Returning to Berlin, I really wanted people to ask me what I had done in Den Haag just so that I could answer “I went to the supermarket a lot.”. Having barely arrived in Den Haag, I was told about a new supermarket chain that had a special policy in place, enabling the inclined shopper to get free stuff.

Let me explain: At this supermarket, you get to take any product hom for free which you find to expire on the same or the following day. Should you find something that had expired a while ago, you would get a free replacement of that product – in essence a fresh product for free. Clearly, you need to have a lot of free time on your hands to walk into a supermarket and strategically turn around every single product and check its expiry date. Ultimately, though, this becomes a sport that sweeps away all doubts. Which is precisely why one of the main activities during my brief stay in Den Haag consisted of going to the supermarket in order to strategically check expiry dates. Then, we would push an entire shopping cart full of products by the cash register and to the service desk, only to have it scanned and to take its contents home for free. The rules of economics were off.

Thinking about it now, though, the best part about this experience was not even the unbeatable value for money but the degree of randomness this policy entailed. Usually, you go to the supermarket in order to buy something specific. Occasionally something catches your eye and you take it. This, however, is simply not the way it works when you are going to the supermarket with the full intention of spending absolutely no money. We primarily found things that we never would have bought, but naturally took at the price point. In the end, the fridge was stuffed with a random array of exotic yogurts, tv dinners, bakery products and vegetarian cordon bleu dishes. It messed with our minds: After three days of carting loads of free food out of the supermarket, it seemed almost absurd to see people wait patiently in line just to pay for their groceries. It also became increasingly troubling to think about the mountains of food that must usually get tossed out, because supermarkets don’t usually have this sort of policy and attract no scavenger hunters.

Achte de duinen


As always, time stands utterly still in Den Haag. With this came a definite sense of familiarity that became impossible to shake and was, at times, misleading: At a few occasions I actually caught myself thinking that I still lived in Den Haag, only to snap back out of it seconds later, reminding myself that this was not the case. Almost forgetting that I am biking around on a borrowed bike by rather than my own, to my old house where I am just staying, rather than living came naturally. In part because Den Haag is now such an excellent holiday destination: I know precisely where everything is, I have an intact social circle in place and so I can just blend back in.

I had come for a series of concerts on the weekend and used that to check back in at the former hometown. Much to my delight, barely anything had changed. Sure, I had just been gone for a few months, but it was nonetheless great to see how the city continues to look like it is stuck in the 1970s, and how I can just walk in somewhere and be greeted like I still lived there. A home away from home, something that is simply nice to have.



And predictably so, the stay involved many liters of coffee, quiz night at O’Caseys, biking through orange streets, late night movies in Christoph’s room, several trips to the beach, regardless of the time of day, and many conversations over tangerines. Which seemed to be all that everybody had bought at the time. 4 days do not even come close to being enough for proper catching up with everybody but I tried my best. More next time!

Comment 1

  1. Lola January 7, 2011

    You know… I told this German friend of mine, with whom I had the pleasure to live with during our first year in Den Haag, about Jumbo’s policy regarding expired products , since she worked there for about 10 months filling shelves. She was, as a Dutch would so proudly say, a “vakkenvuller”. While telling her about your story, a got a bit disappointed, she kind of killed the magic of the entire purpose. Actually, this policy has been going on for longer -I don’t know for how long but anyhow-. To get to the point, what she had to do at work was exactly what you guys did, look for products that were to expire that same day, the following day and specially those already expired, she had to take them all from the shelves and they were (and still are) thrown away. Even products that could (officially) be eaten on that same day or the next one. They simply know people look keenly for those products and they rather sell the bloody products for the entire price, than to give them away for free. So… I mean, it is a good policy, but you can actually get the same result from Albert Heijn or C1000. I don’t know whether things have changed since she worked there, or perhaps all vakkenvullers at Jumbo don’t do their job properly.. I truly don’t have a clue. In any case, It is an excellent way to save money and specially to save products that are perfectly fine… and to try new things!

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