Sunday, April 29, 2012

Panic at the Jumbo

 It’s 9:30 a.m. on Saturday morning and I’m still in bed.  My wonderful husband, V usually entertains the children on Saturday mornings and let’s me sleep in because he’s awesome like that.  That, and a well-rested mama puts the weekend off to a good start.  We had previously woken up at 7:00 a.m. to the sounds of the 6-month old and despite my hopes of a sunny, warm day where we’d carpe diem and go to the market in town, or even the world-renown botanical garden nearby, we were welcomed to a raining, cold morning, so I turned over and went back to sleep.  The doorbell wakes me the second time.  Apparently, there’s an unfamiliar Dutch man in my entry way and I can hear my 2-year old daughter repeating “Hi! Hi! Hi!” at a rapid pace, attempting to make friends with the man.   V is instructing him what to do, I hear the sound of the hand-held debit card machine, a few dank u wels, and the heavy door shuts behind him.  I smile and I am so happy.  I pad downstairs, rubbing my eyes, wearing my p.j.s and favorite slipper socks imported from Old Navy and I’m welcomed to a frenzy only equated by the excitement of a happy Christmas morning.  My kitchen is filled with 4 crates full of groceries.  There are cans of beans, fruit, and tomatoes.  There is baby formula, wipes, diapers, and jars of food.  There are two entire flats of water – sparkling and still.  There is a large bag of dry dog food.  There are 12 rolls of toilet paper and paper towels.  There’s fresh fruit, a loaf of bread, slices of cheese and ham, bottles of beer, bottles of wine, eggs, milk, chicken, and ground beef.   My family is already hard at work rummaging through our plunder and putting each item in its proper place.  I can’t believe my luck.  After months and months of trying to understand the system, beat the system, accept the system, becoming one with the system, I believe now, we have finally, conquered the system.  At a small cost. 

Let me explain.  It all goes back to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.  (What does an accountant know about Maslow? Yeah, I know, I took psychology when I was a senior in high school which hardly credits me, but just stick with me for a minute.) According to Maslow’s pyramid, the needs at the bottom of the pyramid represent the basic physical needs including food, water, sleep, warmth.  Until these very basic needs are met, you can not move up the pyramid into the next levels.  Most of you can probably agree that where you are in life is at or above the love and belonging stage.  You’re probably working on that promotion or raising your children in a happy, stable environment.  Maybe you’re even pondering starting your own business or trying to figure out how to contribute to society in your spare time.  We were there before we moved across the world.  The instant you become an Expat, however, you’re back down to the bottom of the pyramid.  My primary need for the past 3 months was how do I feed my family? (We’ll talk about the trying to find clothing thing later. . . and sleep, well – that’s a struggle with a baby regardless of which continent you’re on.)

Maslow's Heirarchy of Needs


So you might be asking yourself what’s the big deal?  Well, let me explain. 

Grocery shopping in Texas with two small children:  You drive to the store with your two kids in the back-seat.  You park near the cart return.  You grab a cart from the cart return, load your 2-ish year old in the seat of the cart, take the baby carrier and put it in the main part of the cart.  You peruse the aisles, stuffing whatever you can around the (hopefully) sleeping baby in the carrier.  You check out while the children are becoming restless.  You quickly push the cart out to the car, unload the groceries, perhaps realize you forgot to put X item on the conveyer belt because it was hiding underneath X month-olds baby carrier – ponder cost-benefit of being honest and going back into to pay for small package of sliced cheese.  Screaming escalates and you realize, if was DVD, alarms would have gone off, it’s just cheese.  It should be okay.  You place small, screaming children into car and drive home.  Park in covered garage, and unload groceries at one’s convenience.  Perhaps, after screaming children have been attended to, and gone to bed.   This is not an easy task, I admit.  But, it has its advantages and the beat-down of the task has been completed for the week. 

