Dutch Language Blog

Grocery Shopping in the Netherlands: A Blood Sport Posted by on Jan 21, 2011 in Culture

Albert Heijn in the Jodenbreestraat, Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Photo Credit: Mig de Jong

Yesterday evening, we went grocery shopping. While there are several different shops in our neighbourhood we tend to go to the nearby Albert Heijn because it is easy to get to and we know where everything is within the store, well usually. Grocery shopping, I must admit, is not one of my favourite pastimes in the Netherlands. It is a task I identified early on in moving here, that was likely to cause me to secure a criminal record or at the very least have a minor heart attack.

Shopping in the Netherlands starts out like all other countries, you get a shopping trolley or basket (we won’t discuss the fact that you have to put a 50 cent deposit in the trolley to borrow it for your shopping adventure) and you enter the realm of food and drink. The food and drink supply is pretty plentiful, although there is a distinct lack of variety in the breakfast cereal area. However it is the checking out area that is the biggest cause of my distress.

The first thing to mention is that everything is slightly smaller so you have a shorter conveyor belt, a smaller place to handle your money and even smaller dividers. The second thing to mention is that there are no bags available, you have to bring your own along. The small selection of use-again-bags just before the cash register are for you to purchase. Meaning you are attempting to get a normal sized trolley down a smaller aisle, whilst piling your food on the shorter conveyor belt (making sure it doesn’t enter the area of your fellow shoppers) all whilst battling with your numerous bags – already you are at a disadvantage. It is probably worth mentioning here for the American readers that there is also no packing people – you pack your own bags.

So now you have managed to get your items on the belt, the shopping assistant has started to scan them and you are ready to pack them all up but here is the clincher…..you can’t!!

That’s right, you can’t pack your items because the person in front of you is still packing their items and is standing in the middle of the aisle. Now it makes common sense that the shopping assistant would slow down or even stop and wait but this does not allow him or her to get the most people through the register per hour equalling Dutch efficiency so she/he just keeps scanning.

Taking it one step further the Dutch have even invented a dividing bar which they can slide across the small packing area creating two even smaller triangle areas, in theory allowing two people to pack at once. However, you hardly ever make it to your shopping in time to do so, not to mention the turf wars that then occur as each of you grabs for your items and tries to find room for all your bags.

‘Wow that is awful’ I hear you think but it doesn’t even end there. No, no, no the Cloggies have added an extra element of irritation – as soon as your fellow shopper has cleared off out of the way and you are finally packing at normal speed and in a normal space you hear…


…and across goes the barrier smashing all your remaining food and allowing room for the next Cloggie’s food to go barrelling down.

The whole shopping experience used to have some redeeming features, such as getting to weigh and price your own fruits and vegetables (see the very funny video below – there are a couple swear words, just to warn you). Β However, even that has been taken away.

Tags: , , ,
Keep learning Dutch with us!

Build vocabulary, practice pronunciation, and more with Transparent Language Online. Available anytime, anywhere, on any device.

Try it Free Find it at your Library
Share this:
Pin it


  1. Alexandra:

    Sorry to disappoint you but this is not typically Dutch … It’s exactly the same over here in Germany where I currently live πŸ˜‰

    I do miss Albert Heijn though – they’ve got all those yummy foods like hagelslag, roze koeken, drop, speculaas and oude kaas.

    • heather:

      @Alexandra Oh no! There go any illusions I might have had about moving to Germany. πŸ˜‰ I do admit, there are some plus points about AH…I will be mentioning them in a future post. We need to find you a Dutch food supplier! πŸ™‚

    • Benjamin Ouellette:

      @Alexandra I shop at Aldi in the United States and bring a quarter for the cart. I use a banana box in the bottom of the cart and the checkout person throws all the groceries into the box, so I don’t have to have to do my own packing.

  2. Sherry:

    When I lived there I got used to doing shopping on a daily basis rather than a large weekly shop. If not daily then every other day. Seemed to be what the majority of people did. I don’t really recall ever having major issues at the checkout doing this.

    And I think the bag situation is the same everywhere. The Dutch like canvas bags or reuse their carriers. No bad thing for the environment. Again, would just go to the AH with a few canvas bags and be just fine.

    • heather:

      @Sherry I think you might be on to something Sherry. Shopping every few days or at less crowded periods can make a big difference.

