The Difference Between a Drugstore and a Pharmacy

In the Netherlands, there are two types of establishments purporting to sell you your pharmaceutical needs. Essentially, a pharmacy (apotheek) sells you drugs and some useful things. Conversely, a drugstore (drogisterij) sells you useful things (shampoos, vitamins, candies) and some drugs.

If you visit a doctor and need prescription medication, you need to get these at the apotheken readily identifiable by the shimmering green cross hanging on its outside wall. This green cross is a universal beacon throughout continental Europe signifying that help is close at hand. (But first, they will separate the wheat from the chaff by seeing how long you are able to wait before collapsing.)

In the several pharmacies I’ve had the privilege of huffing and sighing, I can promise you this behaviour was more than warranted. If you have three people in front of you, be prepared to wait at least half an hour. The pharmacists shuffle around, heads down, not acknowledging anyone, waving bits of paper in their hands – just going back and forth the pill cupboard and computers in anxious rumination.  When you do get to the front of the line, you’ll be amazed at the reams of paper and stickers that are required to dispense you a bottle of kids Vitamin D that doesn’t even need a prescription. By the way, things are out of stock very often, so if they have what you need, buy it in copious quantities.



My local pharmacy occupies a fair bit of space, thus requiring the employees to put in a lot of mileage to unearth a few bottles of skin cream. There are three cash registers but the staff use them interchangeably. What ends up happening is the queue sways to the right and left in rhythm to where the most alert staff is currently stationed. When I’m being served, I too do this “dance of the cash registers”. Two steps to the right (inventory check machine), two steps to the left, (typing out all my personal details), five steps to the extreme right (pointing out the Weleda oil), four steps back to the debit card machine, five steps to the left again (to continue conversing at the printer spitting out tomes). Instructions for usage are always in Dutch, but to their credit, the staff always take lots of time to translate it in English and to ensure you understand. (So, really, those aggravating non-Dutch speakers, like me, bear contributory responsibility for the growing lines)

To sum, if your request is somewhat benign and doesn’t require a prescription, try a drugstore for the basics like paracetemol, band-aids, and vitamins. They won’t have blood pressure medication, but if you can avoid the pharmacies, you may not need it.


One thought on “The Difference Between a Drugstore and a Pharmacy

  1. Pingback: What Does Chicken Pox Feel Like? | wanderingalmond

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