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The "i am not a tourist" Expat Blog Competition
The "i am not a tourist" Expat Blog Competition
The international community in the Netherlands is fortunate to have a number of witty, informative, and even touching bloggers in our midst, people who make us laugh out loud, put into words observations we had made but never articulated, inform us about cultural practices that no one had explained, and occasionally even move us to tears with reflections on their lives.
To celebrate these individuals who add a little colour to our international experience, and bring us as expats a little closer together, Expatica has launched the "i am not a tourist" Expat Blog Competition, which will run until the "i am not a tourist" Expat Fair on 7 October.
"The "i am not a tourist" Expat Blog Competition is open to any blogs that post primarily on life in the Netherlands or observations on the Netherlands from an international's point of view.
You can nominate your own or someone else's blog below by filling out the required information. To help ensure that individuals do not repeatedly vote for a single nominee, there is a limit of one vote per email address.
The top three most voted for entries will be invited to do a public reading of their favourite posts at the 2012 edition of the "i am not a tourist" Expat Fair, with the winner being decided by popular vote on the day.
Expatica is pleased to announce that the winner of the "i am not a tourist" Blog Competition will be awarded a magnificent creative writing workshop with the fantastic (and suitably named) Amsterdam Writing Workshops!
Good luck to our entrants, and happy blogging!
UPDATE September 21: Due to the fact that the Fair is now just over two weeks away, we will not accept any more nominations after today. Thanks very much for your interest and keep the votes coming!
The nominees in the "i am not a tourist" Expat Blog Competition are:
103 WeeksEnd of Week 51: The Art of Hello
Abroad, a theatre formed by the familiar meeting the unfamiliar: people to people, people to places, even places to people. Learning of the other is necessary to carry on with conversations after that [read more] first exchange of tentative looks. Hello, I don’t think we’ve met. Each person only shares that chosen sliver of their personality. Some offering a larger piece right from the thick of it, sweeter and satisfying, while others, the absolute end of their personality loaf, a little cooled, somewhat toughened, and expectantly unflavorful. Like biting into a burnt cookie. That first taste – those first words and first inaudible exchanges - a lingering substance that unknowingly seeps into the relationship to come.
First hellos almost spring from a situational math determined by the variables of person, place, and time. For a visitor from friends or family, an immediate, acceptably goofy smile, as if from a memory, unabashfully leaps into a more malleable face. Willing to show any mood to someone known for a while and who then traveled for even more than a while to get to my apartment door, my now home. Let’s get your bags upstairs. This year, many first time visitors came to Amsterdam, happy after a nine-hour flight from the States not only to see something familiar amongst the brew of flying bikes and cobblestone roads but also to meet their dependable guide to clear the path. Their hello an enlivening attempt after an exhausting journey, usually unaware of the actual time or its facing direction.
Conversely, mine is more thought out. I’ve planned for their arrival, and brought out the needed sheets the night before. A towel this morning placed on the top. Our last Skype session got me thinking of the things difficult to say over an Internet connection; potential topics for when we finally meet in person. Ones drawn out during the last quarter of a long walk or in the middle of the main course at dinner. Wehavealottotalkabout resonates at the end of some of those first hellos. Somewhere between the “l” and the “o.”
The first hellos with a new acquaintance, however, slides out a little mechanical, one could say, in a prefabricated package. My first hello warm, but not too hot, casual, but not too cold. Composed to bear only the necessary to encourage the next steps of the conversation to, who knows - a new friendship with even a second hello. Oh hey, nice to meet you. My drink warming in my hand slightly in our first exchanges, and unintentionally, first assessments. As a not-so-much, but still, newbie, outings to cull the crowds of new acquaintances is still needed to garner a more comfortable network in this not so big, but still sizable, city. First hellos sometimes a result of last goodbyes with friends who moved to a nearby country or back to the States after their finite stay in Amsterdam. Fresh first hellos almost unheard of with the quick turn over that keeps people unfamiliar and Amsterdam unfamiliar with its people.
Storeowners, the ones who enliven city blocks with history, a dependable face amid the ever-changing inhabitants, deserve a different greeting. One that holds purpose in order to properly establish a presence in the store, and respect as a guest within their establishment. Goedemiddag! It’s important in the theatre abroad to subtly indicate ones lifespan within a city. Though still a temporary Amsterdamer, my ability to properly, and comfortably, greet and respond in Dutch signals away from the sometimes-assumed vacationer to a potentially frequent customer. My first hello truly a first impression in comparison to the other hellos, sometimes sharper and cleaner to let the shopkeeper continue with needed tasks, or open and questioning to converse away twenty minutes about, well, anything really, but usually the store. And Amsterdamers chat as much as they bike, with casual conversations natural and easy to come by.
Every first hello with a familiar, soon to be familiar, or the ones who keep the city familiar suggests conversations that will resonate beyond those initial seconds. Unspeakable conditions of comfort, interest, and even wavering thoughts signal future intentions and past goodbyes. Of course many first hellos were said before these, however this new set is more distinctive in its utility and commitment. The act of saying hello, especially with the variety of methods and languages available - people coming and going – is an art definitely worth practicing when living abroad.
A Flamingo in UtrechtFights and Bikes
I awoke early this morning to the sound of a couple having an argument down on the street below. They kept at it for quite a while and as a result of that, and one of my darling little cats doing her best to drive me [read more] crazy, I never fell back to sleep. As I lay awake pondering the various fights I've overheard on the street, I started thinking about the fact that it's harder to make an impressive exit from an argument when you have to bike off in a huff.
If you're leaving in a car, you can make a big show of slamming doors, revving engines and squealing tires as you speed away in a cloud of exhaust and tire smoke. Even if you're on foot, you can stalk away with your head held high, back ramrod straight.
But a bike. There's nothing dramatic about making an exit after a fight when you're on a bike. First, you probably have to unlock the thing. That's maybe the only drama you can whip up if you manage to pull the chain free with a dramatic flourish, but then you've still got to wrap the thing back up or dump it in your basket or saddle bags. Even once you're unlocked and on the bike, you can't really peel out of there. Almost everyone has a bit of a wobble on a bike as they get up to speed. The final ignominious moment comes when your old beat-up city bike starts making squeaking, rattling noises with every pedal, mocking you the whole way.
I think the only way to overcome this and maintain some face through the whole debacle is to simply shout invectives at the other person the entire time so that they have no time to burst into laughter at the ridiculousness of the whole situation. But if you do, stick to just one language. If you start combining languages, someone - even if only the foreigners you've woken up - will end up laughing at you.
There is plenty to get annoyed about in Amsterdam. We’re not different from any other big city. I could easily make a long list of the greatest Amsterdam annoyances – but as no one has asked me to come [read more] here in the first place I rather leave such a list to someone else. I could for example leave it to our local Amsterdam paper Het Parool (yes, I’m a subscriber) to make it – which they in fact have done in the latest edition of the paper. It makes interesting reading.
The idea of making the list in the first place was inspired by an incident in Amsterdam last Saturday. An unknown (not anymore) gay photographer was about to kiss his boyfriend on a square in the West of Amsterdam when a nearby snackbar owner (claiming not to be homophobic) intervened and asked them to stop it and to leave the square. Apart from ignoring the request to stop, the photographer got so annoyed about the interference in his love life that he decided to arrange a kis-in on the very same square, which actually attracted about 100 'kissers' last night (but that’s another story). Anyhow, now Het Parool has made a survey among the citizens to make a list of the 20 greatest annoyances in Amsterdam.
Greatest Amsterdam annoyances (most to least):
Men scratching their crotch
Men with naked torsos on terraces
Two men kissing
Topless (females) in the parks
Two women kissing
Men with naked torsos in the streets
Man and woman kissing
Two men holding each other intimately
Two women holding each other intimately
Man and woman holding each other intimately
Topless on the beach
Men walking hand in hand
Women walking hand in hand
Man and woman walking hand in hand
You can make your own conclusions about the list. Personally I’m very disappointed that ‘Scooters on pavement’, ‘Scooters on bicycle lanes’ ‘Bicycles on pavement’, ‘Dog shit on pavement’, ‘Late partying on balconies’, ‘Late partying with open windows’, ‘Littering’, ‘Putting rubbish out at any time’, ‘Talking in cinemas’, ‘Smoking (too much) cannabis’, ‘Smoking cigarettes everywhere’, ‘Drinking (too much) alcohol’, ‘Putting feet on train/tram/bus seats’ and ‘Loud mobile talk’ did not make the list. But as I’ve already mentioned no one asked me to come here in the first place, so I’m perfectly happy for others to compile a list of the greatest Amsterdam annoyances.
Amsterdam MamaNit pickin mama
I received the most horrifying email today. I received an email asking if I would like to be the official nit picker of Luca's pre-school class, or the aka in Holland as "The Luizenmoeder".
Yes, today "class [read more] parents" Chantal and Nadine kindly sent me just the sweetest email introducing themselves, mothers of Snotty Nose and I Don't Care, blah, blah and then graciously asking for volunteer help. It started off like a sip of Jaegermeister, nice and warm in the beginning with a vomit inducing ending.
Darling Chantal and Nadine just wanted to know if maybe I was interested in helping with parties, sportsday or the most popular volunteer job of class 1/2/C, picking through nappy pre-schooler hair looking for eggs.