Grocery shopping in The Netherlands with two small children:  You just.  Don’t.  Just kidding, but no, really – it’s a completely different mentality.  I may be wrong, but I would assume that in most of Europe, grocery shopping is a daily task.  The grocery stores are small, but they have everything.  They really do, well, except for cornmeal.  I’ve apparently bought cornstarch and breadcrumbs in the process of trying to find it, but anyway. . .   Instead of 100 cartons of sour cream to choose from, they have 2, so it takes a while to actually SEE everything they have.  Because of the small quantities on the shelves, the stock boys and girls are required to restock the shelves constantly, every aisle and every hour of the day, which results in more maneuvering between the already skinny aisles.   The produce is extremely fresh, which is really awesome, but it goes bad within four days of purchasing, if you’re lucky.   So there’s no real point in trying to stock up on a lot of fruit, veggies, milk, or bread.  (Believe me, we’ve tried!)  The other caveat of the whole process is that you have to bring your own bag and bag your own groceries.  What’s the big deal, you say?  Well, the real key to the process is that the line doesn’t stop.  In America, the checker scans your groceries, a 16-year old is bagging or if you’re really in a good mood, you help.  You have $150 worth of groceries and everyone is pitching in, you, the bagger, and perhaps, the checker to get you on your way.  Your cart is packed and you smile and exit the store. In The Netherlands, the big difference is, the line doesn’t stop and you’re responsible.  Your groceries are at the end of the counter.  You have to bag them (in the bags you brought).  You’ve got to stop bagging and pay, when it’s time.  The 7-foot tall Dutch man behind you who’s been bagging his own groceries since he was 5 is breathing down your neck and doesn’t understand why the Stupid American A. buys 50 Euros worth of groceries at a time or B. Doesn’t know how to pack her own groceries with military efficiency.   It’s stressful and hectic, and all the while, you’re just trying to meet Maslow’s first level of the pyramid. 
  After you’ve bagged your own groceries, the final kicker is taking them home.  There are groceries stores you can drive to and park your car, and drive home, but they are few and far between.  So, typically, you must take into consideration what you want to carry home, physically.  Usually this takes the form of carrying the bags on your shoulders, stuff into the stroller, or perhaps, what you can load on your bike.  We eat more rice than potatoes because I just don’t want to carry potatoes home.  I’ve also learned that bottles of water are heavier than bottles of wine.   
  We’ve tried all sorts of combinations.  Because of the tiny aisles and constant restocking of the shelves, I refuse to take the double stroller into the Jumbo, so maybe that’s a mark against me for not even trying.  But come on…can you imagine? That would be as convenient as driving an F150 around the Macy’s parking garage at the Dallas Galleria on Black Friday.  I’ll save myself the embarrassment.  Once, I tried shopping while pushing the 2-year old in the umbrella stroller and put the baby in the sling.  That worked out okay, but trying to pack your own groceries while wearing a baby was kind of ridiculous.  The road in front of our local Jumbo grocery is apparently for buses only.  We tried to just ‘drive by and drop me off to run in and grab milk’, but we got caught in a maze of bus only lanes and were chased by an angry local bus like ‘Frank’ (the combine in the movie ‘Cars’), inches from our tail pipe – “What are you doing here?? – NO cars allowed, just buses!”  There was a quick flash from a police camera during our panicked escape (please, no ticket!) and we haven’t done that again.   
Thus enters the Albert Heijn grocery delivery service, into our lives.  Our pantry is stocked without the usual physical and psychological demands of shopping with two small children in this country.  Simply order what you want online, pick a delivery day/time and Presto, the groceries magically arrive into your kitchen.  I smile as I sip my coffee and remove the carton of milk from the pantry that my 2-year old placed there during the unpacking process, and put it into the fridge where it belongs.  Maslow would be proud.  Maybe we can start climbing the ladder now.     


  1. Grocery delivery. GENIUS. I'm all for daily shopping if it's just me, but with little kids? Nope. NO NO NO.

  2. "The instant you become an Expat, however, you’re back down to the bottom of the pyramid."

    Brilliant! This really has me thinking. What a great frame to put the expat life into. :)