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Kleine Dingen (Little Things)

Frederik Hendriklaan aka 'The Fred'

How often are we reminded that, at the heart of virtually every endeavor, it is the little things that matter?

It’s all in the details. Grandiose ideas are intriguing, but if they can’t deliver it leaves you wanting. I wrote last month in a post here about one such Dutch amenity that I love.

Last week I learned of another. It was late afternoon and getting dark. Oh heck, it starts getting dark nowadays shortly after 4:30. I needed to run a couple errands so I walked the two blocks over to the start of the Frederik Hendriklaan.

‘The Fred’ as it is commonly referred to, is known as a relatively upscale shopping street in our Statenkwartier neighborhood of Den Haag. Certainly there are a number of chic boutiques, specialty shops and fun cafes perfect for lunch or a glass of wine or beer. But a well-kept secret is that it is also home to all kinds of shops and stores catering to everyday living.

I personally frequent my Albert Heijn grocery store, two hardware stores, three drugstores, a tea shop, a butcher’s shop, a couple flower stands, two housewares stores, my bank and its ATMs, two new and one used bookstore, the postal station (inside one the largest book store), an honest-to-goodness French patisserie (a French woman attested to this), my dry cleaners (one of at least three). And that’s just ‘the regulars’.

I’ve learned to shop like the Dutch, in a generally European style. That is, you find the best quality and best prices for various items and then stick with those stores/shops. You end up getting your toilet paper in one place, your hair care items in another and other toiletries in a third. You may purchase your cosmetics in three or four different stores.

To the American mindset (in which we must drive everywhere), it sounds time-consuming and terribly inefficient. But we’re shopping in a country of 17 million, not 320 million. So while you can easily find Dutch and other European Union country items, most stores will carry smaller inventories (both in type and quantity).

So you tend to shop more often, but it actually takes less time. It’s nothing to swing by three or four stores late afternoon one day, another two or three the next. You buy groceries for one or two days, knowing you’ll be back soon.

You develop shopping ‘relationships’ with the shopkeepers and regular employees. They remember you. And in my case, they will patiently speak Dutch with me even though it would be faster for them to conduct the transaction in English. They remember that I’m truly trying to learn Dutch, and compliment my progress over the weeks and months. The little things.

Kerstboom on 'The Fred'

But the newest ‘kleine ding’ I learned of last week?

As part of holiday season traditions, come mid-December a couple  of temporary ‘huts’ have popped up on the sidewalks of The Fred. One gives away free hot chocolate, and two blocks later another gives away small packets with a couple pieces of candy to adults and a seriously generous-sized Christmas cookie to each child.

Free. Simply because it’s the Christmas season. See? It’s the little things.

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