Yes, Chantal and Nancy please sign me up for this job! I can't wait! Just in case my kids don't get the Lice, please let me pick through some strange child's crusty scalp so these bugs can crawl up my arm or jump (because you know they can jump up to 6 feet) into my hair. Please, I would love the experience.
First of all, I had to go around all day wondering WTF a "luizenmoeder" did in the class. I thought to myself, did I read this correctly? Litterally translated, it means a Lice Mother. Were they asking me if I was a mother to some lice? Or maybe if i could mother some lice? And I had no one to ask until after work when I was able to ask the daycare teachers. Yep, they needed a nit picker!
So, one could only imagine what was going through my head since I am certifiably psycho paranoid about my kids and/or especially myself, ever hosting these creatures. Not to mention my fear that the "new girl" in the class might be pressured into taking on such a task.
I would love to email back and say "Girls, in America we have nurses that do that sh#t!" But of course, I wouldn't want to give them the impression that I think I am too good for such a job (which I am), or God forbid, that I am a redneck (which of course I am, but still in the closet). I am sorry, I just don't see myself being the Lice Mother and not ending up in an institution. I am already shredding my scalp just writing about it.
Besides my mom used to always say to us growing up: You can pick your friends and you can pick your nose, but you can't pick your friend's nose. I think it should apply to Nits too !
AmsterdampWHAM! Brazilian Wax, Martini & Manicure
California Girl, Sexy Mama and Miss Thang decided to have a day out. They decided that it would be good to look good with the good weather and all.
It all started when Miss Thang proclaimed [read more] that one could find a Brazilian Wax in A'dam. For the record, I am personally not a big fan of waxing as I have super-duper ridiculously sensitive skin. (Once I had an upper lip wax which not only left me with a hideously disfiguring RASH for 3 weeks, but also left me riddled with the gripping fear that it would never go away.)
So, I clicked on the link Miss Thang sent me and was happily surprised at The Waxing Company's fun website. *Click on "onze menukaart" to see cute little pictures from which you (or yours) can choose your fate. Still, I wasn't totally convinced that it was the right thing for ME. "They don't use STRIPS!" insisted Miss Thang. I dared not think of what they used instead because from what I can tell from the pics they weren't leaving much behind whatever the technique. I forwarded the link to Sexy Mama and SHE LOVED IT. Yep, she loved it so much she said, "Let's make a day of it and go to Martini & Manicure as well!"
The Waxing Company
I figured that if I could survive THE WAX, then large quantities of strong cocktails would be in order. So, I agreed to the event, which we decided to call WMM! (pronounced WHAM!) in honor of the Full Brazilian, which some people I know were opting for.
Now, on the day before our WMM! event I learned that BOTH Miss Thang AND Sexy Mama had CANCELLED their appointments! WTF?! As if I were going to be the only one writhing in pain. "No, No, NO!" California Girl whined into the phone to Sexy Mama, who promptly cancelled ALL the wax appointments and changed the event title to "MMmmm", which sounded MUCH better and it was also fun to say. (By the way, Sexy Mama is REALLY good at event planning and social networking.)
Therefore, I cannot personally rate this treatment, but from what I can tell, Sexy Mama and Miss Thang don't seem to have any complaints and are repeat customers.
Bo5*: Martini & Manicure
*pronounced Bo Cinq
Every third Saturday of the month, Bo 5 hosts Martini & Manicure in their cocktail lounge. From what I gathered this is apparently a HOT SPOT in town, located in the heart of the Leidseplein area.
We entered Bo5 promptly at 14:30. It is very, very dark inside. (In fact, it was so very dark that California Girl was forced to take off her sunglasses.) The lounge is very retro cool and feels very night clubby. You can instantly imagine tête à têtes between flirty girls and buffed up guys while the music beats in the background. We, however, were the only patrons at that early hour, except for our 3 young female manicurists whom were enthusiastically awaiting our arrival.
We sat down and the cocktail menu arrived. MMmmm indeed. On offer:
Cosmopolitan (Vodka, Cranberry, Lime)
Raspberry Martini (Vodka Raspberry)
Bols Passion (Passionfruit/Jenever),
Grape Martini (Vodka, Grape and Chardonnay)
James Bond Martini (Shaken NOT Stirred)
Espresso Martini (Vodka, Khalua, Espresso)
Chocolate Love (Baileys, Frangelico, Cream and Chocolate Sauce)
Gays 'n Girls (Vanilla Stoli, Bols Apple, Tequila, Cream, Maple Syrup)
I had a Cosmo as usual and Sexy Mama had a Raspberry Martini and then Miss Thang engaged in a rather lengthy chat with the very handsomely sculpted BARTENDER about her alcohol-free Special Order. (Miss Thang LOVES to make Special Orders, which is how she got her name. Miss Thang likes to be Special.)
At one point I was wondering how the manicurists were able to do their work as it was definitely very dark for nail treatments (definitely better than the sterile glare of most places, but still HARD TO SEE.) They did have itsy bitsy teeny weeny blue laser lamps. (I personally find it scary to have people with sharp objects doing things to your person in the dark.) The cocktails arrived while we were all fussing about our nail colors (CG=neutral glimmering pink, SM=dark reddish black, MT=matte lavender). Miss Thang got a very delicious strawberry, basil, mint, cranberry concoction from THE BARTENDER which she SWORE didn't need alcohol. "Uh-huh," said California Girl, "W h a t - e v e rr" as she guzzled her Cosmo. "That is NOT a cocktail, that is a SMOOTHIE" she said in her "Miss Know it All" voice.
We spent the better part of the next hour gabbing and enjoying our manicures and cocktails. The young manicurists did a fine job, although we all felt that had they been able to see a bit better, they would have probably done a better job. There were a few little mistakes, but overall we had a FAB time.
What I enjoyed the most was sitting by the window on the canal entrance to Bo5, having MORE cocktails and letting our nails dry. Miss Thang did, of course, require another Special Order, which was fine as we were all able to gaze admiringly at THE BARTENDER while simultaneously slurping our drinks and licking our nails.
BlondebutBrightA Dutch-Spanish wedding
I recently attended a Dutch-Spanish family wedding in Limburg. Both sides are partly in-laws: my hubby's aunt married [read more] a Dutch guy back in the 70's. They produced two Dutch-Spanish children and raised them on Dutch soil. Last night, one of those kids - all grown up - married a Dutch woman. As this family has lived in Limburg their whole lives, they are quite Dutch. But the Spanish family is still Spanish, and many of them decided to take the trip up north to attend the wedding.
Confused? It's OK. It was a little bit confusing for everyone. Take the dress code, for example. We all arrived at the church and stood around waiting for the bride and groom. It was easy to figure out national origin, and I'm not talking about language or height differences. I'm talking about choice of attire. In my years of having a Spanish family, I've learned that they dress up for weddings. And when I say dress up, I mean dress up. I'm talking royalty wedding wear: hats, furs, heels and matching clutches. Beautiful fabric flowers in the women's hair. Smart suits for the men. It's breathtaking, and I've always felt a little bit under-dressed.
But once I saw the Dutch contingent, I felt better. Some of the men were wearing suits, and some of the women wore skirts or dresses. But the dresses were paired with everyday leather boots. And then I saw jeans. And more jeans. Then I started noticing sneakers. When we walked into the church and sat down, most of the Dutch opted to leave their coats on (it was cold, I'll give them that). And I'm not talking wool or cashmere. I'm talking multicolored windbreakers and puffy winter jackets. I'm no fashion queen but it was really kind of horrifying.
The ceremony was nice and partly bilingual. The only hitch was when a guest's mobile phone rang. The vocalist was in the middle of a beautiful rendition of Ave Maria, and she fought mightily to stay in tune against the loud and cheerful Nokia ring tone. She managed, and the bride and groom lit the unity candle without further interruptions.
It made sense that hardly anyone could communicate with each other. Dutch people don't usually speak Spanish, and Spanish people hardly ever speak Dutch. So there was just a handful of us that knew both languages and could facilitate some kind of understanding. For the first couple hours at the reception, I thought I was one of those people. Then, at dinner, one of the waiters came up to my entirely Spanish speaking table and started explaining the menu to me in Dutch. I couldn't understand him, so I asked him to switch to English. He began describing the entree: Seared duck liver with poached Anjou pears on the side, and creamed leeks with toasted walnuts over a red wine balsamic reduction. I shrugged my shoulders in defeat. "Es pato," I said weakly, then hubby jumped in with a slightly more complete translation.
Dancing (and alcohol) always lowers barriers. As the night wore on I watched a sizable minority of the Spanish guests enthusiastically join the conga line. But the most stunning example of cross cultural connection came in the form of a message delivered via ballpoint pen. We saw it the next morning at breakfast, when a Spanish cousin sheepishly pulled up her sleeve to reveal a message from a friend of the groom. The Dutch guy had scrawled his phone number on the inside of one of her arms, and on the other he had written "Ik vind je zoooooooo lekker!!"
Charming. Who knows? Maybe, someday soon, we'll have another one of these weddings.
