Scene: 7:30 pm Sunday, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Okay, I had a half an hour before the Albert Heijn, the chain grocery store down the street, closed. The list in my notebook actually referenced this time, knowing that priority had a place in the twenty minutes remaining before queuing with the other last minute shoppers. Ten minutes allocated for getting everything scanned and paid for before the deadline, as when 8 pm hit, there was no compromise. Though never witnessing this first-hand, stories from colleagues described groceries on the check out conveyor belt denied after closing time, shoppers leaving with Euros instead of conveniences, clerks unapologetic as their schedule dictated the action.
Already three times that week I walked through the tight aisles of the Albert Heijn. Consciously making room for others to pass, I held my grocery basket in front of me as an aisle barely allowed for two lines of foot traffic. Restocking hours made this shuffle even more difficult, resembling the tedious driving required through streets reduced to one lane from two as a result of construction. Shoppers from the opposite direction passed by as we waited behind crates of ready-to-be-shelved cereal boxes, looking for an opportunistic let up in the flow to then take our deserved turn. Politeness only existed in a particular shade, where everyone’s idea of helping others was to get their shopping done quickly as to reduce the number of people in the store. Helpful I guess, only until ten minutes remained until closing, and that every-shopper-for-themselves mentality heightened. Something that could affect the end of this shopping trip story, however in this instance, it all ended well; I left with the Albert Heijn with the groceries that I could carry, and headed home.
Only so many things could fit into my heavy canvas bags, and only so much weight tolerated over the three blocks and up the three flights of stairs. My trips to the grocery store more frequent without the use of a car, and in smaller loads, not only in anticipation of the trek home, but the limited space awaiting in my Amsterdam refrigerator. More than enough space for this single citizen, but probably a different story if the same was allocated to a household of three, plus a cat. Luckily, garbage operations recognized the constricted quarters, and finite space, of Amsterdam living, where instead of one trash day per week as in the States, two allowed for apartment’s to discard their goods more frequently. A small, but respectfully noted, variance indoctrinated in this particular grocery shopping experience that included more trips to the Albert Heijn in a week than in a month to Shaws in Somerville, Massachusetts.
Though I found a strange satisfaction in early, early morning shopping at Shaws, like arriving first to a café on a lazy Sunday morning with seventy potential pages to read and all the options of seating available, it is something that can be done without. Hours of grocery stores forced habits to change, and carless months actually allowed for, in a way, more freedom. After 8 pm on a Sunday evening, so many things could be done or enjoyed, however grocery shopping at the Albert Heijn, fortunately, was not one of them.