Foreigners always complain about Dutch supermarkets – not enough choice, too many queues, no-one to pack up your groceries etc etc – so here are some tips to survive them.
1. They do not take credit cards. You might think that big chains would accept plastic but they don’t. Bring your PIN card or pay with cash. And some of them don’t take cash either.
2. Looking for canned vegetables? Look in the fresh vegetable aisle. And don’t expect them to be in cans, you’re much more likely to find peas in a jar.
3. If you’re in need of basic first aid supplies, try behind the counter or, more likely, try the drug store (Etos, Kruidvat, etc.) around the corner. The average Albert Heijn might stock ibuprofen.
4. Hate to peel potatoes? You’re in luck, as every Dutch grocery store worth its salt will have peeled potatoes in every size and shape imaginable.
5. You may find yourself in a modern day Dickens novel attempting to exit the store, depending on what freebie the store is giving away. If its football cards or some other child-enticing treat, hordes of kids may accost you after you check out, asking for yours.
6. Depending on where you live, you may be shocked to discover that grocery stores aren’t open much outside office hours. If you don’t live in a designated tourist city, your local grocery is only allowed to open one Sunday a month. And you may be hard pressed to find stores open past 6pm or 8pm in many places. Never fear, on koopavond or “shopping evening,” they will stay open until the late hour of 9pm.
7. If you’re really stuck, try your local avondwinkel or night store where the owner will charge you double for milk at 11pm. These stores usually open mid-afternoon and stay open until midnight or 2am. 24/7 just doesn’t translate into Dutch.
8. Less you think the Dutch aren’t much for service, many stores will provide free coffee or tea for customers. And if you get there early enough, free samples of everything from cheese to cookies. You might even get enough for breakfast.
9. Do yourself a favour and only buy the blue milk. Avoid the red at all costs. Repeat after me: blue is for milk (and the lighter the blue, the lower the fat), red is for karnemelk, green is for yoghurt and yellow is for vla.
10. You have to pay for plastic bags, apart from the very thin free ones at Albert Heijn that collapse when you put one packet of karnemelk in them.