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The importance of learning Dutch…

October 02, 2005

Well, I think I just re-learned the importance of learning Dutch, or at least a few words. The lesson happened in two places: first at Albert Hein (AH), then in my kitchen. Albert Hein is the local grocery store chain. The closest one to me is about two blocks away (a most scenic walk along the Prinsengracht). I actually made two trips to AH this morning. The first was a quick visit when I realised that everyone was using their own bags, backbacks, and satchels to carry their groceries out. When I returned with my own backpack I started looking at the shelves. I could figure out most everything very easily. Apples look like apples everywhere. 6 New Zealand Braeburns were about 1.80 Euros. Jam jars look like jam jars all over. Ham looks like ham. But butter and margerine use terms I don’t understand. Yeah, sure, Melk, but there is Karnemelk in a red container, Volmelk, and other melks. In the US I usually buy 1% or 2% milk, and occasionally whole milk in the red container. So I was hoping that the color red was international for regular milk. I watched the fridge for a few seconds and saw a bunch of people grab the red ones, so I did too. At half a euros it was a cheap gamble. Butter was tougher. I ended up with something called Blue Band because none of the words on the labels looked right.

At home I unpacked my backpack and looks at my goods. First was Karnemelk. Upon opening it smelled…well…off. Like the milk I often find in my fridge, 2 weeks past the Use By date. I quickly looked it up in my tourist guide to Amsterdam. Karnemelk = buttermilk. Yuck! After scanning a website on my return I found that provides info I should have read before:

Buying food in supermarkets is usually straightforward. Bring your own shopping bag, as these are not given out for free and buy milk in blue cartons. The red cartons are usually buttermilk(karnemelk), which is rather sour, but drunk by the gallon in Holland. This is better for making scones than a lunchtime drink, but their daily consumption may explain why the Dutch are so tall.

Then I opened the butter or marg or whatever it is. It tasted fine. One out of two ain’t too bad I guess, especially since the apples, ham, bread, and so forth all worked out too, so although I need to make another AH trip before my morning coffee and cereal I am pretty happy with my first try.

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