Ovid (publius_ovidius) wrote,

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Foreign Shopping Adventures

Strangely enough, I had always felt a touch more culture shock in England because the little differences always crept up on me rather unexpectedly. Still, I'm getting a crash course reminder in just how difficult it was for me to adjust to Amsterdam the first time.

If you're a tourist, Amsterdam is wonderful. It's gorgeous, laid back, clean and friendly. If you live here, it's all of those things, plus food stores. Food stores are a trial. If you ever move to a country for which English is not the first language (or even an option), then you had better learn to cook. By cook, I don't mean opening a tin and heating the sludge inside. I mean learning to really cook. Tomatoes aren't just something to slice up for a hamburger or salad, they're an ingredient. This makes them more versatile for a few reasons:

  • Buying raw ingredients is cheaper
  • Buying raw ingredients means you have full control over what you're making
  • Buying raw ingredients means that tin of corned beef hash isn't actually Geriatric Kitty Food

Trust me, you want to learn how to cook. When you buy some broccoli, you know it's broccoli. When you buy a tin of something which looks like stew, it's a crapshoot.

Fortunately, I have a couple of advantages. First, Dutch is the language closest to English¹. Second, I speak a fair amount of French and many French words have crossed over into Dutch (and many foods are also marketed to Belgium, so it's often marked with French). Combine this with the knowledge of a few Dutch words and you really have an advantage in shopping. Case in point:

You might look at this picture and wonder what the hell "tonijn in zonnebloemolie" is, but it was pretty easy to figure out. First, you look at the can and you think about the word "tonijn" and the word "tuna" leaps to mind. Next, you see "bloem" in the last word and any foreigner with half a brain who visits Amsterdam will have it drilled into his/her head that "bloemen" means "flowers" (the "en" suffix is the Dutch plural). "Olie", of course, is "oil", so you have "tuna in zonne flower oil". Again, Dutch is incredibly close to English, so it really is this easy to work the meaning of many things in Dutch. However, sometimes you have to go a bit further. Shopping in Amsterdam
Shopping in Amsterdam This sign threw me for a moment, but I recognised that "ananas" is the French word for "pineapple". After that, I saw "stuk", which I know means "piece" (because you often see signs like "€1 per stuk"), but it's the "jes" at the end of "stuk" which took me a moment. It really doesn't have an analogue in English which I can think of, but it's a very useful suffix. It means "tiny" or "small". So the sign is announcing the price of chopped pineapple.

Moving along finds me typing this up while trying to make a spaghetti bolognese for Leïla, but struggling with ingredients. The spices are tijm, oregano, and basilicum, which isn't too bad. However, the rest is rode wijn, ui, knoflook, champignons, rundergehakt, zout, and peper. I think it will be OK, but even the most basic shopping is a brutal reminder that I truly have arrived in Europe in a way that I never could be in the UK.

1. Actually, you'll find Frisian to be the closest spoken language to English, but Dutch is the closest language which you've actually heard of.

Tags: travel
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