Since I’ve spent some time in the United States, what follows are some ideas for shopping and eating that could save fellow traveling Dutchmen some time. Some of these may be specific to the Pittsburgh area, but others may also generalize to other parts of the country, particularly medium to large sized cities. Use to your advantage.
- Cheese: there’s a lot of cheese around: different kinds from different countries. This large selection reduces the number of cheeses per country, so most Dutch cheese that you’ll find is Gouda “goo-dah”. Most of that is not Dutch import, but produced elsewhere in the US. Cheeses are notably less salty, but certainly no less fat. I recommend trying Pepper Jack if you’ve never had it and like spicy stuff.
- Sprinkles: these are available in small packages for decorating cakes. Hence, putting this on your daily slices of bread will quickly turn into an expensive hobby. However, if you scout around you may find a local chocolate shop that imports Dutch products from de Ruijter “de-ruter”.
- Potato Chips: I’ve found only the plainly salted potato chips to be comparable to their Dutch counterparts. You will find many familiar brands: Lays, Cheetos, etcetera. However, this is a deception, since most of these have a different ‘taste’ and texture. Bell pepper “paprika” potato chips are nowhere to be found, but there are a lot of oddly spiced chips if you’re into experimenting.
- McDonald’s: if you’re looking for the typical yellow ‘mad sauce’ you won’t find it in the United States. Strangely it is marketed in Dutch supermarkets as an “American” sauce. Fries are generally served with ketchup and mayonnaise is available on request.
- Big American Pizzas: thick crusted pizzas are not popular in the United States as far as I could tell. Yet another marketing ploy …
- Teeth: if you want to keep them buy a good, preferably electrical, toothbrush as they will have to endure a sugar overload.
- Tipping: unlike in the Netherlands this is expected in the United States: not tipping is considered rude. However, tipping is not expected if there’s a tipping box on the counter. As a rough guideline to what you will be signaling with your tipping amount: ten percent is bad service, fifteen percent okay service and twenty percent is excellent service. Remember that barbers and taxi drivers also expect tips.
- Brands: In grocery stores expect to find a wide range of unfamiliar brands. Notable exceptions to this are Unilever brands and a broad range of personal care products. It’s fairly obvious what most things are though, so don’t be afraid to experiment (within reason).
- Rental Cars: try Hertz or Avis.
While you may be familiar with many large American (fast) food chains, there are fairly large competitors that do not operate in the Netherlands. For example most people will be familiar with Starbucks, but not with Caribou Coffee. Similarly, everyone knows the sandwich shop Subway, but not Quiznos. If you like Bagels & Beans in the Netherlands, you will also like Panera Bread in the United States. Looking for a burrito or taco? Try the Chipotle Mexican Grill. If you want any type of quickly prepared food: your options are virtually endless.
Here’s a list of companies found in the Netherlands with United States alternatives. This list is not exhaustive, and it’s certainly not exact as many stores in the United States offer a wider range of products in a wider range of categories (and of course: Wal Mart really has everything, hence it’s not included).
- V&D, Bijenkorf: Macy’s
- Blokker, Hema: Target
- Albert Heijn “To Go”: Seven Eleven, CVS Pharmacy, Rite Aid
- Albert Heijn: Whole Foods, Trader Joe
- C1000: Giant Eagle (East-US Regional)
- Makro: Costco
- Ice cream!: Ben&Jerry’s, Baskin-Robbins, Frozen Yoghurt
- Wolff, Pathé: AMC Theatres
- Mediamarkt: BestBuy
- Ikea: Ikea 🙂
In general I recommend just walking around and going in and out of shops to get a feel for what is different. You will probably quickly get the ‘hang’ of it.
Update: a pointer from a friend for those interested in purchasing Dutch products in the United States: www.hollandsbest.com.