ChadInAmsterdamConversations With The Dutch
The Dutch are a naturally curious and inquisitive people. One distinct characteristic of the Dutch is an interest in foreign people, cultures, politics and art. The Dutch have long been a cosmopolitan populace. [read more] As the former global leaders in trade, art, science and naval military during the 17th century, the Dutch have been intimately privy to the world around them for centuries. Foreigners within the Netherlands are welcomed and made to feel comfortable. It should be noted that the presence of foreigners will warrant the curiosity of the Dutch. The Dutch are very adept at identifying non-Nordic foreigners within the political boundaries of the Netherlands. Upon identifying a foreigner, there is a strong chance that a Dutch person will approach a foreigner for questioning. The Dutch are partial to communicating in a direct fashion and will often avoid pleasantries such as salutations and name enquiries. This is an accepted process of communication in the Netherlands and should not be taken with any offense. What will ensue will be a deluge of probing questions that will ultimately explain the foreigner's presence within the political boundaries of the Netherlands. Foreigners should not expect to counter with questions of their own until the conclusion of the Dutch person's inquisition. The following text is an example conversation with sample questions and suggested answers:
"You are from America?"
"Really? Where are you from?"
No. I'm kidding. I'm from the States.
"Where in the States are you from?"
I'm from Cleveland.
"Cleveland? Where is that at?"
To the left of New York City.
"Is it nice in Cleveland?"
Yeah. It's like, the most beautiful place, like, ever. Your life won't be complete until you go and eat a Polish Boy.
"You are here on holiday?"
No. I live here.
"Really? You live in Amsterdam?"
I really do.
"Where in Amsterdam do you live?"
I live in the North.
"Why would you want to live in the North?"
It's not so bad. The ferry ride is quite cathartic.
"What made you move to the Netherlands?"
Weed and hookers. Just kidding. I moved here for school.
"Where did you study?"
At the UvA. Sorry, I probably mispronounced that.
"What did you study at the UvA?"
I studied American Studies.
"You studied American Studies in Holland?"
"Isn't that pretty patriotic of you?"
Not really. I wanted to learn what other folks think of America.
"Did you find out what we think of America?"
Yes. You guys think we're all stupid, fat and devoid of culture.
"What do you do here in the Netherlands for money?"
Sell my body.
"Do you make much money selling your body?"
I'm considering a career change.
"Do you speak Dutch?"
"How long have you been in the Netherlands that you do not speak any Dutch?"
Two and a half years. How much time does the Dutch government give me to learn it?
"Do you ride a bike?"
No. I shipped my 1993 Eddie Bauer edition Ford Explorer over. Bike riding is for hipsters. Of course, I ride a bike.
"What do you think about us Dutch?"
I don't have enough time to answer that question sufficiently. Y'all aight.
"It is better living here than in America, no?"
I wouldn't say that. It's different.
Courageous or CrazyRidin' Solo
We spent our first few months finding dog sitters, dog groomers, babysitters, daycare, where to buy paint, trash cans, ant killer, rugs, Duraflame-like lighters so I could stop using matches to light my stove, birthday [read more] candles, kids clothes, light bulbs, lamps, a toaster, a mop, and a vacuum cleaner.
Finally, my last and final frontier to step over into the world of the Dutch service sector: a hairdresser. It seems simple, enough, but it is not. My friend who lives in Germany is terrified of getting her hair cut. She admits that she nearly cries through the hour and a half ‘trim’ as she sees her hair becoming shorter and shorter with each visit. Another friend here in The Netherlands told me a story of highlights-gone-wrong. It took at least 3 tries to fix the disaster and she explained that last years summer’s pictures were just all, well, not cute. To sum it up, an international hairdresser is a BIG deal.
My hairdresser at home: he’s my college roommate’s uncle, but he treats me as if we were family. He went to my college graduation. He took me from brunette to blonde years ago and we’ve never looked back. He performed miracles for me and my bridesmaids’ hair when the Louisiana 100% humidity was upon us on my wedding day. This man has heard countless dramatic stories about work, love, family, and friends as I sit in his chair. This man knows me. He also understands that I default to him. I’m a CPA and I’m okay with that. HE is the hair professional. I sit in his chair and say “Oh, whatever you feel like today, just make me look pretty,” and he does.
I peruse the Expat website and find that there’s a hairdresser highly recommended in Haarlem, a town outside of Amsterdam. In April, 3 months after my beloved last visit to Uncle Oscar in Dallas (and probably at least a few weeks overdue for my roots), my husband makes me an appointment and we drive the 30 minutes to Haarlem on Good Friday, the kids in the backseat.
We’re already running late because, well, we have two kids under two and then the GPS tries to direct us down a street that has been blocked off as pedestrian only. I’m starting to stress as we maneuver the car through a market and I realize there’s no hope of getting any closer via vehicle.
This is it. I kiss him goodbye and with little piece of paper in hand, I jump out of the car while memorizing his verbal directions as the horns honk on the cobblestone road behind us. I high-tail it through the market and pedestrian footpaths and I find it: Toni and Guy, my destination. I open the door, flustered and 15 minutes late. The concrete steel grey interior of the salon is bathed in an industrial light, and every employee is dressed in black. I am SO out of my element. I tell the receptionist my name, apologize for my misunderstanding of the pedestrian-only streets and she leads me to my chair. She kindly asks if I’d like something to drink, perhaps a tea or cappuccino, and I nod a thank you and pick out a tea bag from a large wooden case. I am introduced to the woman who is in charge of the highlights. She’s tall with dark flowy hair, dark eyes, and bright red lipstick. She is Dutch and speaks superb English. In her Dutch (direct) way, she tells me that we will have to hurry because I was late. I apologize again and explain the GPS mishap, but she is less impressed than the receptionist, who didn’t seem to mind too much. I mention that I had gotten her name off of an Expat message board and she admits that she had a lot of Expat clientele. “Oh yes, I’ve seen all SORTS of horrible circumstances come through that door. Horrible. It’s amazing what some of these Dutch hairdressers will do. But I fix all their problems,” she says, with a wave of her hand. “You are used to highlights using foil, correct?” she asks me. I’m still processing the ‘horrible circumstances’ comment, but manage to mumble a ‘yes, foil” in confusion. What are the other options? Reading my mind, she explained that some Dutch hairdressers use a “board.” I don’t know what that means. And I don’t really care to find out. This girl, whether intentional or not, is dishing out a scare tactic, ensuring herself some long-term job security, and I’m buying it hook, line, and sinker. She continues, “What type of shampoo do you use?” I swallow. Oh goodness. This is a trick question that I don’t even know enough to be able to lie and give a good answer. At home, I used Toni and Guy, actually. But I haven’t seen Toni and Guy products since I’ve been here, not even in this Toni and Guy salon. I panic and just tell her the truth. “Dove,” I mumble. She frowns. “Well, you know, you have to be careful with those products. They can strip away your highlights,” she says tactfully.
I sip my tea and I miss Oscar. I miss the fact that he knows I’m going to be 10 minutes late for every appointment I make, and will always show up to his salon panicked and apologetic. He doesn’t ask me silly guilt-ridden questions about my grooming habits; he’d rather know what the latest gossip is. I miss the fact that I know where his salon is and it doesn’t require a 15-minute sprint down cobblestone roads. He gives me a glass of wine when I arrive. After the highlights and the rinse (another girl is in charge of the hair rinsing process), I am introduced to the person in charge of haircutting. I’m starting to feel like a Chipotle burrito or something. But I don’t doubt. If this is what it takes to avoid hair-disaster in this country, okay. She’s an American and she has a voice of a yoga instructor. I ask her suggestions of what to do when my family visits Paris and she says she could spend days in the Louve, just looking at art. I giggle at this, thinking of spending hours on end at a museum, just breathing in the beauty and swallowing the information around me. It is clear. None of these people have children. I don’t even think they know a child. I used to be oblivious, too. But seeing as this is the longest I’ve been out of my house by myself since I had arrived here, the out-of-my-element-feeling-continues-to-rise.
I ponder briefly about the professional career I left in the U.S. but yet how vulnerable I feel now in a strange country without a stroller in tow. I shake myself out of my daze. Her voice is soothing and beautiful, and in the end, she makes my hair look and feel fabulous. I’m pleased with the result and buy a ridiculously expensive bottle of shampoo on my way out.
Two months later, it’s time for another visit. V makes me another appointment and this time, I’m going to take the train. I’d taken the train in The Netherlands by myself when we had visited years ago. I’ve even ridden the train in Paris and Tokyo solo when I worked at AA. Now that we live here, sometimes I feel like a version of myself that's been Xeroxed too many times. You can see the outline and know it used to be sharp and clear, but now, well, it’s just a little grey and there’s some dust in the picture.
V writes down the times for the train and the platform. I walk briskly over to the station and as I approach the top step of platform 5a, the 10:28 train pulls away. That’s okay. Geez, it looks as if it’s only 10:26, according to the clocks, I wonder if they’re running a little early. V had written the next train, just in case, which would still get me to Haarlem with time to spare. I needed to catch the 10:42 train. A train pulled up at 10:38. Oh good, this must be it. I jump on, proud of myself for being proactive and I sit. I brought a book, but I’m too anxious to read it so I just look out the window. I pass through fields of farmland but the peaceful countryside does little to calm my nerves. I have only ridden the train a handful of times since we’ve been here, and unlike most subways, there are no announcements or maps above the doors for you to track your progress. I start to panic when I see the Kyocera building. This doesn’t look right. Finally, finally, a voice comes on and says – Amsterdam Schiphol Airport in both Dutch and English. My heart drops. My mind is thinking and saying things it shouldn’t. I took the wrong train. I’m at the freakin’ airport! Oh no. This is bad, bad, bad, bad.
