Shopping across the border is exciting yet familiar

12 December 2018

Dutch people who shop in Kleve. Germans who stroll through the bazaar in the Polish town Słubice. Ukrainians who trade in electronics at the EU border of the Polish village of Medyka. Cross-border shoppers have many different motives, but they all have one thing in common. They find it exciting and yet familiar. That is the conclusion from the PhD research of Bianca Szytniewski that was co-funded by NWO.

The river Oder near Frankfurt. Border between Germany and Poland.The river Oder near Frankfurt. Border between Germany and Poland. Photo: Shutterstock

Bianca Szytniewski (Radboud University and Utrecht University) investigated the motives and experiences of people who live in a border region and regularly cross the border to go shopping or for leisure activities. She held in-depth interviews in Kleve, Słubice and Medyka and investigated the experience, movement across the border, cultural and social differences and similarities in a border region.

For Dutch people who drive to Kleve, which is 18 kilometres from Nijmegen, the primary motive according to Szytniewski is the interaction between the everyday and the exotic.

Germans who live in the border town Frankfurt  an der Oder and who cross the bridge to the Polish town of Słubice can broadly be categorised into two groups. The one group lives nearby and goes there to do everyday shopping. The other group lives further away and goes on day trips to the Polish bazaar. Szytniewski: ‘That second group comes for the leisure activity, the strolling, the familiar and at the same time the unfamiliar.’

From Ukraine to Poland

An unusual border in the research of Szytniewski is that of Ukraine with Poland at the Polish village of Medyka. It is an EU border; people can shop tax-free and strict rules apply to the import and export. Sixty percent of Ukrainians who cross the border at that point do that several times per week. These are so-called "regionauts". They trade in food products, electronics and car parts. Some of the interviewed stated that they saw their Ukrainian neighbours more often at the border than in their own village or town.

Many regionauts walk across the border and carpool on the way back to Ukraine. That allows them to stretch the export rules, because more people per car means that they may take more goods. In the car park just across the Ukrainian border, the goods are subsequently shared and distributed.

At each border, the cross-border shoppers have their own motives and reasons. However, at all three locations, the cross-border shoppers are attracted by the unknown. According to Szytniewski, the people give their own meaning to the border: 'And this also influences how often they cross the border.’

More information

Bianca Szytniewski (1985) worked as a PhD researcher at Radboud Universiteit and as a lecturer at Radboud University and Utrecht University. Since September 2017, she has worked as a researcher at the DSP group. The PhD research of Bianca Szytniewski is project 1 of the Unfamiliarity project that is being co-founded by NWO within the programme EUROCORES European Comparisons in Regional Cohesion, Dynamics and Expressions (EuroCORECODE). Szytniewski obtained her doctorate on 7 December 2018 for her research entitled Cross-Border shopping in European borderlands: A study on familiarity and unfamiliarity. Her supervisor was Prof. Frans Boekema (Radboud University). Her associate supervisors were Dr Bas Spierings (Utrecht University) and Dr Martin van der Velde (Radboud University).

Source: NWO