The year:  1957  The place:  Fairbanks, Alaska

This is me sitting in the grocery cart. My mother took this photo and sent it to her mother in England. She wanted to demonstrate that there were carts that had seats for babies. My mother came from a small town in England and they did not have the kind of store where you would use a shopping cart. But to actually see a cart with a place for the child to sit…well, that was big news.

I have previously written about grocery shopping in the Netherlands. I am going to share a few more tidbits. The shopping experience here and in America is pretty much the same, but there are a few things that still stand out to me.

You cannot get a “free” grocery cart. You have to put a 50 cent piece into a slot on the top of the handle, and that releases the cart. When you return the cart, you get the 50 cents back. This system was put into place because so many carts disappeared and were left parked in all sorts of places. You can get a basket with or without wheels inside the store at no cost. The carts are just like the ones in America, except in one of the grocery store chains, the carts have a pop up shelf to lay bread on. And another grocery chain has a slot on their carts for a scanner. You can scan all of your items as you pick them up and in this way, you avoid the checkout line. I am sure they have these kind of scanners in America, but they were not in any of the stores where I used to live.

One of the first things I noticed about Dutch stores is that there were no free bags. You can buy a plastic bag with handles, but you must bring your own bags for the groceries.  There is no question here about paper or plastic. Some people actually fill their cart with groceries, wheel it out to their car and put the non bagged groceries in the car. These are people who never use a bag. Some people bag or box their items after they get to the car. But most people are prepared and bring bags with them.

In all grocery stores in The Netherlands, they sell wine and beer. I mean, a lot of beer and wine, from all over the world. Being such good Dutch environmentalists, they even have plastic boxes or crates of beer. Example: you want 24 bottles of Heineken and you can buy that two ways, by getting six packs or by buying it in a box made for 24 bottles. When you buy the beer, you pay a deposit on the plastic box and you get your money back when you return the box. Why do people do it this way? The box or crate is just simpler to use, it is an easier way to carry 24 bottles. And let me tell you that this way of purchasing beer is very popular, you see these boxes coming in and out of the store all the time. Sometimes you see people with 4 or 5 of these boxes and you know they are having a party.

Finally, I can say that one of the big differences between shopping here and in the USA, is customer service. In America, the people at the register will ask you if you found everything you were looking for. They will make comments on the weather and will chit chat with you about anything that you want to talk about. Here, this is rarely done. The workers are certainly nice and smile at you. They are polite and friendly. But there are no questions asked of you. No discussion about the weather or the latest football game. They are not being rude, they are just not overly friendly. This is not because I barely speak Dutch, I have been observing this for quite some time. When I talk to Dutch friends about this, they wonder why would the grocery clerk talk about anything other than her job. I didn’t have an answer for that.

The Dutch are really nice people. They look you in the eye and smile. They greet friends with three kisses and not too many hugs. Americans love to hug…it is my goal to introduce hugging to the Dutch. When I hug a Dutchie, I hear “oh!” and then they laugh. But I have also learned to do the three kisses While grocery shopping, I see all sorts of interaction and it is very much like any shopping experience in America. Children running around, parents chasing the children, people in a hurry to get their stuff and friends greeting friends. Sound familiar?

Recommended reading:  A LAND MORE KIND THAN HOME by Wiley Cash. What a wonderful and powerful Southern novel.  Beautifully written.

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  • Alison  On November 20, 2012 at 12:33 pm

    I came across the “rental” grocery carts for the first time when I was living in New Orleans. Similar reasoning, I guess! I do sometimes miss the little chats with the person at the register, as I used to have in NC, but occasionally the person at the register here will chat a bit, especially if you haven’t been in for a while or have someone new with you. There’s also one woman working at the register who is always much more generous with the sparzegels. 😉

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