Grocery Game Face from Expatrordinary Amsterdam

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Grocery shopping has never been at the top of my list of favorite things to do, but it wasn’t the worst thing either. My weekly routine back in the States was to go first thing in the morning after dropping my daughter at school at beginning of the week. Less crowds, less traffic, more inventory in the store. This is when I had my air-conditioned car. I am starting to miss that Beetle.

Now living in Amsterdam without a car, grocery shopping has dropped down there with cleaning the Dutch toilet as one of my least favorite things to do. Purchasing groceries in the Netherlands is not as easy as one may think, especially if one is American.

Americans are used to a certain level of service in the grocery store including someone else bagging their groceries, asking what kind of bag they might like them packed in and, even, someone to walk their groceries to their car. Well, here, one should put their self-sufficient, self-reliant and self-bagging shoes on. Aside from the cashier, the person behind the bakery (yum) and the cheese (Yummier!) cases, YOU ARE ON YOUR OWN. If you do not bring your own bags for your groceries to be packed in – by YOU – you have no other choice but to juggle your groceries in your arms or to purchase bags. Advice, bring your own bags – sturdy ones, like the kind you can buy from Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods. And be ready!

Armed with my own bags to carry groceries home, I feel prepared entering the Albert Heijn (popular grocery store chain in the NL). I have my game face on. Arriving as early in the morning as I possibly can, I have my plastic circle insert to put into the chain linked grocery carts so I can pull one out and use it, my local bank card with a CHIP to pay and my strategy for shopping.

The quality of items at the Albert Heijn is truly comparable to the quality of food at Whole Foods. And better yet, everything is much much cheaper in the Dutch grocery store. I go through the aisles strategizing the amount of groceries I put in the cart, and also how much everything weighs, cause I have to carry it all home, usually by bike. I know from the past few weeks it won’t all fit into my bike basket – so I will be carrying some of it on my back TOO. And because this is how I shop, I will be coming back here sometime soon this week. UGH or Uggghgghh in Dutch.

Once I am done shopping, I choose an aisle (never behind an elderly person) that is only for the CHIP card, (no cash). I feel my heart start to pound. I load my items onto the conveyer belt, heaviest items first. The cashier starts racing my items through the scanner as I try to manage packing them as fast as she is scanning them. The cashier always wins. Mid packing she asks me if I have a bonus card, which I haven’t yet had the chance to fill out, and she tells me the amount due. I push my chip card into the little machine and, in an instant, I have paid. And then the nice cashier immediately starts ringing up the next person in line. Luckily at the end of the conveyer belts there is a long divider that pushes and squishes my groceries to one side. The Albert Heijn is well aware that SELF bagging takes longer than scanning and paying.

Bags all packed (phew!) I return my cart to the chain link row of carts and take out the little plastic circle and head up the escalator, heavy bags in hand to my bike. I pedal home feeling enormous personal satisfaction I have survived another trip to the Albert Heijn. I wonder if the local Amsterdammers have the same feeling. Probably not. They probably have cars they use only for grocery shopping. Maybe they are even air conditioned.

I thought this was urban legend, but I have heard personal accounts of new friends using self scanners to scan their groceries as they put them in their cart at the Albert Heijn. You simply give the card inside the scanner to the cashier and pay – so much easier! Unfortunately, these are not available at the two local stores I shop at. Of course they aren’t.

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