Sunday, October 22, 2006

Ongoing war of the supermarkets

Before I talk about the favorite subject of the Dutch: PRICE synonymous to MONEY and their national pastime: COMPARING PRICES of goods and services (even after weeks and months of having bought the item/service - just so they can validate their purchase decision that they indeed got the best deal, lol, so typical Dutch!)... allow me to post some pictures that I took outside of my hotel in Amsterdam.

A subdued street right outside my hotel room in the south of Amsterdam late at night... and, how it looks like early in the morning at 8AM.

I stayed last Wednesday until Friday in Amsterdam for work. Although I live just 40 kilometers away from Amsterdam in another city (Utrecht), the company made a decision to book me instead into a hotel because the first nights event will be finished late into the evening.
Nothing is better than having a good nights rest and going to work fresh the next day.

The only thing I regretted was not taking a picture of the canals at night (left my camera in the hotel room, how very smart of me, lol) during the canal dinner cruise.

Moving forward to the topic of today’s blog entry, the ongoing war of the supermarkets in the Netherlands...
I firmly believe that the root cause of this consumer turmoil, resulting into near bankruptcy and mergers & acquisitions of several Dutch shopping chains (Edah bought by Plus, Konmar being sold, the Albert Heijn scandal, etcetera), notwithstanding internal company mismanagement of course, is the price-sensitive culture of the Dutch.

Those who live (or have lived) in the Netherlands, have Dutch relatives, have Dutch neighbors, colleagues and friends, can very well attest how they, the cheeseheads, can be so utterly keen on justly spending and price (in Philippine language, kuripot). They do not always pick the cheapest item on the rack because the Dutch want value for their hard-earned money. Accordingly, they want the cheapest price for high-quality products. Uh-huh.

If I were to simply categorize the locals here based on grounds of consumer attitude and advocacy, they would come up number 1 on the list as THE most discriminating and skeptical consumer.

Why discriminating and skeptical?

Because a large concentration of the Dutch consumers are by nature, judicious consumers; they do not buy on a whim (exception are the younger generation). They shop around, they compare, they research and scour the internet for feedback from other consumers, they are on the look out for sales discounts and offers, they are never shy to bargain and most importantly, they wait, and wait, and wait.

In my 4 years -going 5 of living in Holanda, I have learned the wisdom behind the saying, “Haast u langzaam.” [Hurry slowly], which means, when making decisions, especially when purchasing items that will eventually cost us a lot of money, not only upfront but recurring, i.e. maintenance and such --- do not hurry, do it slowly and rationally.

Because of this adapted rationalistic decision buying process of Dutch consumers, there are now countless price comparison websites available at our fingertips on the internet.

And rightly so, since our subject matter in this entry is about the war of the supermarkets, I have here a website,, comparing the price difference and quality of products sold by local supermarkets in the Netherlands.

Click for a larger view please. Prijsvergelijking (price comparison) / Kwaliteitsvergelijking (quality comparison)

Nettorama scores high on the price factor while Hoogvliet bags the quality slot from website (in Dutch).

We currently shop at Edah mainly because the supermarket is just a stone’s throw away from where we live. In today’s fast paced world, convenience and time are the major key elements in picking the choice super (how we call grocery stores here) to shop, particularly when you are, (a) working full-time and (b) carrying a 1-week load of produce, meat and grocery items, otherwise, we would have gone easily to Nettorama.

As a bothered consumer, my main experiences and concerns with Edah are:

(1) Some of the produce they have on the shelves are not fresh. This irritates me because we eat vegetables every single day. Vegetables and fruits are 40% of our daily dietary program.

(2) Lately, the Braeburn apples that we stock weekly are of very bad quality. You do not see any telltale signs outside of the apple, but inside, it is soft, tasteless and crumbly. The apples are not fresh and crunchy. Such a waste, we threw them into the trash bin.

No wonder, Edah scored the lowest in quality!

