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I want to share a surprising and uplifting moment that occurred a few weeks ago in the supermarket. But first let me tell you about a new twist in shopping at a market where I used to shop when I lived for a few months in the Netherlands.   

Let’s set the context. You have the groceries in your cart. You’re adding them up mentally, wondering why eggs and butter cost more than last week – are the hens and cows on strike for better pay? You look over all the lines and try to guess which will be fastest. It took too long to find what you came for, and even the self-checkout line is long. You pick the line that looks fastest, hoping the cashier isn’t a new hire who hasn’t memorized the produce codes yet. When it’s your turn you return the cashier’s greeting, watch the tally grow, pay what you owe and head out the door. 

If shopping for groceries is a highlight of your day, it hasn’t been much of a day.  

Jumbo, a Dutch grocery chain, thinks it does not need to be this way. A year ago one of its stores designated a special lane, in effect, for slow checkout.  Signs direct interested shoppers to a kletskassa, a “chat checkout,” where they exchange more than a quick “Dag!” with the cashier.  Shoppers are encouraged to linger. Store staff are expected to ask how the day is going, whether the shopper’s children will visit for the holidays, whether they have read a good book recently, and so on. The idea has proved so popular that 200 more Jumbo stores across the Netherlands will soon follow suit. 

Shouldn’t retail stores always strive for speed and efficiency? Isn’t that what customers demand?  Not all of them, according to Colette Cloosterman-van Eerd, chief operating officer of the Jumbo chain. Some customers want meaningful human contact when they venture out. Many of them are elderly. And many of them live alone. 

Jumbo is a corporate member of the National Coalition Against Loneliness (Nationale Coalitie Tegen Einzamheit), an initiative of the Dutch Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport. There are about 1.3 million residents of the Netherlands over the age of 75, and in response to surveys half of them say they frequently feel lonely. That age group is expected to grow to 2.1 million by 2030. In response the ministry is encouraging individuals, civil society groups, and municipalities to explore new ways to communicate and connect. Jumbo’s slow checkout lanes are an example. 

Paradoxical as it may seem, sometimes the best shopping experience is not the fastest but the slowest. We’ve all experienced this from time to time: a clothing store clerk who is just as interested in your niece’s wedding plans as in selling you a sportcoat, a hardware store employee who takes the time to share some tips on how to install your faucet, a bookstore staffer who directs you to the recent novel you want and then tells you about some of her favorite books in a similar vein. Jumbo’s contribution is to offer this to anyone who chooses the marked checkout lane. 

When I read about the new slow checkout option at Jumbo I thought back to a shopping trip late last year when my initial frustration turned into an occasion for joy. I had found the items I needed, I was in a hurry to get home, and I chose a checkout lane with no line. Unfortunately it also had no cashier on duty.  The man standing by the register was collecting a printout after finishing his shift, not assisting customers, and I had not noticed that the light marking an open lane was off. The man was preoccupied with his task and did not look up as I approached. The cashier in another lane did.

“Sorry, that lane is already closed,” she called out to me, “but mine is open.  Did you see the light?” 

I walked over and took my place behind another customer, and when my turn came I was singing softly to myself a gospel song that her words had brought to mind: 

I saw the light, I saw the light, 
No more darkness, no more night 
Now I’m so happy, no sorrow in sight. 
Praise the Lord!  I saw the light 

She joined in, and together – loudly enough to attract a few puzzled looks – we sang: 

I wandered aimless, my life filled with sin. 
I wouldn’t let my dear Savior in. 
Then Jesus came, as a stranger in the night. 
Praise the Lord!  I saw the light. 

I learned this song from folksingers of the 1970s, and I’ve also heard versions by Hank Williams from the 1940s. I’ve sung it in living rooms and at folk festivals – never in church, so far as I can recall, but the churches I frequent are not much into bluegrass gospel.   

I wondered where the young woman at the till had learned it: from her parents, or around a campfire, or in her church? I didn’t ask. I was delighted that she knew the verses, and she seemed happily surprised that I did. 

