When we made our first trip to the Jumbo supermarket, Emigrating Companion and I found a treasure trove of differences from Belgium, where we used to live.
The supermarket had the same sharp loaf-slicing machines as in Belgian supermarkets, but you were not allowed to operate them yourself.
They had the same fresh-orange-squeezing machine and this you can operate yourself; it is cheaper than in Brussels (€3,15/litre instead of €4,95).
Alongside the egg boxes you could buy a container with 15 egg whites. The egg boxes have a 0-3 star “Better life index” on them. Most of the wine is screw top, not with a cork. Paracetomol is cheap and you can buy as much as you want off the shelf.
You arrive at the check-out and put your groceries on the conveyor. The staff member scans your goods and puts them in an area on the other side of the till so you can load them in your bag. In Britain, when I used to do this before moving to Belgium, the staff member wouldn’t wait. If you weren’t quick the next person’s goods would start rolling down on top of yours. In Belgium it is the opposite. Everyone (the staff member and the next person) waits politely until you have cleared the area and loaded your bag, before the staff member starts to check out the next person’s groceries. Here in the Netherlands there is a clever intermediate solution. The post-payment area is divided into two channels. The staff member has a rudder which they pull across to alternate the channel down which the checked-out goods flow, so that a person who has already paid can be loading while the next customer’s goods are flowing into the area.
Once you’ve done your shopping you have to get it home. In Belgium it’s easy: everyone uses a shopping trolley (called a caddie) – a bag on wheels to tug your shopping home. But I remember that in Britain only old people used these things. And here, too, no-one but us has one, perhaps because they come shopping by bike.
On the bus to and from work I am reading Karl Ove Knausgaard’s The End. He writes on this topic: In the afternoons the place [a supermarket in Malmo, Sweden] came alive with customers dragging the new wheelie baskets along behind them. It was one of the saddest sights I knew, all semblance of human dignity evaporated the moment a person went with that of all options. The feeble, characterless action of trundling instead of carrying. The fussy little wheels, the long black handle, the basket that followed on behind like a small dog. The clatter of the wheels was ear-splitting from the moment one became aware of it.
The very thought deflated me.
Can we carry on using our caddie after that?
We could not deduce, from the different colours and sizes of the bin bags available in the supermarket, the sorting rules, as you can in Belgium. Nor could we find out the collection days. Emigrating Companion scanned our street each evening and each morning: no bags were put out. Our litter mountain mounted up.
Alkmaar city centre, where we live, has street litter bins, of course.
Early one morning I saw one being lifted by a machine.
So I guessed that this is where you put your rubbish.
Brother-in-law, who came visiting, and I carried heavy bags to one of these street litter bins. We couldn’t open it. Along came a young woman with two bags and a key card. In they went. Without a key card we couldn’t chuck our rubbish. We lugged it back home.
Meet me outside Zara at 7 pm, said my colleague E.N., a day or two later. We did, and with his key card we could at last get rid of our rubbish. We won’t be able to get our own key card until we have a Dutch ID card.