Friday, 11 February 2011

What to buy and where - a Brit’s guide to shopping in the Netherlands

When we first landed here from the UK we were amazed at how different the shopping experience is here. Quite apart from the shock at how expensive many things are here compared to Britain there was also a culture shock as we adjusted to shorter opening hours, smaller shops and Dutch “service”.  But now that we’ve adjusted to our new shopping experience we rather like it!

Whilst “service” is interpreted slightly differently here, it can be nice to be able to browse without being leapt upon by an over-enthusiastic sales person. The supermarkets are much smaller here which I find less stressful and I think they offer a good quality of fresh products compared to the UK (if you can get past the shelf stackers to reach them!) When I go back to England and compare the contents of the vast warehouse style supermarkets to what is on offer here the main difference appears to be smaller packets and less ready meals, although I do miss the clothes selection.

The shorter opening hours have meant we no longer spend all our leisure time in retail therapy but are forced to have quality family time - making conversation and going for walks (shock!) However we have noticed that the recent changes in opening hours, more out of town shopping and new supermarkets arriving are changing the shopping experience here to a more familiar model.  Personally I’m a little disappointed about that, but I know for the majority of folk, who are not at home during the week and who have a car, it is a great bonus.

What I would have found useful when I arrived was a guide to what I could buy from where, especially the products that help to make you feel “at home”.  Specialist expat services and product suppliers are here in Breda and many more are available online. You just need to know where to look! So here is an attempt to lay out some useful tips - it is by no means an exhaustive list but hopefully will provide useful information for newcomers and maybe a new experience for those who are familiar with the Dutch shopping selection.

If you’re looking for something to read, you can often find an English bookstore or the larger bookshops have an Englsi language section many larger towns also have an International Magazine Store. However buying international language materials in the Netherlands is an expensive business and now that are offering free delivery to NL its usually cheaper to buy online. However if you need the tactile shopping experience or to browse with instant gratification then having these shops within the town is invaluable.

For grocery shopping there is a range of supermarket chains; Albert Heijn, Jumbo (famous for stocking Rice Krispies!), C1000 and for budget groceries Aldi and Lidl.  These are just a few of the more common ones. But if you are looking for a wider range of tastes than those provided by the regular supermarkets there are several other options.  Many towns have an oriental supermarket or grocery and organic chain Estafette have stores around the country.  And if you are really missing the large supermarket experience, just over the border in Turnhout, Belgium there is a large Carrefour with a particularly good rang of wine and beer (plus clothes - yippee!!)

Most towns also have a regular market and local shopping parades often have a butcher, greengrocer and bakers amongst their offering and the fabulous fresh cakes and pastries on offer are a particular weakness of mine! There are several “British grocers” in the Netherlands; have a shop in Den Haag and offer delivery,  deliver worldwide and have a shop just outside Brussels. Australian outlet; have a web shop and a shop in Leiden.

One of the main complaints I hear from my expat friends is the lack of good value clothing. When you are used to popping into Tesco to clothe your family (keeping the cost within the weekly food buying budget!) or equipping yourself for the season ahead in the Next sale it can be a real disappointment to find you are limited to the high street prices here. Plus the lack of variability of size ranges - where can you go for clothes when you’re less than 5 foot 3?!  But if you’re after a bargain its worth checking in Wibra and Zeeman or individual outlet shops.

For familiar names for fashion/accessories - Zara, H&M, Esprit and Clare’s are all available on the high street here. The V&D department store has some British concessions including Jane Norman and Accessorize.  Plus a range of UK based webshops offer overseas delivery to mainland Europe for a fee - including Next, Debenhams, Marks & Spencer and Gap.  For other products there are web retailers such as , ,  who offer delivery to Europe, for a fee.

And finally once you’ve begun to assimilate and you start to feel like a “local” you will find you are endlessly popping into Hema for useful bits and bobs (or just for cake!), buying large quantities of Trappist cheese from the market and filling your house with fresh flowers!  My favourite shopping treat is a visit to our local chocolaterie - the architecture, interior design and smell alone are worth the visit and the wonderful array of chocolate scrumminess they stock makes up for the absence of Cadburys in these parts… well, almost!

This is just a short guide on an exhaustive subject (if you're a shopoholic like me!)  If you have a useful shopping tip or weblink please let me know and I’ll add it to my list!
Happy shopping - English mum abroad