What if Dutch grocery stores were people?
I moved to the Netherlands from the US in September and missed the all good weather during my mandatory two weeks of quarantine. By the time I emerged from my overpriced attic of an Airbnb, it was essentially winter, the corona virus curve looked like a capital J, and people gave you funny looks when you used a mask on the street. Bars and restaurants promptly closed, and after a couple months museums and libraries followed suit.
As someone with a zest for life, however, I wouldn’t let this situation get the best of me. So, I created an elaborate coping mechanism: with a lack of anywhere else to go, I went to different grocery stores every day, and personified each one in my mind. What are the best bars in Utrecht? I have no idea! What are my favorite restaurants? Don’t ask me! But what are the best grocery stores in Utrecht? Cancel the rest of your plans for the day because I will deliver a soliloquy, an oration, a sermon on my elaborate thoughts on the matter.
We’ll start with EkoPlaza because this was the first grocery store I discovered in Utrecht as it just happened to be next to my Airbnb. I didn’t realize that it was the most expensive store in the country, and assumed it was a normal Dutch thing for three bananas to cost 40 Euros and everything to be “biologisch.” If EkoPlaza was a person, it would be the worst person in the world. They don’t support Black Lives Matter because it's “too incendiary” but won’t shut up about veganism. Every item of their wardrobe costs over 100 euro but they judge celebrities for being too flashy and materialistic. However, if they invited you for dinner, you wouldn’t say no, as you would undoubtedly receive an elaborate vegan feast and fancy wine which you could use to numb the inevitably eye-roll-inducing dinner table conversation.
Albert Heijn was the next grocery store I discovered in Utrecht, and after I realized it was a grocery store and not a hardware store I saw it everywhere. Overly excited that I could buy more than three bananas for 40 euros, in my first weeks out of quarantine I went a little too hard, and eventually my affection toward Albert faded. Albert Heijn is an unreliable lover -- they’re great for an adventure, but they don’t come through when the going gets tough. They leave you on read for three weeks, but show up at your doorstep unannounced with a bouquet of flowers and tickets to the world’s largest roller coaster. Their prepared foods? Out of this world! Beet falafel, three euro pad thai, need I say more? But when you start relying on AH for your staples, the euros start to add up.
Plus is the human equivalent of wet socks but is such a good friend that you can’t ever truly expel them out of your life. The specific shade of yellow lighting at Plus functions as a kind of vacuum specifically engineered to suck out your will to live. The “post office” never has stamps, boxes, or envelopes. When you are happy, Plus finds the perfect way to neg you. Oh, It’s sunny tomorrow? It will rain for the next six weeks, they sigh. Oh, you had an interesting class today? It would have been much more interesting if it wasn’t online, they remind you. But when something tough happens, Plus is there at your side with excellently priced tempeh, cleaning products, and a limp but understanding pat on the back.
Jumbo is seven feet tall and emanates a shimmering white-gold glow. They are followed by a chariot of elephants and magnificently horned goats. Jumbo isn’t even a person, they're basically a god. They have amazing deals, a meticulous color scheme, and lay outs that don’t actively make you want to die. Staples, dips, sauces, Jumbo has it! Entering the door of Jumbo is akin to walking through heaven’s gates. Or maybe I just haven’t been to a bar in over six months…
Making friends in a new city, in a pandemic no less, can be quite difficult. But when you imagine each grocery store as a complex and nuanced person, and make an effort to visit each one a couple days a week, it's almost like having a slightly zany group of friends!