The Unlikely Expat

The Overlooked Trials of Grocery Shopping as an Expat

It was my first morning in the Netherlands.
I got out of bed, light on my feet, the air charged with my own exhilaration.
I poured my cereal, and stood looking out the window at my new home of Rotterdam as I took my first bite—
And spit it out.
Sour milk.
I looked again at the liter of milk, and asked Google Translate what I’d done wrong.
My very first, excited purchase in this country had, indeed, been buttermilk for my cereal.

My heart sank with that familiar heaviness of discouragement.
I’d just spent two years in Turkey, relearning how to adapt to that new world.
And now, I had to relearn things all over again.

In the US, grocery shopping had been a mundane affair.
I knew exactly what I liked from years of experience and from simply growing up with my family’s trusted brands.
But when I moved abroad, the comfortable familiarity vanished.
And suddenly, I had to figure out what the decent prices are and what I like all over again.
With everything.

As someone who strives to be a smart shopper, and whose indecision nearly matches that of Chidi Anagonye in “The Good Place,” grocery shopping was mentally exhausting for me in the beginning.
Which grocery stores are the best choices, considering quality and price?
Are these more expensive dish soap brands worth trying?
Will any of these lotions soothe my cracking, wintery hands?
And the questions continued. From food to cleaning supplies to hygiene and self-care products.

Being as thrifty as I am, learning through trial and error has been emotionally painful.
From eating my terrible food choices, to donating products I regretted getting.
But throughout this past year, I’ve gotten a better grasp of this small part to being an expat in the Netherlands.

This meant learning enough Dutch to not even feel bothered when Google Translate (offline) told me that “vloeibare ontstopper” is “liquid blame,” rather than a drain cleaner.
I can now just read the labels and instructions on the bottle instead.

It meant figuring out what brands I prefer, like which chocolate will get me through the rainiest and windiest days here.

It meant getting the hang of the store hours in the Netherlands— some opening as late as noon, or closing as early as 5:30pm!

It meant noticing which products go up for sale frequently, so I could stock up on them accordingly.

And a very important part of adapting to life here: becoming an expert at purchasing only as much as can fit on my bicycle!

Grocery shopping is only a small part of expat life.
There is so much more to learn and get used to in a new country!
To the point that, with all of it added up, it can feel overwhelming.
But, it gets easier.
And eventually, even in this foreign land, that sense of comfortable familiarity returns to you.

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