In American drugstores, you can buy almost anything. It is basically a place for one stop shopping. You can purchase milk, ice cream, bread, stationary, toys, magazines, wrapping paper, diapers, cards, batteries, candy, aspirin and oh yeah, prescriptions. These stores are very handy and are similar to a convenience store, some of them are open 24 hours a day. I had to have a wooden shoe fall on my head to realize that Dutch drugstores are NOT like American stores.

Here, there are two kind of stores to meet your needs. First there is the apotheek, and this is what I call the serious store. This is where you pick up your prescriptions. But it also has just a few shelves of over the counter items that you can get without a prescription, like aspirin, first aid stuff, and cold remedies. Everyone has to wait to be helped, you get a number when you go in and wait. If you go in to get some aspirin, you cannot just go up to the register. It looks like a deli in a way, but no matter what you buy, your number needs to be called. Customers get one on one attention from the pharmacist, which is a good thing. But there is quite a wait, as some people need more attention than others.

The other store is mainly made up of chain stores that are just another kind of drugstore. They have beauty products, soap and shampoo, diapers, aspirin, and other bodily needs. There is even a small area for loose candy that you bag yourself. That is it. There are really no extras here, none of the convenient store mentality that we are used to in America.

In this country, if you need milk then you have three choices—go to a gas station, the grocery store or make friends with a cow. It seems like there is a cow on every corner and they don’t look like they are too busy. If you have forgotten your mother’s birthday and it is 9pm, you are out of luck. In America, you can get her a card, a bottle of perfume, a lovely box of chocolates, and paper to wrap them in. And don’t forget the milk for the next day’s breakfast.

This will just blow your mind….in the Netherlands, stores close at 6pm. The exceptions are  in the cities, where stores are open on Thursdays until 9pm. And on Fridays, the village or suburban stores are open until 9pm. All stores are closed on Sundays except the first Sunday of the month. And to confuse you even further, most retail stores are closed on Mondays until 1pm. If you are a shopaholic, you need to plan ahead. Trust me, the stores are really not open. I was in a large mall recently that had a big name grocery store (those stay open past 6pm). When I came out of the store (a little after 6pm), the mall was basically shut down. The stores were locked up and the lights were off. I first thought there was some kind of emergency or an evacuation. I think I saw some tumbleweed blowing through the mall. When the Dutch say they are closing their doors, believe them.

Is this too hard for me to adjust to? Not at all. It is only because we have been spoiled by retail availability. Living in America gives you full access to the shopping world, sometimes 24 hours a day. That is why some stores are open at 5am the day after Thanksgiving. We want, we get. But here, the philosophy is to plan your life around the store hours and get a life. Many shops are family owned and they cannot afford to pay a bigger staff or maybe they actually want some family time themselves. No matter what, there are great shops here and they are worth the wait. Just look at your watch before you get in the car or hop on your bike.

Recommended reading, for no other reason, than they
are wonderful books:

The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown

Major Pettigrew’s last stand by Helen Simonson

Every last one by Anna Quindlen

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  • Judy Savage  On September 6, 2011 at 3:47 am

    As an American living in America, I am really bothered by the amount of goods that are available to us on a 24 hour basis. The first (and only) time I went to a Sam’s Club with someone, I was so overwhelmed by the stacks and stacks of food and products, I couldn’t wait to get out of there. And, do we really need an entire half aisle of cereal (or snacks or drinks or anything else)? And when I go to a grocery store I want to buy groceries, not lawn furniture or toys or whatever. Sometimes, I get so frustrated with not being able to find something I ask a clerk, “Where’s the food?” And I hate it when a clerk automatically puts one item (or one that’s already in a bag) in another plastic bag. Sometimes, I tell them I was able to get it to the counter without a bag and I think I can get it to the car without one as well. Sometimes, I simply say I don’t need a bag. The Netherlands makes more and more sense to me every day. I’m glad you are sharing your observations. It gives us a chance to see how to tread more lightly on the earth and, hopefully, to open our eyes to a more simple way to live.

    Definitely hit a nerve here, Jane.

    Ah, to simplicity and way less consumption!

  • Suzanne Strempek Shea  On September 15, 2011 at 8:11 pm

    I love this, Jane. I’m always sleuthing in stores when I travel – they say so much about a town, state, country. You know I’m a fan of Blokker, as you are, I await your post on that shop! Keep up the wonderful work.

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