(3) Last week the Dutchman surprised me when he screamed and fled from the kitchen after opening the fridge. Well, well, what have we got inside? --- A huge worm (that looks like a cross mutation between a snail and a leech) sitting royally on top of the cauliflower and moving languidly. The worm’s movements remind me of an exotic belly dancer’s belly.

(4) Why is it that they always ran out of toilet paper and brown wheat bread on Saturdays? More worse news: they replenish on Mondays.

(5) There were instances when the cashiers were being negligent. You have to always counter-check the receipt, like babysit them, because they sometimes forget to deduct the 35% discount on the product. Some products on sale, especially meat and produce, the discounts are not automatically deducted into the point-of-sale computer system. They are manually entered. I guess due to the nature of the product, short life & shelf cycle, they treat the items on a case to case basis.

(6) The “Laagste Prijzen” [Lowest Prices] they advertise and decorate in their shops is a real laugh. They are 20% higher, in almost all articles, than Nettorama. A €45 Edah shopping cart would be around the vicinity of €35 to €40 in Nettorama. If you take up the difference, multiply by 4x a week and multiply again by 12x a month, I surely could buy 2 or 3 new pair of shoes, perhaps even go on a holiday to Ibiza!

I also shop from time to time at expensive Albert Heijn, of the giant global Dutch supermarket empire, Ahold, some gourmet and international food items. This usually happens when I have my odd cravings, which I should really stop, that is, if I want to keep fit.

In other words, if we are careful of what we eat and of what we buy - all carried out in moderation, we are not only saving money but doing ourselves a big favor of NOT GETTING FAT, which is by the way an incredible dilemma most of us face when we hit the 30’s timeline.

Thus... my humble domestic goal is to make sure my cupboards and fridge are semi-empty!!!

Here are some interesting shopping tips from the website:

>> If you use a certain product all the time, buy a good amount if they are on sale.

>> Never go shopping with an empty stomach.

>> A shopping list helps against impulse buying.

>> If there is a cheap product (that you always buy) being taken out of the supermarket shelves, complain to the manager and to the company.

>> When buying in kilos and you want to compare prices, always compare based on the kilo price.

>> Check your receipt before leaving (actually, watch the cashier when adding up the items because human error is inevitable)

Friday, October 20, 2006

Expatica Article: Birthday walks in the autumn forest

“Without a doubt, when I came back from my business trip Saturday evening, the Dutchman announced that tomorrow Sunday we are going to the Kaapse Bossen [in English, Cape Forests] for his sister’s birthday bash. The Kaapse Bossen is located in the south of Utrecht province, between Doorn and Maarn.

Ah, the news echoed like a beautiful song in my ears...

I love walking in the fresh autumn forest. Many Dutch nature parks have a sundry of walking routes. I love feeling the abundant fallen leaves, now in hues of bright yellows and oranges, while they make squishy noises beneath my feet. I love harvesting nuts from the forest floor. Picking interesting looking twigs and leaves too and putting them into my basket for accessory alibis that I can later use in decorating the home. I love looking out for uniquely shaped and colorful mushrooms to photograph. Oh, I love the silence. It’s like a gentle melody that calmly soothes and caresses our stressed earthly system.”

To continue reading the article, please click: Expatica - Birthday walks in the autumn forest or click the Dutched Pinay logo on the side bar just below the chatbox.

Some of the fotos I took last Sunday:

The front yard of the statehouse, once a castle and a coach house built between 1901 to 1903 - Het Maarten Maartenshuis (now a training-conference center) in the Kaapse Bossen, Nationaal Park Utrechtse Heuvelrug where we sat down and enjoyed our delicious tarts and warm coffee.

Rose colored mushrooms and me with my native grass basket.

