On Nov. 23, 2005 I moved to The Hague from Washington, DC. This is my new Dutch life.


Welcome to the 21st 20th Century

Our local grocery store has discovered that people might like to buy food on Sundays. Until about a month ago, they closed at 8pm. This Sunday thing is nothing short of a miracle.

We are continually astonished by how everything just shuts down here (even in Amsterdam). On Mondays, retail establishments and restaurants (restaurants with breakfast menus!) are closed until noon, ostensibly for book keeping. I have yet to walk by a shop that wasn't completely boarded up until about 11:50, sometimes noon on the dot.

In the evenings, better make your purchases quick because the shops promptly close at 5 or 6pm. They'll start rounding you up (ie: closing down the registers) about a quarter till. Nevermind that you've amassed a stash worth several hundred bucks, they simply don't care if they get your money. It's shocking!

I heard a story about a guy who spent an hour testing out guitar amps worth 1000EUR and about 10 minutes to closing he'd made his decision. Even after helping him, the store manager said he wouldn't take his money b/c he was closing. WTF?

On a Saturday this is nothing short of ridiculously stupid. Downtown shopping districts will be packed with people, and all you see are shop clerks pushing them out of their stores. With the sun shining until nearly 10pm these days, that's at least a good 3-4 hours of money they're losing.

I can do without evening shopping, but what really gets us is that most restaurants close their kitchens at 9pm. If you're lucky, 10. This means they often won't seat you after 8:15-8:30. Huh? I can see business being slow during the week, but we are continually turned away on Friday nights trying to catch a bite before a movie. Naturally, this isn't the case with all restaurants, but we've taken to phoning ahead or checking Web sites before we bother to leave the house.

I realize that I sound like a typical consumerist American just looking for something to buy in an attempt to fill the void of my meaningless life. Mainly I think I'm still on East Coast time (figuratively and literally) in that I don't even start planning my evenings until the Dutch are well through their first dinner course. On weekends, we just have to quit sitting around the house in the mornings enjoying brunch. We have to get cracking - get out into the Dutch world or it will just shut down on us. Maybe we just need a routine or something.



Blogger Reid said...

I don't think that it's a consumerist American thing. It's just logical. You're looking for a service, and they're in business to give you one. I guess people just eat earlier there...

1:39 PM GMT+2

Blogger akaijen said...

I don't personally think I have a consumerist American attitude, but that seems to be the rebuttal whenever an American complains that the shops and restaurants are all closed.

2:18 PM GMT+2

Anonymous redsnapper said...

We always have "trouble" with that when we're in Europe too. I do tend to think it IS a cultural limitation of us Americans -- we totally expect business to expand to fill the available market. But European business owners -- who tend to be small business owners, not mega-corporations -- don't think that way.

The ones I've spoken to think immediately off the tradeoffs -- the longer hours they'd have to put in, the more expenses they'd incur, the risks they'd take on -- and immediately reject growth.

I kind of admire that, because it puts overall quality of life ahead of profits. But compared to America (or much of Asia), these European small business owners have the luxury of not being pressured by looming corporate giants. Culturally the "chain" phenomenon has not overwhelmed the Continent as it has in other places. From my armchair, I think it's the result of having been thoroughly developed in a pre-chain era. When an area is developed for the first time in the modern era, it's instantly colonized by franchises and corporate establishments. But much of Europe developed a dense commercial culture long before a Starbucks or McDonalds or Wal-Mart was even infrastructurally possible.

It's possible, barely, that Europe could remain immune to these forces for longer than trends would suggest. It all depends on whether they culturally retain the will to continue to intentionally resist consumerism. If today's European kids decide they, too, want 24/7 access to a panoply of consumer goodies, and that Friday's looks way better than the chip shop on the corner (taken from a true story) ... well, in another generation or two you won't be able to tell Edinburgh from Boston.

Either way, I'm glad I get to experience some old-world European small-business attitudes while the gettin' is good. It reminds me that there are plenty of other ways to live in an industrial and commercial culture than the American one I grew up with.

Still, it's pretty hard to chillax when I'm starving and no one will feed me!

11:18 PM GMT+2


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