I exit the doors and am met with crowds upon crowds of people. I rush up the stairs and am met with more crowds of people. I’ve been doing yoga for a week straight but my chi is no longer centered, rather, it has exploded into a billion pieces and has been scattered all over the universe. It’s 11:02 and my appointment is at 11:20. I am SO upset. “Get Celeste a cell phone” had been on our list of Things To Do for months. I had one in the states, but I needed a new phone and plan here. There are a million reasons why we just hadn’t gotten one yet, but at that moment they all seemed pretty weak. My husband had written the salon number on my piece of paper, but it was hardly helpful without a phone. I see myself from above, a tiny wandering speck of confusion in this large, industrial type airport. I am trying to find a ticket desk, an information booth, a payphone, anything. There are so many people and nothing is clearly labeled, it takes me forever to find a smidgen of help.
I finally find and race over to the train map and although it’s completely confusing, I see a small red and white striped line between AMS and Haarlem, complete with a tiny man with a construction hat on. Fabulous. The direct route, which looks like it’s the distance of a centimeter, is under construction. I’m panicking because I know the salon is going to call my husband’s cell phone. No one is going to know where I am and to top it all off, these Toni and Guy girls are never going to want to see me again and I’m going to have horrible hair for the next two years.
I’m about to cry, but the tears just won’t come. The Me Party I’d been looking forward to for weeks – the Me Party where my husband gave me some money, kissed me goodbye and told me to have a good time - the Me Party where I have the day to myself, got a fabulous haircut and strolled around the women’s clothing stores at my own leisure, was gone. All the attendees for the Me Party had gotten lost. I race around and find an information booth. With my biggest sorority girl smile and confidence, I walk up and ask, “Could you please tell me how to get to Haarlem?” (I’m sure I even added a head nod in there) The printer is having trouble printing my directions. She’s humming and tapping on the machine. The people behind me start to get impatient, “Excuse me, may I ask you a question while you’re waiting for that to print?” they ask anxiously. Her smile flips upside down. “NO!” She shouts. “NO you may not! You may not ask me a question, I am waiting on HER.” It was nice. Thank you, fake flag-girl smile, or rather. . . maybe she just likes doing that to people because she can. Dutch authorities are confusing to me.
I get my directions. I have to connect to get to Haarlem. I’m not scheduled to arrive there until 11:42, and then, it’s probably a 10 minute walk from the station to the salon. I race around and discover the long-abandoned pay phone booths. I frantically start shoving Euro coins into the machine and dial the Toni and Guy number. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong, but a Dutch recording is playing. Apparently this lady is very pleasantly explaining to me that the stupid phone is just going to eat every coin I feed it while refusing to connect my call. Cha-Ching! The phone eats 3 or 4 Euros before I decide it is pointless.
I feel so defeated, alone, and confused. I’m about to give up. I want to go home and be doomed to highlights gone wrong for the next two years, but I don’t even know what train to take to give up and go home. I’m not going to stand in the information line again. I decide to take the train to Haarlem and try to save face. I’ll walk to the Toni and Guy and apologize. I have the scene in my head: “I’m sorry, I know there’s nothing you can do for me today, but I apologize for wasting your time, it was not my intention.” And then I just walk out. I don’t know if there’s a penalty fee for canceling on an appointment. I hope not. But yes. That’s what I’m going to do.
I arrive at Toni and Guy 40 minutes after my original appointment. The salon is almost empty, unlike my previous visit. I deliver the script and to my surprise, they take pity. Well, at least the American does. They say they can fit me in and they call my husband (whom they had called previously) and told him I was okay. I endure the typical small talk questions such as “So, how are you adjusting to the country?” as if it wasn’t obvious that I’m struggling, and more tedious personal hygiene habits questions. The Dutch highlights lady seemed pleased with my response to the “How do you blow dry your hair?” and she had already given me the appropriate response last time to “How often do you wash your hair?”
I arrived safely and without drama back to Leiden and later that evening, we biked the family over to the shopping district to comparison shop the cell phone options. 6:30 p.m. was hardly the ideal time, but Thursdays are the only evening the shops are open past 5, Saturdays they are a zoo, and Sunday they are closed. As I fed my children their dinner in the stroller, my husband negotiated with the salesmen and we left with a cell phone and plan. The rain started to pour as we attached the stroller to my bike. My perfectly and expensively styled hair-do didn’t even last 3 hours. As I pedaled home, squinting through the raindrops, I decided that perhaps, it was time to go back to my natural hair color. I’m looking forward to my visit to Oscar in Dallas during the holidays. I think he can help me. So if you see photos of me in 2013, don’t be surprised at the brunette looking back at you. I’m not sure if blondes have more fun in The Netherlands, anyway.
DrieCulturenMeet Rebecca, an expat raising trilingual kids in the Netherlands
By chance I met Rebecca. Well actually we met through Marktplaats. It's a website on which one can buy and sell things. I was the buyer. Rebecca comes from Texas, [read more] lives in the Netherlands and together with her German-Italian husband she is raising two trilingual daughters here (16 and 14 years old). I would say that her girls are real cross cultural kids. I was interested in her experience. Rebecca writes a blog: http://signalsminusnoise.blogspot.com/
Twenty four years ago Rebecca moved to the Netherlands with her husband. Both her daughters were born here.
Where’s home for your daughters? This question comes up a lot. They have done “Home country” projects at school. When my youngest daughter had to make a map of her home country city, she did a map about Dusseldorf, where her grandparents live. When it was a project on the climate of your home country showing rivers etc she choose to do a map of Texas (so that’s a home too). There is no one answer for kids that are brought up this way. Home ends up being something you carry in yourself, both girls are at home in Texas, where their cousins, granny, and the lake house are. The Netherlands is home too. Germany is where the German grandparents and other paternal relatives are so it is home too. We were there every Christmas, Easter and part of every summer. The basement at their grandparents' home was their playground.
The downside of it is that they don’t have a fixed home, they don’t have deep cultural ties, they don't have the deep roots to any of these places, but they do have a connection. My home is Texas. They will not miss their house in the Netherlands like I miss mine in Texas. If we went to Portugal that would be a home for them too. In some ways they miss some of that. They will never have that patriotic aspect. They will never get tears in their eyes with any national anthem. My husband has a tie to the Germanic culture, it gives him pride in his country. The girls don't have any of that kind of connection or loyalty, but instead they have flexibility and a less judgmental attitude.
What languages do you speak in the home?
I spoke only English to the children, my husband spoke only German, they were raised in a Dutch creche from 7 months of age. Until the age of 5 the children had full choice about which language they wanted to answer, it was usually Dutch. Then they were encouraged to speak English back to me, German to to their dad, usually they communicated Dutch to each other. They were trilingual from the beginning.
They both changed from a Dutch school to an international school when the oldest was 10 years of age. She was furious. Her thought processes were in Dutch. Understanding English was no problem, input was fine but she had to think about it in Dutch and translate it to English to answer. It slowly switched over. It's harder for me to switch from one language to the other I make more mistakes.
Do you have some concluding words?
The most important thing to deal with about third culture kids or cross cultural kids is that there is nothing that you can do that can make their experience like yours. Be flexible, see what fits your kids, adapt to what comes a long. For example our daughters celebrated the Indian Diwali festival in the international school. You may not be able to understand some of the things they are going through but there are compensations in lots of different ways.
Thank you Rebecca for sharing your experience. You had so much to tell me so this is just part one and part two will follow soon. We will compare growing up in Texas with growing up in the Netherlands next time.
What's your experience? Where's home for you or for your kids? Do you have experience with raising trilingual kids? Or with raising cross cultural kids? Please share your stories with us.
Dutch AustralianTwo months today
I’ve just realised that it’s two months today since we left our “old” life in Australia and began our “new” one in The Netherlands. It feels more like a year.
You can follow the earlier [read more] part of our journey on a day by day basis under Life in The Netherlands. Thanks to all of you who have taken the time to comment, it’s been really lovely to have family, old friends and new friends following our journey. Apologies posts stopped rather abruptly once we moved into our new place and had to wait a month for the internet to be connected! But I’m pleased to say it is possible for me to survive (a short period of time!) without the internet and I’m happy to now be back online and blogging again.
Both my husband and I had just commented earlier today that we’re starting to feel a little “normal” again. Is quite a nice feeling – kind of like being lighter and able to think more clearly. I think it’s because the pieces of our life are now falling into place. Well…falling into place is perhaps the wrong expression, as that suggests things happening without too much effort. Settling into life in a new country takes a LOT of time, effort and money. Not to mention patience and courage. The last two months have been perhaps the hardest in my life – leaving family, friends, a great job, a growing business, a nice car, and much more behind….and starting almost from scratch.
Look around you, regardless of whether you have recently moved countries or have been in one place all your life. Every piece of your current life – from your house, car, job, friends, school for your children, cupboards, internet connection, pots, pans…EVERYTHING really takes time, effort and money to establish.
