What we really want, and need, are a few GOOD options. Good being the key word here. And you want the things to be labelled clearly so that you know what you’re buying.
Say you’re shopping on a tight budget. Here, the stores will actually mark items that are the “price favorites”. Isn’t that just fan-fucking-tastic? You don’t need to sift through a million things just to buy what’s cheapest. NO ONE WANTS TO DO MATH ON A SUNDAY MORNING WHEN THEY JUST WANT A CAN OF DICED TOMATOES TO MAKE PASTA LATER. Clearly, I have strong feelings about this.
Now, having items marked as being the cheaper options is great, but I want to be clear that the stores here are actually quite small. So there are only a few choices for each item to begin with. It may seem less desirable at first, but honestly, the Dutch regulations for food are strict and have high quality standards so generally what you buy will be good. There are a few brands you can choose from, of course, but I’ve noticed that the options are more along the lines of, would I like to buy the organic version today, or the regular version? And being the fucking hipster-wannabe that I am, I often buy organic. Do I hate myself for it? Yeah, a little bit. But you know, I hear it’s good for you and for the environment, and I get to pretend to be a hipster. So that’s a win-win-win.
Groceries in the Netherlands are cheap as fuck. At least in comparison to States. Do I even need to say much more about this? A can of diced tomato (this is like my favorite example today, I’m lovin’ it!) costs 49 cents. You read that right. 49 cents. Bread? That costs me a little over a euro for a huge loaf. I am not an expert on how this works, but I am sooo grateful.
In the US, it really isn’t crazy for a single person in her 20s to maybe spend $100/week on groceries. This does not include alcohol, but yes, it would include some nice chocolate and organic avocados (what did you expect?). I spend 120 euros a MONTH on groceries. With things like toilet paper too. The difference is HUGE. I really can’t explain it. I have some guesses, like less transportation costs, government subsidies (omgosh, so boring, I’m falling asleep just typing this), but I wonder if there’s more to it. If you know why, enlighten me! I’m all ears.