You will be glad to know that I narrowly escaped becoming a grocery thief this afternoon.
Back in the States, I love automated checkouts at grocery stores, CVS, anywhere they offer them. They are so efficient, and you get to bag your own groceries—which, incidentally, you do here regardless. It is much more standard in Delft that you bring your own shopping bag (or you get charged ten or twenty cents, in many places) and that you bag your own items. I love this. My initial attraction to the automated checkout was that it prevented the cashier from bagging my groceries in about twenty individual plastic bags, and prevented an awkward exchange if I asked the cashier not to bag them.
So I’ve noticed automated checkouts in the grocery stores here (the bigger ones, like C1000) and stayed away from them thus far, not wanting to make a critical error, or scan all my items and then realize they only take those Dutch debit cards that I don’t have. But I’ve observed (read: stalked) people using the machines, and they looked pretty similar to the US ones, so I decided to give it a trial run today (when buying just four things, to minimize the drama if somehow it didn’t work). I scanned all the items and they went away down the belt, and I was feeling pretty good about this. But then I realized I couldn’t read the screen and didn’t know how to indicate that I was done. I guessed at one of the options and then swiped my card through the reader. A receipt printed.
Yet something told me that the operation was not a success. For one thing, the receipt did not have any of my credit card info on it, which made it seem suspiciously as if I had not paid. For another, there was a massive barcode on the receipt. Perplexed, I looked around and saw that some people who were doing the self-checkout then went to a desk with a bored-looking store employee (who was also on the phone, which decreased the likeliness that she would offer to help me). I went and hovered near the desk but couldn’t figure out what was going on. Finally I asked two women who were waiting there, “Can you tell me how this works? I used the machine but I’m not sure I paid.” They examined my receipt and said that no, I had not paid, but I could give the paper to the girl and she would scan the barcode and then I could pay. This perplexed me, because what was the point of the self-checkout if I then waited in a line to pay afterward? It also made me glad I had not simply tried to leave and secured my status as American bandit. It turns out you had to scan the giant barcode on an exit gate to get out of the self-checkout area, and if you hadn’t paid, presumably all sorts of alarms would go off and grocery police would descend.
So I waited for my turn with the employee, who kept speaking Dutch to me and then one of the women I’d asked for help would translate loudly to English (very helpful, but also slightly embarrassing).
I’m certain there was an option on the self-checkout machine to pay there, but I must have missed it. (And still: why were those other women waiting to pay at the desk?) I think I’ll go back to the cashiers next time!
On the Dutch language front, quite relevant to this story, I am making some progress with a free course on a site called Live Mocha (thanks, Katie!). I like the way the course is structured: you do a lesson, followed by an exercise in writing and one in speaking. You “pay” for the course by helping review the exercises of people who are learning your native language. The downsides are that the feedback is overall not very helpful (someone will correct my mistakes, but not explain the rationale) and during the “lesson” portion, you can’t ask questions because it’s just a program. I think my pronunciation is pretty weak, but I am learning words and recognizing them. Unfortunately, I am through lesson three and can hardly say anything relevant. I can describe the colors of objects (The auto is blue! The building is brown!) and insult people (The woman is fat!) but I haven’t learned how to ask for help, how to greet and thank people… in my world, that should come before colors and weight descriptors. But this weekend Tim and I were in a store and he was looking at wallets, and I suddenly realized that I knew just the right thing to say in this situation, in Dutch! “De portemonnee is zwart,” I said excitedly. “The wallet is black!” Such is the current pinnacle of my Dutch expression.