This is Joshua Wehner's archaic Blog

The "Quest"

So, while living in Germany I experienced the joys of the modern global marketing machine. But in Germany I had the advantage of doing most of my shopping at a large and fully-stocked mega-mart.

My experience in the Netherlands has been more … diverse. Take this recent errand, where I went to help Liz find some acetaminophen ("Tylenol" in North America) or ibuprofen ("Advil" in North America).

So, start with the list of places you might buy these things in North America. Remove grocery stores and big-box stores: the former won't have it, the latter don't really exist here. I'm left with stores like CVS, Walgreens or PharmaPlus. Well, none of those stores exist here, but let's see if we can find something equivalent… First off, remove all stores with "Apotheke" in the name, as those are strictly pharmacies and rarely carry stock, over-the-counter painkillers.

The first candidate I encounter appears to sell general toiletries, but after an exhaustive search, seems to be focused on perfumes, with a light dabbling of toiletries, that don't include painkillers. Across the street, I can see another store selling perfumes, but that turns out to be the perfume counter of a large department store.

Eventually, I discover a new class of store (one's name includes the word for "herbs"), that sells toiletries and low-level painkillers. But, even here, there's a few tricks. Many of these stores stock the medicine behind the register, which makes it harder for me to check the ingredients (as I'm painfully slow at translating). I manage to find a store where I can manhandle the goods, so to speak, but there's nothing with acetaminophen. I settle for something containing ibuprofen for now, but later learn that acetaminophen is known in these parts as paracetamol — same molecule, different marketing.

A similar pattern seems to repeat itself for almost any otherwise "minor" shopping errand, and can take even more twists and turns if the item sought is rare or unusual to the Netherlands (though there are exceptions; I spent a long time looking for a butter dish, but found maple syrup at the second store I tried). And things do get easier with time, as the "database" grows, and I spend less time on trial-and-error. It's also has fun meeting other, more experienced ExPats, to trade tips and pointers. Sometimes locals are useful sources of information, too, but locals – in any culture – frequently take their cultural knowledge for granted.

Oh, one other oddity: in Utrecht, at least, stores of a similar nature tend to "clump" together. We spent an hour wandering around, trying to find a mobile store, and when we finally stumbled into a T-Mobile shop, we noticed that there were six other stores on the same street.

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