A place which helped me deal with the feeling of homesickness.
I love the Dutch for being punctual about shutdown time.
“Shall we wind up?” This phrase is absolute music to anyone that is used to working in countries like India and Singapore, where official timings are from 9.00 AM to 5.00 PM and unofficially from 10.00 AM to 8.00 PM, if you are lucky and more if you aren’t.
I love the Dutch for being punctual about shutdown time. Whilst my Indian friends and their husbands, eat, sleep and live in their offices, my husband and I are able to bundle up before the TV by 6.00 every evening. Every single evening. Sounds slightly boring, I agree. But that is because there is no place to go to after 7.00 PM. Shops close by that time even in the most ‘happening’ places. In fact, there were times when I was shown out of shops because it was 20 minutes to closing time. Oh, well.
I forgot my homesickness in the bright lights of AH and lost my heart to their spongy muffins. It even served as my guide to basic Dutch.
In a place that practically goes to sleep by 7.00 PM, Albert Heijn is a perfect godsend. No milk for an early morning cuppa? Rush to your nearest AH. Craving a late night desert? AH is your answer. Lonely night? A bottle of two Euro wine is waiting just for you in AH. Emergency tampon? AH again.
I have a special relationship with this chain. It was my first go-to place when I was new to The Hague. I forgot my homesickness in the bright lights of AH and lost my heart to their spongy muffins. It even served as my guide to basic Dutch. Aardbei, tarwe, boterham, roomboter… common everyday things and their names. I learnt to speak a sort of broken Dutch with the help of their labels. Being a chocoholic, there once came a time when I forgot my purse and walked into the chocolate section of AH. While bars of Lindt gleamed at me, I rummaged through my worn jeans to find a Euro. And who do you think saved my day? The AH home brand of hazelnut-choco bar. Of course, an AH chocolate bar isn’t exactly like Lindt, but it is pretty good, especially when you are pining for cocoa and don’t/can’t want to spend much.
That’s when I discovered a whole new world of possibilities. The quality of their products come very close to that of big brands. I have tried their honey, nut butters, pasta sauces, baking supplies, cleaning products, dairy, olive oil, sanitary products.. you name it, there is a chance that I have used it. In fact, I might well be their PR person. A normal, mid sized store stocks the basics and a little more, while the large ones typically bring in a range of consumables, all including vegan, gluten free and lactose free foods as well as tea straight from the gardens of Sri Lanka and India, decorated with the picture of Ganesh – the elephant god of Indians. Glass noodles with Teriyaki sauce, Kenyan Cassava chips and even Tikka masala with naan breads. These are not very authentic, but would satiate your craving for home like food – sort of. Add to this, a mix of several nationalities popping in and out. Some of them who also care to have a cup of coffee with you, like how an American once did with me, sharing interesting trivia. All this to me, is way beyond impressive.
Amsterdam, Den Haag, Rotterdam, Den Bosch, Hilversum… terrains and towns change but not AH. It is to Netherlands what Walmart is to USA. Years later, when I move back to my country, the Netherlands will evoke the memories of canals, tulips and white boards with AH written in blue 🙂
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