      I know bringing along your own bags is really picking up where I lived in the UK but it hasn’t yet caught on quite so well where my family live in the States. Don’t get me wrong, however, I love all the different re-usable canvas bags, just they are an extra item to battle with when you are trying to get your shopping on the belt before the staff member starts scanning and sending your items down the other way. πŸ™‚

  3. jan:

    My god where are you from??? Bring your own bag.. save the invironment. Pack your own foods to keep the prices down. stupid humorless blog

    • heather:

      @jan Hi Jan,

      Thank you for your comment and sorry to read you didn’t enjoy the post. You’re absolutely right that bringing your own bags can contribute to saving the environment and I applaud the Dutch in making this part of the daily lifestyle. The need for speed when moving onto the next customer’s items, we’ll just have to agree to disagree on that one. πŸ™‚

  4. zona:

    haha, nobody packs your food? you must do that on your own? what a horrible idea!
    and not to mention how horrible it is to reduce the usage of the plastic bags, what would the environment do without those things?

    and i am sorry to be the second person to dissappoint you but it’s the same in the whole of europe, in serbia where i live or in london where i used to live…

    • heather:

      @zona Hi Zona,

      Actually I enjoy the packing part. When I was younger I was always disappointed that the packing was done by other staff members. I think you might have got the wrong impression (perhaps I wasn’t clear enough), I am all for the re-usable bags, I think they are great. I am just not very good at getting them all organized and ready for packing before all my shopping has been scanned and is down the other end. I imagine my attempts at packing fast enough are quite comical to observers. πŸ™‚ Thanks for your comments though!

  5. Jay Wiley:

    Just like here in Berlin. You get accustomed to it after a while. I have never had to ask the clerk to slow down with his scanning, and I usually try to help the elderly, who sometimes have trouble.

    • heather:

      @Jay Wiley I sure hope my fingers speed up when packing, Jay! πŸ™‚ Your mention of the elderly does make me curious. I usually shop in the evenings but I am going to keep an eye out when I am there during the daytime to see how they manage (and help if needed). Maybe they know a secret technique.

  6. Jennifer Kepler:

    It is the same here in Belgium except for the little bar to make two triangles and the efficiency- oh and you have fresh milk- UHT is the name of the game here- we do have more breakfast cereals though- I actually regularly go to the Netherlands to stock up on some items and when I lived in Rotterdam I used to go to Antwerp to stock up on others …

    • heather:

      @Jennifer Kepler I’m curious now, Jennifer, to hear what items you used to get from Belgium when living in the Netherlands and vice versa! Breakfast cereals do seem to be gathering in size. That is something I have noticed recently.

  7. connie:

    I love shopping in the netherlands they have the nicest food in the world = )

    • heather:

      @connie Glad to hear you enjoy shopping in the Netherlands Connie. And you are correct, they have some very nice food. Any favourites?

  8. Abby Hieselaar:

    hmmm.. too much of an exaggeration, AH shopping a blood sport?… well I guess, you need to be smart next time. I haven’t encountered that much chaos in AH, I enjoy shopping there because they got everything. I admire their concern for environment, for not giving plastic bags. Additional manpower, (someone to pack your items in bags), means additional costs on your grocery items. I dont mind depositing 50euro cents on the trolley, that made shoppers disciplined by returning back the used trolley, again less manpower to gather those stray trolley. It is all about system. You shouldnt be surprised, most european countries have the same habits/system. Americans are way too spoiled and they like to complain a lot. πŸ™

    • heather:

      @Abby Hieselaar Hi Abby,

      Thank you for your comment and yes it was meant to be a bit of exaggeration. To date, I haven’t seen any fist fights in the aisles! πŸ™‚ I also admire their, and other shops, concern for the environment by encouraging reusable bags. I think it is a great idea and like the different designs that are available on the different bags. Also, I don’t mind packing my own things, I just like to be given the opportunity to pack them before the next person’s items come barrelling down the conveyor belt. πŸ˜‰ Interesting that you mentioned about the 50 euro cents encouraging people to return the trolleys and then not needing to go collect the spare trolleys. Another shop nearby actually has something in the ground that locks the wheels of the carts if they go over the line. I thought that was a pretty cool idea.