Apart from perhaps something you’ve bought recently, or new people you may have just met, most things are comfortable and familiar. In much of your day to day life you may even operate on auto pilot. You know which brands and products to choose for your favourite meals at the grocery store, you are in a routine with your family and/or job, you know how to get around, you feel your children are safe and happy. Now imagine that you are going to walk out of your life with pretty much just a suitcase and go to the other side of the world. Have you done this? Could you do this?
I’ve actually done this several times now. And I’m fortunate in many ways. The Netherlands isn’t a totally new country for me. I lived here from 2003-2007 and still have some friends here, a rapidly returning command of the Dutch language and my husband’s family is very supportive. Many of the things that are most special to me are still with me daily – and I appreciate them all the more. My husband (who was the one who drove this move – he was homesick for The Netherlands and wanted to pursue job opportunities), my children (aged 5 & 3 who are amazingly adaptable) and though I am almost embarrassed to put it in the same sentence with precious family relationships of this calibre….my iphone, iPad, MacBookPro and digital SLR as well!
However there is also a constant sense of loss. My family and many of my closest friends are far, far away and my old life simply doesn’t exist anymore. Our house in Australia has sold, my old role at work has been taken on by others, aspects of my business are in limbo. Mostly, I’ve just been trying to get through each day and not look too far ahead.
When I look back though, we’ve achieved an incredible amount in the last 2 months. I think it’s important for me to perhaps stop and reflect on this:
We searched for, found and rented a lovely place I almost feel like I can call “home”My husband was successful in finding and starting a job he feels is a good career move and enjoys (and has already been on a work trip to the UK)We have a new (second hand) carOur 5 year old has started school, has just finished week 3 and is loving itOur 3 year old began “peuterspeelzaal” 3 mornings a week and also enjoying itHave managed to figure out how to book our 5 year old into TSO (staying over at school for lunch!).I’ve reconnected with old friends here and made some new onesWe’ve organised our health care and insurances and other various paperwork!Have applied for, waited ages for, complained about this (in Dutch!) and finally been connected at home with the internet, tv & telephoneMy new moederfiets has done LOTS of kilometres already and despite a few falls (and even spraining my ankle and spending my birthday not able to walk!), I’m taking the kids to and from school daily on my bike.Though I’m not likely to be the best teacher, I’ve been out giving my girls daily bike riding lessons and they are getting lots better (though still have training wheels). I’ve also taught them to think twice before stepping out in front of other people’s bikes, in front of trams and traffic etc!I’ve introduced myself to neighbours and have some potential play datesHave found some awesome bargains via Marktplaats and also been a regular at IKEA and our house is almost fully furnishesNegotiated the process for importing our belongings and have our shipment from Australia unpacked (well it’s all in piles everywhere but it’s unpacked!)We’ve experienced and thoroughly enjoyed some lovely local events such as Biesland Dagen and Taptoe DelftI’ve started participating in some wonderful and very supportive expat groups such as Delft MaMa and Connecting WomenWe’ve celebrated mine, my daughters and other birthdays and events with friends and family and have spent quality time together.Have been searching for possible jobs that can fit around my family commitments and am looking into restarting my business here.I learnt how to lay vinyl flooring and did most of our new house myself!
That’s not even an exhaustive list! Overall, many things that I took for granted in my “old life” felt like a struggle in my “new life” but it is getting easier. I know I post mostly lovely photos on Facebook of our new life here but want to be honest and say it has been incredibly hard work. There have been some days where I’ve simply felt like crying for most of the day. If I could have somehow magically returned to my “old” life I think I would have taken this option. It’s been a huge strain on myself, and even my personality and marriage, but I’m grateful we’re getting through and I think this whole experience is going to make me super strong! I still feel this has been the best decision for our family at this point in our lives. It’s fantastic to watch how incredibly adaptable my girls are. I’m proud of how much we have achieved so far as a family and am starting to feel I could be happy here. I’m certainly going to give it a huge attempt and think I’m off to a pretty good start…but am taking tomorrow off!
Invading HollandThe Dutch Circle Party Guide
Anyone who has lived in Holland for any length of time has most likely encountered a Dutch circle party and those who have not will eventually, it is inevitable. A Dutch circle party (the name is not [read more] a euphemism) can be best described as a ‘party’ that involves sitting in a circle all afternoon and chatting while drinking tea and eating cake. Anyone who only considers a party to be a party if someone is passed out in the corner, people are making out in the kitchen and the cops have been called at least three times is going to be sorely disappointed.
When attending a Dutch circle party it is important to know that when other attendees shake your hand and announce ‘Gefeliciteerd’ they are not introducing themselves. It might start to seem like you are being introduced to a very big family or that Gefeliciteerd is a more common name than Smith but they are in fact wishing you, “congratulations”.
“Stuart. Nice to meet you Mr and Mrs Gefeliciteerd.”
This is because it is custom for the Dutch to congratulate everyone at the party and (as I discovered) is not because they are unsure about who the birthday boy or girl is (don’t try to be helpful by pointing).
Once you have successfully found a place to sit with in the circle (not necessarily with the people you arrived with and most likely with people you don’t know at all) you will be offered a drink and some cake. If you desire a drink with a little extra kick it is advisable to secretly conceal a hip flask of alcohol about your person since the strongest thing to be served at most Dutch circle parties is chamomile tea.
It is also custom for there to be a minimum of 3 or 4 generations of family present at a Dutch circle party (the maximum limit is only set by the average human life span). This makes it entirely possible to go from a conversation about life as a member of the Dutch resistance during World War 2 to which Sesame Street character is best and why (It’s best to avoid getting these two conversations mixed up, Dora the Explore was never part of the Dutch resistance).
However, since a lot of these conversations will be in Dutch and thus impossible for a non-Dutch speaker to follow it is best to find something of interest to do to pass the time such as; staring at a wall, listening to the clock tick, trying to guess how much Dutch ‘worst & kaas’ you can eat or simply going to your happy place.
However, you must also stay alert! As a non Dutch speaker it is possible to go from being unintentionally ignored to suddenly having the entire room focus upon you within a split second as everyone waits silently for your answer to a question that you might not have heard because you were too busy watching a bug crawl across the window. This can happen because a Dutch attendee simply wanted to practice their English, ask you what brought you to Holland or simply know the current prices of the UK housing market. Whatever the reason, everyone in the room suddenly wants to hear the English speaker talk and they never seem to realize what a shock to the system this sudden intimidating attention can be or that testing us on our Dutch under the watchful eye of a room full of native speakers is not necessarily the most comfortable of situations.
But do not worry. Most Dutch circle parties have a set end time at a very respectable hour which the host or hostess will politely remind you of by starting to clean up around you.
Life with a Double BuggyWhat If My Kids Had Been Born in England?
I've been thinking. How different would my children already be if they had been born in England instead of the Netherlands. So, instead of three little Dutch boys with a British mother, [read more] they were three little English boys with a Dutch father.
The most obvious different is that their first language would be English, and not Dutch which is the case with my eldest. My school going 5 year old speaks better Dutch than English (whereas it was the other way round when he was a toddler because he was home with me) and now has a Dutch accent when speaking English. In England, they would not currently be bilingual.
But what about culture things? Or experiences? How would they be different if my children had been born and raised in England?
Well they certainly wouldn't have eaten sprinkles on their bread had they been born and raised in England. They wouldn't have eaten so many pancakes, and certainly not under the label of "dinner". They probably would have a better selection of healthier meal choices (read not everything fried with chips) whenever we eat out had we been living now in England.
My boys would know what a crumpet was without a lengthy explanation about a bread type thing with holes in it. Scones would be second nature. Hot cross buns at Easter time would be taken as a fact and Christmas crackers wouldn't be such a novelty.
Had they been British born, they wouldn't have had such a fine collection of orange shirts between them. They wouldn't have a clue what a Beesie was, seen an orange German helmet or seen a prince throwing an orange toilet. I can't imagine I will live to see the day that Prince Charles takes part in a toilet pot throwing competition, and I guess the real question is this: why on earth would he?
They wouldn't have scouted around flea markets on Queen's Day. Sinterklaas would have stayed a stranger.
None of my kids would have experienced being transported around on the front or back of my bike as past age eleven I cannot even remember owning a bike in England, let alone thinking about ferrying kids around on one.
Jip and Janneke would be an unknown couple. Dikkie Dik would never have become a familiar feline face and Nijnte would be called Miffy. They would have grown up with the bird on Sesame Street coloured yellow going by the name of Big Bird, instead of a blue bird called Pino.
My eldest would probably be wearing a school uniform (thus saving the knees on his day to day trousers) and I would likely be transporting him to and from school in a car. In England, he also wouldn't have already been a fully fledged member of the local junior school at the tender age of four.
They would be addressing their teacher as Miss Smith instead of Juf Nicole if they were in the English education system and they would be unlikely to see their teacher in jeans unless on a school trip.
I'm going out on a limb to say that I assume my sons would not be so exposed to poop humour in England as they are in the Netherlands. They would know the voices of famous actors such as Tom Hanks from watching children's films in their original language, instead of Dutch dubbing which is (rightly) used for kid's programs. They would never have heard of Bumba, K3 or Kabouter Plop. They would never have seen Charlie and Lola speaking Dutch or Makka Pakka singing in Dutch.
