Saturday, March 19, 2011

Virtue, explained

The quick 'n dirty translation of the Dutch word zuinig is "frugal". As with many Dutch words, though, the quick 'n dirty version is incomplete. There is, in addition to the "maximizing value" component of zuinigheid, an element of virtuousness that the word "frugality" doesn't quite cover. In the US, you can still get slammed for being frugal, as it has the connotation of being cheap. In the Netherlands, you will only get nods of approval for being zuinig.

This extra dimension explains, I think, the popularity of the Saturday markt (in all cities except, I am told, Maastricht). There are market days throughout the week--in Nijmegen, for instance, you have the fabric and produce markt on Mondays, and the secondhand markt on Wednesdays. But the Saturday markt is where all of the action is--it's when all of the vendors and their kramen line the main shopping streets, when the booksellers set up shop outside the library, when anybody with any bit of Dutch in their blood crowds onto the 10 a.m. bus or busts out their fietskar in the hopes of landing good deals.

Anybody can be thrifty by reading the flyers at the supermarket and shopping accordingly, but it takes serious dedication and price-matching to find the best deals at the Saturday markt. Not to mention that many places are cash-only, so you can't say, "What the hell," and let yourself overdraw. There are some things you can help yourself with, and others that you can't--generally speaking the rule is "arm's length", but the Dutch have very long arms. During the busiest times, you might have to wait up to 15-20 minutes before you can pay, and then only after you've shoved a little old lady out of the way. You don't have carts you can load up, unless you have a shopper (which nobody under the age of 85 uses, lest they seem old), so you have to carry an increasingly heavy bag with you. Price-wise, it helps to know what other sales are going on, because while there are a few great items, others only seem that way until you do the math.

There is, as far as I can tell, only one major benefit for going produce-hunting at the markt, and that is the eco-stands. Fresh herbs that are genuinely fresh, and amazing mushrooms and cheeses--will still cost you an arm and a leg, but the scent of fresh basil following you around for the rest of the day is obnoxiously decadent, screaming, "Hey, I'm food snob!"

By the time you make it home from the markt, in other words, you'll feel like you've done something--that goes double if you've managed to hold a few brief conversations in Dutch with the vendors. Yeah, the euro you might have saved probably doesn't cover the cost of parking. But it's the thought that counts.

1 comment:

  1. It always amazes me how dedicated the Dutch are to finding good bargains. Not that it is a bad thing. It just strikes me as a very Dutch thing.