Tags: Natuurmonumenten [Nature Monuments], Kaapse Bossen-Nationaal Park Utrechtse Heuvelrug, Het Maarten Maartenshuis

Expatica Main, Expatica Netherlands, Netherlands Expat Blog

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Duped in London

It was surprisingly warm in London, 18C to 20C. Perhaps, even warmer. I’ve regretted bringing my jacket as it just added to my heavy load. When traveling for work, what’s really a hassle is the laptop; it’s heavy. At the end of the day you feel like a limping old woman with one shoulder down. If only packing laptops inside the luggage is fine...

My hotel’s boring and grubby view: the Victoria Station in Westminster.

Because of last month’s incident where security officials found an explosive material made of liquid inside the plane, the British security and immigration has since become paranoid. I am not slightly exaggerating the paranoia here and I will tell a little bit of my experience, albeit, later in my post.

And, despite the busy schedule, I was able to take a few pictures of London. I’ve been in London before but never really had the chance to take souvenir pictures (since I didn’t have the digital camera back then). I will let them pictures do the talking.
I stole a few minutes during the day to catch the breathtaking view of some of London’s hot spots:

With pride, towering over the heart of Westminster is The Big Ben and a part of the Houses of Parliament. On the left side is the biggest rotating wheel in the world, the London Eye.

A busy street with red double-decker buses passing in front of the world renowned church, Westminster Abbey, and me with the ubiquitous London black cab at my back (cropped the foto to give focus on the black cab!), after a one long tiring day.
And also later in the evening:

Lighted like a Christmas tree: Harrods, London’s famous upscale shopping store and outside Harrods, a red London cab in a hurry after picking up a passenger.

After the 3-day business trip, I took an extra day stay in London. I’d like to walk around the city relaxed and not having to rush to and fro. An extra day indeed was the best solution. Since the hotel my company booked me costs over 200 pounds a night, I moved out to a much, much cheaper hotel on my last night. You guessed it right. I am not stupid to pay that kind of money from my own pocket, not even for just one night.

This is me inside the second hotel I booked somewhere in Kensington area before going out.

Purple cab and red double-decker bus, what a great combo in the streets of London! And, the Trafalgar Square, as usual it is full of tourists doing pictorials, just like me, lol.

The famed Covent Garden Market is full of café terraces, and the so-called market, ironically, is just a small fraction of the whole Covent Garden Market.

Punch & Judy bar, its patrons sitting on top of the balcony watching amused at the theatrical street play below.
Not really holding up to its name, the Covent Garden Market is more of a place to unwind... drink, eat, enjoy the music from one of the many selections of street musicians, and watch the prolific and entertaining artists showing off their acting skills in the theatrical street plays... rather than, to shop.

I stayed half of the day here and ordered a Rose while I did nothing but people watched.

This is the busy pedestrian street going down to the Embankment (and Charring Cross) Underground Station that exits towards the River Thames. And, the Gloucester Underground Station, I think this is one of Londons prettiest stations.

And it’s time to say London goodbye...

With all my bags in my hands, I hailed a black cab to Victoria Station and boarded the Gatwick Express train that leaves every 15 minutes to Gatwick airport. The express train from Victoria to Gatwick airport took about 30 minutes travel time. What’s interesting with the British train system is you can actually purchase a ticket in the train – which would be a big no-no in the Netherlands, else, you will pay a €35 penalty + cost of the ticket (which is 10%-20% more than the normal ticket you buy from the ticket machines and counters).

Upon arrival in Gatwick, I made through the surge of crowd in the airport floor and followed the signs where I needed to go. Lo and behold, a loooooooooong queue of travelers was standing before the check-in counters, and the pace was at turtle neck-to-neck speed! A quick check on my watch: it’s an hour and a half before my flight. I stepped into the line thinking everything will, probably, go fine.

There was an announcement made --- Only ONE HAND BAGGAGE is allowed inside the aircraft. A ladies hand bag is considered ONE HAND BAGGAGE. Shit, I have two hand baggages - my hand bag and my laptop bag!

I knew about the British paranoia in the airports and made sure that I packed all liquids inside my luggage for check-in, even my beauty kit I packed inside too. Mascaras and lipsticks are prohibited inside the cabin, can you just freaking believe that?