If my boys had been born and were being raised in England, they would most certainly know what a real hill looked like. As it is they think a speed bump is "high".
For my little Dutch boys an old, traditional windmill is commonplace, not something special. If they had lived in Watford like I did, a windmill sighting wouldn't be a weekly occurrence.
I am not convinced my eldest would have already had ice skates on and been on natural ice had we been an "English" family.
As my boys are still only little, there are lots more things we will come to experience that will make their lives here in the Netherlands different to the one they would lead in England. Some are positives (after all, Dutch children are the happiest in Europe), and a few are negatives.
But sometimes I wonder what impact being born in England would really have had on their lives, their personalities, their youth, their memories of growing up. Would their lives have taken a different path? It's an interesting train of thought!
like a spongeWe are missionaries of gezelligheid
The idea of time being cyclical is beginning to make more sense to me. It’s nice to see things coming back again but to experience them slightly differently each year. To experience them [read more] each year with an added layer of the experience of the previous year.
This is good when it comes to nice things like tadpoles, lambs and elderflowers.
However, this cyclical view of time also means that before you know it the bad things are on you again.
Like purple rhododendrons.
Or even worse: the avondvierdaagse when it feels like only yesterday that I was grouching about it and going to husband ‘maar waarom doen jullie dat?’
Then I have a sudden flash of enlightenment and I understand the avondvierdaagse better than I did last year: I just need to see it in terms of gezelligheid.
I hadn’t understood it in these terms because my approach to going for walks is different. My approach is ‘let’s go to the woods to get away from everyone’ whereas here it’s ‘let’s all go to the woods together for some gezelligheid‘. It’s finding a different location to be gezellig; it’s crowd-seeking; it’s all going out for a walk together because you might seem weird if you went on your own; it’s bringing gezelligheid to all corners of the land.
We are missionaries of gezelligheid. There will be no ungezelligd territory. On Dutch maps of yore it doesn’t say ‘here be dragons’ for unchartered territory: it says ‘here be ongezelligheid’.
Yesterday morning daughter woke up coughing and I hoped it would get us out of having to walk in the evening. Daughter made a miraculous recovery though when she remembered that you take sweets with you.
I do have to make a confession here though. I enjoyed it this year. It didn’t seem as far as previous years. It didn’t rain, although I’m sure it will the rest of the week, and I had some nice chats with other parents. I might even venture as far as saying it was gezellig.
Marco Borsato was playing when we got back to the start. Maybe in years to come I will even come to understand the attraction of Marco Borsato.
MissNeriss2011, AKA "The Rollercoaster"
I can’t believe that Christmas is upon us. In a couple of days I’ll be sitting down to feast after feast, coming down from a post present opening frenzy. I received a gorgeous letter [read more] from my great aunt today, with all the news of her year, and it made me reflect on everything that has happened in my own life this year.
It’s been a year of the lowest lows and the highest possible highs. I’ve been to places I never thought I would get to and seen some of the most spectacular sights imaginable. Here’s how it panned out...
I welcomed in the new year with Maarten and friends, watching the neighbourhood fireworks display (as it’s legal to buy fireworks in the weeks leading up to New Year), then on New Year’s Day, Maarten braved the infamous New Year’s Dive. This year they had cut a hole in the ice and he had to jump in and climb out of the frozen swimming pool. We then went home and celebrated with the family by eating Oliebollen and Boerenkool and I made my epic “Ik kom klaar” comment to the grandparents.
January marked the first of our new years resolution trips abroad - to Ghent which I loved and then February we made the trip to Berlin. I was lucky enough to visit the Berlin Zoo and see poor Knut only a few weeks before he died. March was Carnaval in Maastricht and a trip of a lifetime to Prague.
Through all of this I was noticing some strange happenings within my body, so went to have a check up in Early April, only to find out that I returned a very serious result in a PAP smear, which in turn resulted in an even more serious outcome after a biopsy - severe dysplaysia and surgery pretty much ASAP. This was the absolute low point for me this year (perhaps even my life so far). Before I knew what was going on I was terrified. Of course when confronted with cancer it’s perfectly normal to freak out somewhat, but I think it was the shock that was the hardest to deal with. Once I had all the information and knew the worst case scenario (a hysterectomy), I could manage and get on with it.
Then, not only was I dealing with the fallout of this news, literally the day before my scheduled surgery, I found out that I was pregnant with Inky. We then had to dash to the doctor to find out what happens next, and the specialist and oncologist were adamant that the surgery had to progress, it just wasn’t safe to put it off until after the baby was born. So, we rescheduled, and I went under the knife in August.
In the mean time, we were still persisting with our monthly trips abroad. In May we went to Madrid and Segovia, which was probably one of the best trips we made this year. Segovia was magical with its startling skyline and Madrid was just one of the most amazing cities in Europe.
June took us to Normandy and the stunning Mont St Michel via Le Somme World War I battlefields, Vainstream and Hurricane music festivals and the pregnancy bombshell.
In July we (and I mean Maarten’s dad) renovated our bathroom. It was such a tiring time. All I wanted to do was sleep, but had to push through and at least pretend I was contributing to the effort! Our trip abroad was also a bit half-arsed. We didn’t have the time or the spare money, so we dashed across the border to Aachen for a schnitzel before celebrating a friend’s birthday in Maastricht. So it still counted!
August saw me taking the train to Paris to meet my oldest friend Fleur, which was just the coolest day ever. Two girls from Avenue Range living it up in Paris, munching on macarons and sipping champagne. It was such a highlight. The day after I came home from Paris I checked into the hospital for the surgery and then a couple of weeks later was given the all-clear. No cancer and they had been able to cut it all out.
September was holiday month. We booked a ten day trip to Crete and it was just wonderful. We stayed just outside Hersonissos and made the island our own. Maarten surprised me with an early Christmas present on the second last day - a trip to Santorini! Sadly one day just isn’t enough to appreciate it and I just can’t wait to go back.
By the time October rolled around I was really starting to feel my pregnancy. Tiring easily and trying not to be too much of a dragon (that is sometimes a losing battle!). For our weekendje weg, we went to Antwerpen, which is a beautiful city, just an absolute bitch to get around/into. Driving the ring road is like running a gauntlet, you just never know when your number’s up. Getting into the city itself is just as big a nightmare. A maze of one way systems and no parking (obviously an exaggeration). Once you’re in, it’s wonderful though. The train station is listed as one of the top five most beautiful stations in the world and the city is just lovely to try and get lost in. But the traffic was just way too stressful for me, and I don’t want to go back.
In November I realised that my pregnancy was just flying by - I cracked the third trimester! Inky has been growing and making herself known all the time. Our second last trip was to Barcelona - an absolute flying city visit. We saw the high points and enjoyed Siesta and then came home again. It was a taster really, but enough for me to well and truly fall in love with the city and start dreaming of a return trip.
It was also about this time that my body started to pack up on me. A mad dash to the hospital (seriously, I’ve been there so often this year I must be on their Christmas card list) saw me kept in for a couple of days for observation and the decision was made by the doctors that I had to stop working, the stress was just too much and I was at risk of going into premature labour. At twenty nine weeks, was the last thing I wanted to hear, so since then I’ve been ensconced on my couch day in day out, with only the occasional trip out the door to run errands.
At first I thought I would go a bit mad, but now I’m used to it and am starting to like it. You’d think that because I’m home all day the house would be spotless, the washing and ironing would be done and I’d be well up to date on current affairs, but no! Inky’s bedroom however, is ready for its new tenant and I spend quite a bit of time in there just marvelling at the idea of a baby moving in in about seven weeks from today. Seven weeks!
Today I’m sitting down preparing for Christmas. All the presents are wrapped and under the tree and I’m menu planning for our Boxing Day feast. It’s also our last child-free Christmas and I just know that Christmases from now on are going to be so different and much more fun.
I can’t wait for 2012 to get cracking. One of my dearest friends is coming from Australia and will celebrate New Year with us, my mum arrives in about three weeks time and Inky could appear at any moment. Then my dad is coming in March. 2012 is going to be the best year ever.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
My Bump and GrindThere's No Place Like Home
The learning curves of a first pregnancy are not unlike those of settling into a new country of residence (and I should know, because I’m going through both things right now). Both require the quick [read more] absorption of important knowledge, the challenging of previously held opinions and perspectives, and the letting go of the little things you take for granted in life -- the ways you think you know how things work.
Sometimes what’s at stake is relatively small and yet disproportionately inconveniencing, like the day I popped out to the grocery store for some baking soda, only to be sent off on a frustrating trek that ended in a pharmacy, where such chemicals are sold in the Netherlands. These incidents catch you off guard, whereas you anticipate the larger differences, like banking systems and mortgages.
There are clear differences between the Netherlands and the US when it comes to health care. In the Netherlands, medical coverage is paid for by the state until the age of 18, at which point every resident must purchase private insurance. But the packages are generous and affordable, and insurance companies are not allowed to deny coverage to anyone, nor charge higher premiums based on age or existing conditions. Health care Shangri-la!
