Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Heijn

03 Jan

For the most part, I’ve found the Dutch to be pleasant and friendly and very helpful. I frequently see the locals stop to help tourists find something, and have even been on the receiving end of the helpfulness. While wandering around Haarlem a few months back, Roxy and I had our map out looking for a particular museum. A 20-ish Dutchman walked up and offered to help. Either we misunderstood his directions (likely), or he didn’t know the museum (less likely), since we still ended up getting lost, but at least he tried.

Almost every time I take Churchill out for a walk, a local will stop and attempt to talk to me. I’m never quite sure when the polite time to interrupt them to tell them I can’t speak Dutch is, so I usually let them talk for a bit first. Once they stop talking and stare at me, I say “Sorry, mijn Nederlands is niet zo goed.” They usually frown for a microsecond, then smile and begin speaking in English.

Before coming over here, I read in many different sources about the poor customer service that I would experience. While things here are different than in the US, I’d hardly call it poor service. Shoppers are generally left alone while they shop, but if you ask a question you almost always receive a quick answer with a smile. Waiters/waitresses don’t pressure you into ordering and then paying when you eat out, you just signal them when you’re ready. And they’re happy to let you sit at the table for hours after your meal is complete and your check is paid.

There is, however, one bastion of poor customer service in this country: the grocery store. And while I’ve only visited a handful of options: C1000, Aldi, Lidl, and Dirk, one stands far above the others: Albert Heijn. AH seems to always have around 20 employees working their small stores: 18 of them stocking shelves, and 2 at the cashier stations. You would think with all of this stocking going on that the shelves would be bountiful. WRONG. Things are frequently out of stock. Especially in the bakery. Lord help you if you arrive after lunch, you’ll have the option of one small loaf of white bread with a child’s hand-print in it, or a stale deformed appeltaart.

The cashiers are frequently playing with their cell phones, or will just wander away from their station for no apparent reason. The employees doing the stocking seem to follow no rules at all. Not only will they ignore you and pretend you’re not there, they’ll try to run you over with their carts, block aisles, and generally do their best to make shopping an unpleasant experience. Yesterday, I was standing in the coffee aisle looking at some options, when a stocker girl came up and stood right in front of me, literally shoving me back half a step so she could throw a few more bags of dark coffee onto the shelf. I said “Pardon?”, to which she completely ignored me, finished her chore, and moved farther down the aisle. It’s not the first time this has happened.

I’m not sure what exactly it is about the doors to the grocers that turn ordinarily friendly Dutchies into self-absorbed speed demons. Those with little kids seem to suffer from the same attitudes as Americans when shopping in a public place. Namely, let the kids wander about, run up and down aisles, and pull all sorts of things off the shelves. Perhaps they’re training them for a future job as a stocker, I’m not really sure.

AH has inspired such hate, that a blog “I Hate Albert Heijn” has become popular. There is even a YouTube video entitled “You’ll have a terrible time at Albert Heijn” making the rounds. Check it out below (language NSFW).

In fairness, I must say that I’ve found the prices at AH to be pretty decent. Most things here are cheaper than in the US, even account for the € to $ conversion. A bag of Lays potato chips, for example, is around €0.89, whereas in the US it would be several dollars. Aldi may be cheaper, but their selection is even worse, and there isn’t one near us. C1000 is about the same price (and same level of service).

They do have some awesome chocolate croissants, lasagna, and appeltaarts though!


Posted by on January 3, 2011 in Life in the Dam, Places in Amsterdam


4 responses to “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Heijn

  1. Alison

    January 4, 2011 at 13:24

    Oh, I almost dread random strangers coming up to me, because I hate having to invariably revert to the, “Sorry. Mijn Nederlands is nog niet zo goed.” On the other hand, I probably sound like a native when I say it now, because I’ve had so much practice saying it, and have even had a Dutch friend help me with the correct emphasis and rhythm. πŸ˜‰ I’m determined that this year I will finally get the hang of it!

    As for the customer service, in general I don’t think it’s as bad as people say, or maybe I’m just lucky. I do appreciate that they don’t hover over you here. Etos probably has the best service, to the point where they start asking me unexpected questions and then I have to revert to my stock phrase when they catch me out with something I just don’t understand.

    But AH. Argh! The cashiers don’t seem to be too bad at the ones I go to, but the people stocking the shelves drive me up the wall. I’ve also had the joy of being cut off and moved back as they try to restock something, or they simply won’t move out of the way, even when I’m hovering waiting to get into a spot or doing gymnastics to reach something blocked by various boxes and carts. And I always go with alternatives in mind, because it’s completely likely that half of the things I want won’t be available. Who knew celery was such an exotic food item. πŸ˜‰

  2. Invader_Stu

    January 4, 2011 at 17:19

    It’s so true about aisles being so narrow and the shelf stacker always getting in the way. The AH near my office is so bad for it. Every morning they wheel in the huge cages of supplies and just leave them in the aisles in everyone day as they take all day to unpack them.

  3. fraudiaz

    January 14, 2011 at 16:40

    The humour of this article almost takes away the pain of AH.


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