So I slammed down my luggage on the floor, opened it, and threw in my hand bag without my wallet, mobile phone, camera and passport in it. The challenge was closing the bulging luggage. Eventually, after much thrusting and sitting on top of it, I succeeded.

Time check again on my watch: 35 minutes before my flight and I am not even halfway through the darn long queue!

And, the inevitable that I feared happened --- AMSTERDAM FLIGHT HAS CLOSED

The blinking “Amsterdam” above the check-in counter computer screen went out. As this is the last flight for the day to Amsterdam, I can’t help but feel some pangs of panic banging left and right inside my brain. Quickly, I rushed towards the counter and asked the airline worker in charge of checking in passengers about the Amsterdam flight. True enough he just closed it but with my persuasive charm, he let me into the flight. Relief swept over me, while a loooooooooong queue of disgruntled looking travelers watched. Sorry people, I didn’t mean to cut through all of you but I just can’t miss this flight!

The next hurdle was going through immigration and security. Time check: 25 minutes before my flight.

The security bottleneck before me looked like the pre-Christmas rush in Manila Domestic airport but in a long snaky line. It spells chaos. I had to use again my magical temporary charms and begged people to cut through them, explaining that my flight is already boarding and about to leave in a few minutes. Even then, it took me 15 minutes to get passed immigration and security.

The security measures were very tight, they were checking everyone’s carry-on bags, asking all individuals with thick-soled shoes be taken out and loaded into the x-ray scanners, all jackets, electronic gadgets and whatnots, laptops, are taken out separately too, and finally, they body-checked everyone after coming through the metal doors. It was bloody hell so complicated. But, at least, I got out of immigration and security helldom!

Next, I rushed to check the status of the Amsterdam flight on the computer screen --- it still showed BOARDING. Time check again: less than 10 minutes before my flight! I am in a furious state, where the hell is gate 22???!!!

I ran. I made my sprint-of-a-lifetime in the long corridors of Gatwick airport. In my high heels, tack, tack, tack, off I leapt like a mad woman while onlookers showered me with mischievous grins. Why do people do that anyway? Do they know what mercy is?

When I finally reached gate 22, I was grasping for air, my throat tightened and thickened up like someone just gripped my neck and choked me to near death, my mouth dried up and I was coughing as an asthmatic individual on attack. I arrived just a few minutes before my actual flight. BUT, WHY THE HELL IS THE GATE STILL FULL OF PEOPLE?

The flight was delayed. The boarding was delayed for 10 minutes and in addition, we had to sit for another 15 minutes inside the aircraft’s cabin waiting for some they-can’t-fly-without-it water.

Don’t you just hate it when you had to go through madness and find out later that the madness you went through was all for nothing?

I’ve never felt so duped.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Tales about overcoming the weather and yearning for a house help

There are things that I really miss from home. Yeah, I still call the Philippines home even if I live here in Holland and have become partly Dutch.

Overcoming the Dutch weather

The sun and the stable warm temperature back home I have missed for a looooong time. How could one not?

The weather played a large part on the first few years adjustment phase of my expatriated life in the Netherlands. I have somehow developed a fervent love and hate relationship with the Dutch weather --- I struggled through sticks and stones my first dark Dutch winter. It was a complete nightmare. I wished I was transplanted back then back to the warm islands. I wanted so bad to escape the sinister of events that unfolded before my very eyes: Sitting across me in the hospitals’ pristine white-walled clinic is a specialist. He just diagnosed me of having a mysterious allergy towards cold weather. The only cure available he said is to move to a warmer-stabler climate country, or hope, that in the next couple of years, my system will learn to voluntarily adapt to the unreliable Dutch weather.

But alas, it was not just the cold really...