And using your health insurance is as easy as obtaining it. Everyone must have a huisarts, or a family doctor, who is essentially the system gatekeeper. If you want to, say, see a physical therapist, you go to your huisarts and say, “I would like to see a physical therapist,” and he writes you a note saying indeed, you may.
That’s all. He doesn’t point you to a particular therapist—you can go anywhere in the country with that note, to any doctor or specialist you want. There’s no examination. No waiting period. No paperwork. No resistance.
For about 150 euro a month ($190), I have one of the most extensive (and expensive) policies available. Prescription drugs and alternative therapies are covered and medical procedures from intensive surgeries to drop-in ear cleanings cost me nothing.
So imagine my surprise when, upon learning I was pregnant, I asked my Dutch insurance provider what maternity care coverage I had, and the answer came: “When the baby is being born, someone is coming to your house.”
This seemed incredibly vague. I went to my huisarts and reported that I was pregnant. He asked if I was happy about it, and I said I was. “Then congratulations!” he said, and he shook my hand, grinning.
He’s a happy holistic doctor who twinkles like the crystals that crowd his office. He curled his long Dutch form back into his chair and folded his hands in his lap, nodding pleasantly. He had the manner of an uncle you may find yourself sitting next to at a wedding, whom you’ve not seen in many years, and who approves of you but isn’t sure what to say to you. It was as though he had no idea why I was coming to him with this news.
I said I would like to see an OB/GYN, and he pulled out his notepad and scribbled his permission. “Have a good pregnancy!” he called to me, waving, as I left.
I called the office of an OB/GYN -- whose name, seriously, is Dr. Lipps -- and explained to the receptionist why I was calling.
“I took a pregnancy test…,” I began, in my bad Dutch.
“And you are not pregnant?” She interrupted.
“No, no, I am pregnant, so I’d like to see the doctor,” I said.
“So you do not have problems getting a baby,” she confirmed, switching to English.
“You are pregnant.”
“Then you do not need a doctor.”
A second trip to the huisarts cleared things up for me. In the Netherlands, a doctor is not involved in pregnancy or labor unless there is a medical problem. And because hospitals are only for sick people, no hospital stay is factored in either.
What my health insurance covers is a midwife, and the assumption is that I will have my baby at home.
My huisarts explained that you can only deliver in the hospital if you have a medical reason for doing so, or if you pay for it yourself. And even in the hospital, it’s just you and your midwife, and a midwife cannot administer pain relief. And unless you deliver at night, you are sent home a few hours after delivery.
I’ve since learned that, due mostly to outcries of the Netherlands’ many expat residents – the city of Amsterdam alone is the adopted home of people from over 175 countries – it was recently made possible to elect to deliver in the hospital at no personal cost (although there is still no overnight stay) and to insist on an epidural in specific hospitals. But the request can only be honored if the anesthesiologist is on call and available when the time comes, and most go home at 5pm.
Now, I have had many friends over the years share their birth stories with me, and they range from the planned C-section that ensured labor didn’t mess with a busy New Yorker’s schedule to a friend who delivered, as her husband was frantically driving her to the hospital, in the front seat of her pickup truck.
Most of my friends who have become mothers had given a lot of thought to their birth plans and knew exactly what they wanted, and why. Those who wanted drugs and a hospital stay had very convincing reasons for doing so, as did those who wanted to have their babies with little or no medical intervention.
Where and how you give birth is an extremely personal decision, and I’m probably in the minority when I say it’s not one I’d ever given any real thought to making. A friend of mine from the UK recently had her first baby in the Netherlands, and she was able to insist on a hospital birth with drugs. But I’m actually embracing the home birth idea, and the more I think about it the more it appeals to me.
I am not a woman who has always visualized child birth as an empowering experience. I do not think of a labor as a “hero’s journey.” Other than a brief dabbling in my youth, mainly for the drugs, there’s nothing hippie or bohemian about me. You’d have to dig pretty deep to find my inner earth mother. The only clear idea I’ve ever formulated about child birth is that it will hurt. A lot.
But given that, why not be in the comfort of your own home, where you can be in your own bed, use your own bathroom, have all your own clothes and things around you, and feel relaxed and comfortable in a familiar environment?
And so barring any medical problems, the plan is indeed that, when the baby is being born, someone is coming to my house.
OranjesplaashRotterdam through my eyes
The doorbell rings. Its 10:00 am. I smile at Dutch punctuality and take a quick look around to check if everything is in place before opening the door.
M, my neighbor is standing at the door. She gives me a [read more] hug and presents me with bunch of Phalaenopsis. After welcoming her in, I put the beautiful magenta orchids in a silver vase on the dining table. As she settles down, I offer her a cup of tea or coffee and head towards the kitchen, almost predicting the response.
"Coffee with a little sugar," she replies adjusting her umbrella.
"The kids had a great time in the Carnival this year, enjoying the Street Parade. It was lovely seeing the city bathed in such vibrant colors" adds M as I brew coffee with fresh home-roasted beans.
"Indeed, the Carnival gives a peek into the multi-cultural identity of Rotterdam. We did not get to attend it this year, though we had fun in the Battle of Drums last year," I share my views on the carnival celebrations having attended the event for the first time, last year.
The coffee is ready. I usually rely on the aroma to decide if the coffee is done or not. I serve it along with cookies.
We then leave for the open markt - the largest open market in Rotterdam, held every Tuesday and Saturday in Blaak.
I squeeze the car somehow into the small parking space, about 200 meters from the market, and we walk towards the crowd - both of us carrying our respective shopping trolley. Amidst the smell of Asian spices, the sight of juicy seasonal fruits, and the sound of hawkers shouting out their product prices in Dutch, we finish our grocery shopping. I also manage to do some bargaining, thanks to my Indian roots.
"And how are you finding Rotterdam now," inquires M in a soft tone, relishing frites with mayonnaise as we walk back towards the car, pleased with the day's shopping.
The question has me thinking - the 'now' means after two years of living here - during which my feelings have transitioned from the nervous spiritedness of expats to 'it-feels-like-home' attachment.
"Oh, it is exciting!" I reply, quickly gathering my thoughts, "I enjoy the pace of life here, relaxed but assured. I like the people, helpful and friendly and cherish the cross-cultural connections."
M looks at me, nodding all along. I turn in the keys and the engine roars to life. "The weather here though plays spoil sport sometimes, with very little sun - though today it is surprisingly sunny and warm," I add smilingly, looking out of the window. And as I say this, it starts raining!
Taal: :TaleLouise – Now and Then
I never stopped to think about it. You could say such is the folly that accompanies falling in love. But then, I’ve begun to believe people who say if one thinks hard about what having and raising [read more] children could be about, one may not have them at all.
It was dark in the tiny bedroom when I awoke, jet lagged. I heard my lover speaking on the telephone. ‘Ik’, I heard, then after a bit ‘ik’ again and then after a bit, ‘ik’. This is what I remember. Through the haze of my condition, a couple of things came sharply through. He isn’t speaking English. What is ik? My incomprehension terrified me. He had, in the course of a few minutes left me to inhabit another world in which I was not a citizen.
I know his English is not my English. I notice through the letters he writes to me that he has an odd way of replacing his t’s with d’s. So when he actually wants to say ‘spent’, he says ‘spend’ and the other way around. ‘It was lovely to spent a day with you’ or ‘they have build a house in the country’. Later, when I will do my best at writing Dutch, I will puzzle over words, trying to figure out if they should end with t’s or d’s or both t and d. Like, ‘Ik houd van je’ or ‘ik hout van je’ or ‘ik houdt van je’. When I look it up in the dictionary, it says ‘ik hou(d)’ confusing me to a point of no return.
Like I said, I never stopped to think about it then. You do what you have to do, right? So I came, on his invitation to Amsterdam. I heard him on the telephone and it hit me that he belonged to a different world from me in some ways. The fear gave way to discomfort in the days that followed with everyone doing their best to talk to me and make me feel at home in English and to each other in Dutch. A few days later, on his suggestion, I went to the buurthuis and registered for an evening language class to learn Dutch. We weren’t committed yet but were convinced that this action was as much about commitment.
One day about four years later, I got a call on my mobile phone while I was giving a presentation at work. Something made me answer it anyway. It was someone I knew from the ROC - the Dutch school I had studied in after I had stopped the evening classes in the buurthuis. He told me that my teacher had died and asked if I would like to go to the funeral the next day. Again, without thinking, I said ‘yes’.
A couple of years before her death, for three mornings every week, I had contact with my teacher for about a year. On the first day of school, she stood before the class and said, ‘I’m Louise de Vries and I will be your Dutch teacher. Please address me as Louise’. I didn’t understand. I didn’t understand not because it was Dutch she spoke but because how does one call one’s teacher by her first name?
I solved it. If I wanted to ask her something, I went close to her and spoke without addressing her so I could avoid the conflict that would rage in me. Miss de Vries? No. Mrs. De Vries. No. Madam? No. Louise. No. If she noticed my discomfort she didn’t let on that she did. Just peered above her reading glasses at me, like she did with the rest of the motley group of international students in the class. She was our language teacher and she was there to help us fit our feet into the shoes with which we would take our first steps in this, our new place of residence. And along with this she gave some other lessons – like, the gap between me, the shishya (the one seeking knowledge) and my guru (the one giving knowledge) is to be bridged by one simple phrase, ‘ please address me as Louise’.
