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An International Trade Representative’s Got Nothing on Her

Late yesterday afternoon, the doorbell rang. As I opened the heavy oak front door, I found myself face-to-face with Catarina, my adorable eight-year-old Dutch neighbor, she of Learning a Language? Child’s Play fame.

She was standing there with a tennis racket slung over her shoulder and an air of urgency about her.

Hallo Catarina, hoe gaat het met je?‘ I asked quizzocally. ‘Wat doe je?

She was about to leave for her evening tennis lesson but wanted to stop by first and ask if I would please save the nieuwe zegeltjes (sticker-like stamps) given out with grocery purchases at Albert Heijn.

Ja, voor je, natuurlijk,’ I answered, smiling broadly.

They run a new give-away every 4-6 weeks, and Catarina always politely inquires whether I’ll collect the stamps for her. She knows that I will, but doesn’t want to take it for granted.

I didn’t catch what the latest prizes are, but past popular campaigns have included voetbal kaarten (soccer/football trading cards) of professional players of the Dutch Erie Divisie league (top division), and Disney character toys.

I explained that I had been using the new hand-held scanner and the self-check out option since it was faster than going through the longer checkout lines, but that the scanner check-out machines don’t dispense the zegeltjes.

Okay, I may have had to resort to pantomime and the words ‘machine in the hand’ instead of hand-held scanner, but you get my point. And so did Catarina.

Collecting zegeltjes for Catarina would mean my having to go back to the slower, cashier-assisted checkout lines and no more fun shopping with the scanner, but if it meant she could acquire and trade whatever was the latest craze, so be it.

There was further discussion as she explained that this was important because she wanted to trade with her friends whatever it is that you get when you collect and turn in the required number of zegeltjes. No surprise there.

But this time there was some mention of having to pay 15 euros also for something else. A special prize, perhaps, or a must-have item to facilitate trading? I did recall that Catarina had purchased the special edition display notebook for the voetbal kaarten

Niet alleen met de zegeltjes?‘ I asked, somewhat confused. Not only with the stickers? Fifteen euros is a lot of money for children, and often the giveaways are precisely that: entirely free. Or gratis, as we say in both English and Dutch.

Ja, vijftien euros ook,’ she replied, with emphasis on the word ook (also). We went back and forth a bit longer and while I wasn’t quite sure how the 15 euros fit in, we agreed that I didn’t need to pay the 15 euros, just start collecting zegeltjes for her.

And as always, she instructed me that I could give them to her whenever I see her in the neighborhood or else put them in the mail slot of her house.

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Destined for international business

Precies, ik begrijp. Dat zal ik doen,’ I concurred with a wink. (Exactly, I understand. I’ll do that.)

With a wave of her hand and a quick ‘Dank je wel, tot ziens!‘ she was gone.

As I shut the door and turned to leave our tiny foyer and head back into the house, I noticed Son standing on the stairs.

It seems he’d been observing our conversation but couldn’t hear what we were saying. Intrigued about the topic, he asked what we’d been discussing.

‘Oh, nothing much,’ I tossed off casually. ‘You know, just the usual international business dealings and delicate trade negotiations one encounters when living overseas…’

UPDATE: Inquiring minds wanted to know more, so I did some research on the giveaway. Turns out the zegeltjes are actually known as Muppetpunten (Muppet points). Earn 6 and pay 1 euro more and you get one of the collectible Muppet handpoppen (hand puppets), or 6 Muppetpunten will get you half off the price of a second ticket (you buy the first at full price) to see the new Muppets movie. Instead of earning one Muppetpunt for the usual 10 euros spent, this promotion requires 15 euros in grocery receipt totals. That’s why Catarina was saying that I needed to spend 15 euros (per zegeltje) AND give them to her for trading. See? I told you that it was complicated!

[Image credit: worradmu, portfolio 2026, freedigitalphotos.net]

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