Dutch Lessons: They Don’t Want Your Business

We have a bunch of visitors coming in the spring and summer, and I’ve been thinking of some topics that might prove helpful as tutorials to our impending guests. Here goes…

The very first morning we were ever in Delft, before we even moved here, we learned an important Dutch lesson. It was a Sunday morning and we had flown red-eye from Boston, then immediately taken the train to Delft, arriving mid-morning. Though we were exhausted, we were told it would not be possible (a favorite phrase we hear often, which does not always mean what an American would think it would mean—but I digress) to check into our hotel for several hours. I asked the receptionist where we could get a cup of coffee and maybe some breakfast.

At this point she looked confused and said, “Well, I don’t really know. It’s Sunday…” She directed us to a square where there *might* be something open, and we were able to find an open cafe amidst lots of “gesloten” signs. We were surprised, but thought it was kind of quaint that many businesses here still close on Sundays. Kind of refreshing, not even from a religious-reverence standpoint, but just from a slow-it-down perspective.

Then we learned that many businesses (including restaurants) would also be closed on Mondays. And maybe Tuesday mornings.

Since moving here, we’ve additionally learned that if you want to go to a regular shop, you’d better find a way to get there before 5 PM. You work? Tough. Go on your lunch break, have your partner go, or go on Saturdays: end of story. (Chain grocery stores are a notable exception to this, staying open until until 9 or 10 PM, although on Sundays they will close by 6 if open in the first place. And bigger cities, like den Haag, open for “Sunday shopping” in a much bigger way than Delft.)

Yesterday I worked hard on a freelance project until just after 4 PM, and then as I turned my thoughts to dinner realized it was Thursday and I had intended to get to the (Thursdays-only; smaller version on Saturdays) market, specifically to the spice vendor. (Any spice you can think of—1-2 Euros a bag!) Realizing how late in the day it was, I hurriedly suited up and made the brisk walk to the square.

It was 4:30 and everyone was packing up to go home for the day. (No spices for me, although I did get a huge bowl of slightly-mushy avocados practically given away for 1 Euro.) I understand that’s just the business hours they keep, but it surprises me that they aren’t waiting for all the potential customers who get off work at 5.

Our final observation has been that if a store closes at 5, and you walk in at 4:50, you are likely to be told, “Sorry, we’re about to close,” rather than, “How can I help you?” And on a nicer note, if they can’t help you, they’re far more likely to endorse a competitor than I think a US store would be.

I present these observations in contrast to the American mentality of what now seems like “extreme business”—keep long, late hours to accommodate potential customers’ various life schedules and get as many shoppers in the door as possible. Though it’s not so hard for freelance-employed me to fit the Dutch hours into my schedule, I do miss the flexibility of being able to go to a cafe (not pub—those are open plenty late) like Diesel, open until 11 PM. (Of my two preferred places in Delft to get coffee and sit and work for long hours, both close most days at 6PM.) And though I have found that the reduced hours of businesses simply force me to consume less (which is helpful), I sometimes get frustrated when I realize I needed something else from the store, and it’s too late. Or closed for the next two days.

It’s hard to explain, but I get the sense here that getting every client, making every sale, is just not the top priority for a lot of businesses. We’ve wondered how they all stay afloat—are the summer tourist sales just that high? Are there subsidies? Low rent? There’s a lovely Italian restaurant called La Bocca that we have been to in Delft several times since the fall (It’s on the Beestenmarkt. Try it.). We have never eaten there when there was more than one other party being served.

Semi-related Bonus Photo:

The Beestenmarkt, yesterday afternoon.

It was above freezing (in the 40s, actually!), and as soon as it is above freezing, people here are ready to eat or drink outside. There were many tables occupied out in front of these restaurants. In the summer this whole square gets covered with outdoor seating for all the cafes and restaurants, so much so that when you pick a table it’s not always clear which establishment you’re patronizing!

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2 Comments

Filed under Our Dutch Adventure

2 responses to “Dutch Lessons: They Don’t Want Your Business

  1. Gil

    We’ve been spending slightly more time in Paramus, NJ lately to accomplish errands which, it turns out, makes for a very annoying bit of scheduling to make sure that we get everything done on a Saturday because Sundays are closed. I’d love to agree that it’s great that Sunday becomes more of a family day but frankly, I have stuff I need to get done.

  2. Mathieu

    La Bocca, like most of the Beestenmarkt (and the rest of the horeca in Delft) does generally live from the summer. Both tourists and locals. Though our experience is different than yours re: amount of business — It tends to be moderately busy when we go. The real ghost town was the now-defunct Mexican restaurant on the Hippolytusbuurt. Where the Bounge is now.

    The opening hours regulation is essentially an indirect subsidy anyhow. Though I think you’re more on point that it’s a different cultural expectation. NL has the highest proportion of part-time workers in Europe – and most of them are by choice, not because they’re underemployed. A bit of work, a bit of money, why be greedy?

    It may not be the same as a 24-hour Target Supercenter, Makro has like everything and is open most days until 10. And they sell ice — it’s very pleasant summer evening’s ride along the Schie to sort out the cooler for a spontaneous barbeque.

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