Saturday, January 22, 2011

Where "hamster" is a verb

Sometimes I have to wonder how obesity isn't that much of an issue in the Netherlands. I mean, yes, expanding waistlines are a problem--supposedly 1 in 3 Dutch people weigh more than they should, but obesity, by an American standard, is rare.

I just got back from grocery shopping, and the Albert Heijn is in the middle of a "Hamster Weken" campaign, an annual sales event where things are ridiculously discounted in order to convince people to buy more and spend more money overall. In Dutch, the word hamster is also a verb, meaning "to hoard". Presumably this used to be a prudent measure back in the day when, at any moment, a maurading horde might come running through your fields and destroy everything.

It really is remarkable, though, how inexpensive food is in the Netherlands. I mean, out-of-season fresh produce always costs an arm and a leg, but in-season produce can be so ridiculously inexpensive that sometimes I wonder why they even bother charging any money at all. I got two liters of fruit-flavored milk for €1, or fifty cents each. You can't even get normal milk for that little. And yes, I caved to my eternal Brussels sprouts near-fetish and bought (yet another, Karel is groaning) a bag--but at fifty cents, I don't think even he could have resisted.

The limiting factor, I think, for a lot of people (I'd guess about half) is that they need to carry their groceries home. I typically walk to the Albert Heijn--when I had my bike, I'd bike there, but biking with a ton of groceries is quite precarious, so it wasn't smart to load up for the week. On Saturday mornings, the streets of our neighborhood come alive with people carrying wadded-up shopping bags, strolling to the C1000 across the street (where I usually do most of my shopping). Most people have cars, but when it's not that much of a walk, and when parking is hard to find, it's simply not worth the trouble.

I have to wonder: how long can these sorts of prices last? And what will happen when they stop?


  1. You're right obesity is really rare here. I've recently lost a fair bit of weight and before I did I always felt really out of place. I'm short and heavy in a country where everyone is tall and lean. I'm sure if we looked we'd see that the Dutch are among the fittest in the world, I'm sure of it.

    I also recently took advantage of the 2 for 1 at AH, I must be becoming more Dutch because I REALLY love those deals!

  2. @ Breigh: A "fair bit" is the understatement of the year :-)

  3. when I first came to the Netherlands I was amazed by how cheap everything in the food stores was. It's become one of the many things I like about living here.