  9. ADG:

    Wow. You have really painted an unflattering picture. The Dutch shopping system is practical and most of the time efficient. There are so many good things to write about shopping in The Netherlands I am not sure why you have chosen this. I suggest that next time you also remind your readers of the high quality of meat/cheese, the good variety of seasonal fruit/veg at the true markets on weds/sat, and the convenience of AH locations. I didn’t expect to find such condescention in what should have been a friendly blog.

    • heather:

      @ADG Hi ADG,

      Thank you for your comments and I am sorry to hear that you didn’t like the post. My experiences weren’t meant to be condescending but just experiences. However, I’ll take that on board. You are absolutely correct that there are some positive things about shopping in the Netherlands (we even discussed a couple over on Facebook – like regularly allowing people to go in front of you if they only have a few items) and I had plans to highlight plenty more in future posts. Speaking of markets, have you seen the large website that allows you to find all the farm shops around where you live?

  10. Jeanne K.:

    I thought the video was hilarious, whether it was accurate or not! Where I live in KS, we are just now getting used to bringing our own bags and it’s always optional except at Aldi, which is German and a lot like what you describe…very fast checkers, bring your own bag or pay to use the cart, pack your own items and be quick about it. However, that’s the only store where you can save any money.

    • heather:

      @Jeanne K. Hi Jeanne,

      Glad you enjoyed the video, I’ve come across it several times and it always makes me smile. Do you get money back from bringing your own bags? I was checking with someone in IN and they said that, like you mentioned, bringing your own bags is optional but they do get money back for doing so. In one of the shops I go to in the UK you get points on your ‘bonus card’ for each bag you re-use and they do have the more fabric type bags that you can buy an reuse but the thin plastic bags are still an option.

  11. nic:

    Oh really, Heather… is there nothing else to get worked up about? Or were you trying to imitate that comedian? He did a good job, but, I’m sorry, your blog, to this Cloggy, is plain ‘zeuren’ about nada.
    Anyway, it isn’t as bad as you descibe it anyway. Especially not in big the AH with the new scanning device. Choose an item, scan it and store it away in your brought along bag or krate at your own pace, then hand in your scanner, pay and you leave. Avoid the crowds and shopping is fun and relaxing!

    • heather:

      @nic Hi Nic,

      Thanks for your comments and sorry to hear that you didn’t enjoy the post. The new scanning devices are brilliant, I am in 110% agreement with you there. I also think the noise that they make when an item is not recognized is great, it sounds like you have won a prize. Unfortunately, so far, they aren’t at any of the stores in our area or the neighbouring ones. When they redid the local AH a lot of people thought they were going to put the scannners in but sadly they didn’t. I had planned to go to the big XL a few towns away to take a couple of pictures and write about them for a future a post. Are they available in many of the AH’s near you?

  12. Tiffany:

    Hi Heather,

    After reading your responses to the comments, I see that you meant this to be a sarcastic/humerous piece. However that’s not how it reads at all and I can understand why so many readers took offense.

    As an American having lived in the Netherlands for two years, I found it offensive and downright untrue. It’s not until you read your comments that you see how the piece was meant. Unfortunately not every reader to this blog is going to do that.

    It’s very difficult to write and read nuances, which is why it is best to avoid posts of this nature altogether.

    There’s already so much negative on all those forums that it was refreshing to find this and other blogs with a positive spin. Many Transparent Dutch readers feel that way and appreciate it when the bloggers keep that in mind.

    I have never had any issues grocery shopping in the Netherlands. AH, Plus, Super de Boer, Jumbo. Amsterdam, Utrecht, Rotterdam, Haarlem. I’ve never had any of the issues mentioned here.

    They actually do sell plastic bags in addition to the vinyl ones. They’re usually under the conveyor belt.

    And you’ll have much better luck going more often. Getting all of your grocery needs for the week in one go is something best done at the Makro.

    I always put things in my bag immediately after they’ve been scanned. Then all I have to do is pay once I’ve bagged the last item and walk away.

    At the Plus, you are still responsible for weighing your own produce. I’m sure it’s like that in other chains as well.

    The only way I can see likening grocery shopping in the Netherlands is if you’ve been on the wrong end of a shopping cart manned by an annoying child who thinks it’s funny to continuously run into the back of your ankles with their cart πŸ™‚

    • heather:

      @Tiffany Thanks for your feedback, Tiffany.