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.


How to Create Your Starbucks Alter Ego

I’m probably not the only one who balks at announcing my real name in front of 20 strangers, just for the sake of a venti soy chai latte. Starbucks employees are required to ask for your name, which they then scribble onto paper cups, in the effort to avoid title disputes on cappuccinos. Some clothing stores do this too, like Lululemon. They write your name on the door and periodically holler “Hi Mary-Jane! How’s it going? Can I get you another size?” (translation – I know you’re not really a six, so stop pretending). So, everybody knows Mary-Jane is in the house and Mary-Jane is holding up the line, and Mary-Jane needs 3 sizes up. But what about reasonable expectations of privacy if Mary-Jane was actually the only Davinia-Andromeda in a small town?*

The second syllable sums up what I'm telling you ...

The second syllable sums up what I’m telling you …

What’s up with people demanding your personal information in public as though they were entitled to have it? Companies and marketing agencies pay millions for your personal information, lawyers work hard to delete your names from public access to information requests, Google is feverishly executing our “right to be forgotten”, so why does a little espresso machine pressure make us buckle at the knees?

It’s also tricky for barista and customer alike when geographic boundaries impact upon the ability to discern foreign sounds. Not quite sure what happens to “Krzysiek” in Guangdong or “Xuan Qing” in Texas, but its probably not pretty.

If ever you’re mulling over a moniker for yourself, here are some recommendations:

  • Avoid names with lots of “Ls” and “Rs” in China/Japan
  • Adhere to a max of two syllables – in repetition if possible (Mimi, Gigi, Dodo all good)
  • Model it after a famous citizen (Francois in Paris, Li Na in Beijing) but don’t take the mickey (e.g. not “Obama” or “Beyonce”)
  • Make sure you can say it with a straight face – bursting into giggles only raises suspicions. (so though “Cock” is a fairly common name in NL, this may not be your go-to.)
  • Enjoy the image you conjure with your real-life avatar!

As for me, my latest inspiration is Marlies Dekkers, the antithetical Dutch icon of frivolous frippery.


*then Lululemon and Starbucks wouldn’t set up shop there, so the question is moot, I guess.