The allergy could have been manageable if not because of: (a) wind, and (b) erratic change in temperature. Because of these two, the allergy became worse, thus my first dark Dutch winter awakening, about 4 years ago... :-(

I believe that if it’s just the cold, adaptation would have come easier, but with the zany wind in this country, and the temperature change resembling like a woman in her almost menopausal PMS state – 10C in the morning and 18C during mid-day, 13C today and 22C tomorrow, my whole system was stretched to a blinking red alert. It malfunctioned.

Its plain genetic, it sits in my blood, and sadly, there is no known cure to man. (I know, how strange, its like having some scary disease, lol)

Yeah, that’s how it was, looking back. Now, its quite amazing, how I have almost become immune to the crazy weather in this flat country.

My system, my blood and my skin has slowly adapted, not fully, yet – I still have allergies when the temperatures kicks in at 15C and below, when there is wind, and when there is a sudden change, drop or high, of temperature, but all in all, it was not as worse as my first 2 years.

So Dutch weather, I have almost overcome you. The physical acceptance of my body, the positive mentality despite the cold, gloomy, rainy, windy and erratic Dutch weather, and not giving in into this allergy struggle and turning into (far be it from me) a bitter individual --- I finally can say, hey, I have triumphed over!

We may get inflicted with psychological and physical stress in our journeys to adaptation, but like what many of us would always say - it’s just a mind over matter thing. There is actually some truth in this.

But... there are still a few things that I really miss back home in the Philippines... like, for example... having someone to help with the mundane chores at home.

The yearning for a house help

I recently asked Dutchman this question, “What would be the thing that you want changed in me?” (I know, a difficult question for men, that if wrongly answered, would definitely get a haughty sneer, ha-ha)

His reply,
“That, you can at least learn how to clean the house.”

I personally think *sigh* I have a handicap for cleaning. And, before anyone thinks our house is as filthy as the city sewers of rat land, our house is actually livable. It’s just that I hate cleaning and I would rather hire someone to do it!

Perhaps this is the consequence of growing up with helpers that clean your trails at home as you go. The result: I have never developed the habit of cleaning up, and when I left home to start my own life, I became a cleaning handicap. As I don’t like the idea of someone else living with me (privacy), hiring a call-in maid was the way to go.

In a culture where women are highly emancipated to work fulltime, time became a luxury to spend it at home carrying out domestic chores. They must be outsourced, period. The practice of many middle to upper class Filipino households (actually most Asian households) is to employ a live-in helper, a gardener and most importantly, nannies for the children. My parents, my mother that is, she worked fulltime and she had the 3 of us kids. We grew up with nannies and helpers around us. I have always thought it was the norm.

But hah, in family-centric conservative Netherlands (I see some shocked eyeballs rolling lol), this is just totally unthinkable. Unless you come from the real upper class here, the mainstream culture in this country is to raise your kids by your own two bare hands. Thus, in order for women to securely mobilize at home and anchor the family-centric values on their kids, they become by choice: housewives, or, they work part-time. Even the women in very upper class Holland prefer to raise their children themselves and would only employ a house help, but seldom a nanny.

Well, I don’t have children and I don’t think I would ever want to be bothered by this, but what I just miss is having more time for myself at home and not having to do the boring stuff of household chores.

The Dutchman actually does half of the chores at home so I should be more than happy to indulge, but wait... in the Philippines, I wouldn’t be doing any chores, anyway, right?

And oh, I don’t really call cooking a chore though. It’s probably the only domestic activity that I totally liked, and enjoyed.

I know, I can probably insist my stubborn ways and personally pay for someone to do the cleaning at home (the Dutchman will definitely reel in shock with this) but reflecting objectively on the whole situation, I think it is just not the same as it used to be or what I was used to. I am now living in a country where getting your hands dirty at home is like breathing or having sex. Plus the idea of hiring someone will put me into the ridiculous, spoiled brat, and high maintenance category - which I am not.

Should I just say I don’t freaking care? Should I just switch on to the monkey see, monkey hear, monkey speak no evil mode? Or, should I try to adapt this (cultural) reality, after 4 long years of struggle(!)? Perhaps I should just become sober and shut up.

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