By the time we finished singing the chorus my groceries were all scanned. And I went on my way rejoicing.

Header Photo by Eduardo Soares on Unsplash

David Hoekema

David A. Hoekema is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy and retired Academic Dean at Calvin University, and, in the winter, a Visiting Scholar at the University of Arizona.  His most recent book, We Are the Voice of the Grass (Oxford University Press), recounts the tireless work of Christians and Muslims who came together to strive for an end to a brutal civil war in Uganda. In light of recent developments in the Christian Reformed Church, he is now a member of Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, Arizona and he also participates in the worship life of St. John’s Episcopal Church of Grand Haven, Michigan. Hiking, bicycling, choral music, old-timey string bands, and conversation with Christians whose minds and hearts are open to all are among the things that gladden his heart.  


  • Deb Mechler says:

    Oh, glory! Thank you for telling this wonderful story. It reminds me of the time my dear aunt was dying in a hospital two hours away during a blizzard. Her only child was several states away. I called the nurse on her floor and tearfully asked if I could sing to her. She replied that my aunt was unresponsive and she wasn’t sure how to set it up. (No cell phones.) She asked me what I was going to sing. “Her favorite, ‘It Is Well with My Soul.'” “I know that one. I’ll sing it to her.” Thank you, God, for the old hymns we share and for chatty store clerks.

  • Steve Van't Hof says:


  • Pat Cavanaugh says:

    I so relate to your grocery store story. I vividly recall going to the local store ( a chain, not a mom and pop variety) with my 95- year- old dad, and being shocked that several clerks and stockers, stopped to say ” hi, Joe” and engage him in a small conversation. I remember thinking this had become his social network, and since so many of his friends were gone, as he walked everyday, he stopped in to the grocery store whether he needed anything or not. I thanked God for those employees who brightened his day. And I thank God for your words today.

  • Keith Mannes says:

    “Life in the Slow Lane” would never have a hit song for the Eagles, but it’s a lovely thing to hear about. Thank-you.

  • Kathy says:

    My mother worked as a cashier in a grocery store in our small Dutch community. Her line was always the longest because people purposely waited to chat with her while checking out! She is almost 96 years old now, and people are doing favors and running errands for her because she is not very mobile anymore. She STILL has a way of drawing folks to her!

  • Thomas Boogaart says:

    Your blog brought back warm memories of our years in the Netherland and the spirit of the culture. I thought again of the untranslatable word, nuchter, meaning something like: clever, kind, wise, and entrepreneurial. It made me homesick.

  • Mark S. Hiskes says:

    Thank you for this great story. It makes me appreciate again the “quarter moment” at our neighborhood Aldi, when two customers swap a cart and the one waves off the quarter and says something like, “Keep it. It was free to me!” I’m pretty that moment is the reason why shopping there seems more joyful, more humane.

  • Daniel Meeter says:

    My dad-in-law from Hudsonville, Michigan always cheerfully chatted with store clerks and checkout cashiers. On his first trip to NYC with us in 1976 he drove up to the tollbooth at the Holland Tunnel, handed over his money, and said “Good evening,” and held the car expecting a reply, until she curtly said, “G’ahead!” My dad-in-law, stunned, and a little hurt, I think, slowly drove into the tunnel, shaking his head, and repeating, “G’ahead, G’ahead.”

  • Cathy Smith says:

    Love this! Thank you.

  • Tom Prins says:

    Wonderful experience, David. Though not a singer, I find the human contact of a cashier a blessing, even more so now that my wife has passed. IMHO self-service lanes take away human contact, and often take away jobs from other humans.

  • David E Stravers says:

    Not a hymn you learned in the CRC? 🙂

  • Jan Zuidema says:

    My kids have been known to ask me if I have to make friends with every clerk I encounter. My response is ‘why not?’. They’re providing a service and I’m glad they are there doing it, so it’s vitally good for both of us to acknowledge that we’re in these few moments together.

  • Trena Boonstra says:

    Good for my soul this evening. Thanks David.

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