Today, in the funeral room is a photo of the Louise I knew. Looking at it after not seeing her in two years opens the lock to a part of me that I have not recognized. It is already too late to do anything about it. It doesn’t help that someone announces that Louise has chosen the music to be played on this day; the day I find myself tied to the people in her life, through her death. The song goes, ‘teach your children well, their parent’s hell will slowly go by and feed them on your dreams’. This is a song I’ve grown up with in faraway India. By what quirk of fate does it re-appear years later, here , on this flower bedecked, solemn February afternoon in Amsterdam?
Her nineteen-year-old son stands in front of the microphone before us, barely able to speak, the tears making their way down freely as he tries. He says you left his father several years ago and raised him yourself. You trained as a teacher and went to work. You ignored the pain in your foot for months in the period that I was your student. You never took a day off, but you did finally, to see a doctor. It was already too late for the cancer to be cured. You were strict – as much with yourself as with others.
But why am I crying? Because I see how when we were not sharing words, we were sharing silences – you and I in that classroom. While the other students took their coffee break, I focused on my books. I was strict as much with myself as with others. You were there at your desk – going through piles of paper. We were, in those brief interludes guru and shishya both in our places. The world was in order.
Your friend speaking before us today says you loved beautiful clothes. Yes, I see you – your sleek dresses, always black or grey; your delicate leggings and your smart shoes; your hair neatly gathered and tied. Your steel rimmed glasses. You never smiled much.
And now that the flood of tears has found their way out, I have no way of stopping them. This place I came to live in five years ago felt cold and dark empty. Silent. I couldn’t wait for those mornings to get onto my bicycle and ride from one to the other side of the city. I went, looking at the cafes and shops, at the people, the water and the boats, to the school where you taught Dutch. Like you, I never missed a class. Louise, I didn’t have many places to go to in those days. I didn’t have much to occupy my mind – just too much to occupy my heart. You never asked me why I spent the coffee break on my books, so I’m telling you now.
Your sister says you spent many months in and out of hospital, and the last couple you spent in a hospice, when death was imminent. She says when you first heard the prognosis of your advanced cancer you said to her, ‘Het is niet anders’. It is not otherwise.
Your photo looks on as I weep. In it you smile just a bit. Now it is all said and once more you and I may share some silence. I circle the coffin in which you lie. I step out into this February afternoon, the darkness surrounding me on all sides. The trees are black cutouts in the gloom. Tomorrow there will be more light but for now, het is niet anders.
Nandini Bedi – April 2012
The (Experimental) Blog Of A Journalism StudentONE WEEK, EXACTLY
It would appear I have been in the Netherlands one week – has one week ever gone by so fast?
In just one week, I feel I have done/seen lots. I have settled in with my hosts, and I’d like to think things [read more] are going well so far. Thursday night, we went together to the beautifully named Tuschinski cinema. We saw a stage production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, live from the National Theatre in London. If there was any doubt at all as to whether they would fully convert me to theatre, I can say it’s too late.
Reading, watching and discussing Alan Bennett plays all week, the long debates about Shakespeare over lunch and that wonderful show I saw in the equally astonishing building have all managed to make of me a real theatre-lover. I’m looking forward to going back to the Tuschinski a great deal!
Yesterday, Friday, I had to go to an English bookshop in town to “Meet and Mingle”. The concept is slightly vague, but you basically show up and introduce yourself to a bunch of important-looking expats who “know people”. In my case, you try your best to charm your way into selling everyone your product.
Eager to do some PR/marketing, I set off for this meeting 30 minutes early. There was no way I was being late! Well I was, obviously. No one told me Lauriergracht is not the same thing as Looiersgracht, you see. Even with a map in my hands, I was never going to figure I was stubbornly going up and down the wrong canal looking for an English bookshop that wasn’t there.
After a while, I plucked up some Dutch courage (see what I did there?) and asked for directions. I was saved. Late, but on my way at last.
Today, I set off to explore the city after a late morning breakfast and a homemade cappuccino. First, I went with my host to a food market where we buy the fruit and vegetables from. It was amazing.
I love the idea that I’m now someone who is part of a theatre company, lives in Amsterdam and buys food at the Saturday markets. Yeah right Lili, dream on!
I then got on my beloved bike and cycled all the way to the flea market on Waterlooplein. God, I love that place!
The way to the square in absolutely stunning. I also made me happy that I found some of the little café I had been to on my last trip here – as well as taking the same photos I took back then. Some things never change!
Despite my best efforts, I had to stop at all the little shops I found on the way. There was everything from vintage shops to shops selling old postcards and Dutch clogs.
These are little things I found at the flea market. I know at least one person who would kill for one of those long owl necklaces!
This is something else I found, locking my bike on the Rembrandtplein. I couldn’t believe it!
In case you were wondering what I was doing at the Rembrandtplein: getting into the spirit of Dutch culture and making the most of the sun was what I was doing.
The next stop on the excursions of Little Lili was the bloemenmarkt (flower market). I found dangerous flowers, a shop called “The Magic Mushroom” (I wonder…) and more pretty grachten (canals). I’m sorry. I’m never going to stop taking photos of them. Amsterdam really is a photogenic city.
My final omleiding (detour) was, of course, Leidseplein. As it was Saturday night and I am still pretty much a lonely soul in this great cosmopolitan city, I thought I’d just sit out and enjoy the warm evening with a little Dutch drink. Yes, I did order this solely because it’s a wonderful word to pronounce in Dutch!
There were street entertainers, which was wicked. I saw people dance, play with fire and do funny things on a monocyle.
I’d say today was a success, for sure. I’m slightly more confident speaking Dutch and I’m starting to recognise places, find my way around – don’t know, that might me a lie.
I’m definitely improving on my bike too. I can do the real Dutch thing and get on my bike by first putting my foot on the pedal, slightly pushing with the other leg before lifting it over the saddle onto the other side. Skills!
In true, inspired, journo-style, I am typing this with my window wide open onto the roof terrace, looking out to planes going in and out of Schipol airport, gazing at the (star-less) sky… Goodness, I’m already a poet!
The European MamaI think the Dutch really dig motherhood
In German, the word lecker means delicious. But, with a few exceptions, the Dutch don’t have much food they can call that. Oh I know there are the stroopwaffels and the poffertjes and [read more] the nieuwe haringe and there are several other things but I think you really have to agree that Dutch cuisine is not famous for its refined food.
Maybe this is the reason why in Dutch, the word lekker means so much more. Lekker warm people say when they see Julia nicely wrapped in her blanket to keep her warm in her stroller. Ze is lekker an het speelen- the nannies at Klara’s daycare tell me when I come to pick her up.
My personal favourite is lekker slapen- to sleep deliciously. It is my favourite for two reasons. First, we have a similar expression in Polish, smacznie spać. And secondly, look at your children when they’re sleeping, and tell me you don’t want to eat them! My children look so sweet when they sleep I totally have to control myself. You can’t have your toddler and your baby and eat them, too.
But then there are two expressions that are not so obvious. The first one is lekker belangrijk. This means Yeah, that was really important. NOT. The lekker, while denoting something very positive is used to make the belangrijk less belangrijk, less important. The other one? To explain the other one, I have to tell you a story.
I had a gift certificate for a haircut and wanted, nay, was desperate to make use of it. So I took the tram, found the hairdresser and waited my turn (it was “zonder afspraak”, people!). When I finally sat in that chair and explained to the stylist how I want my hair done, she started making the usual “haircut small talk”. At some point I told her I had children and that they were still little. To this, she replied: Oh, 2 kindjes! Lekker druk!
To me, the lekker druk made no sense. To be druk means to be stressed, to be very busy. But what is the lekker doing there? And after a while, I understood. She was acknowledging the fact that motherhood, while delightful and joyous, was also tiring and just plain difficult. And I agreed with her. I felt grateful that she didn’t tell me to enjoy every minute of it since they grow up so fast.
We really, really enjoy being with our children, and playing with them, and reading and singing to them. Children are fun and a great opportunity to learn. But we do not enjoy every minute of raising our children. We do, however, enjoy most of the time with our children. And people who tell young mothers to carpe diem either didn’t enjoy parenting their children themselves or managed to block out the bad memories and held on to the positive ones.
The Dutch are very direct people. But at least they are honest. They tell you that having children is druk. It is a lot of work, and it’s hard work, too. But they also tell you that having children is lekker: delightful, funny, and yes, delicious!
I am lekker druk. I bet you are lekker druk, too!
The Sweet Bag of the BeeAn American Answering a Dutch Questionnaire
Two weeks ago I got an email from a reader of my blog. She’s a student of social work at a Dutch University, and wanted to know if I would consider helping her out in her course about [read more] culture, ethnicity and diversity. She asked me to fill in a questionnaire. I was curious what she’d like to know, so I said sure I’d be happy to help her.
The most interesting part to answer was the section headed “Prejudices”. I was asked to reply to one of the possible views that the Dutch might have of Americans, which was stated as: “Religion is important in the lives of many Americans, they relate anything to God.”
I grew up in Berkeley, California not particularly quarantine pastures for Bible fever like perhaps Kansas, but then it struck me that where I live now is considered to be in part one of the strongholds of the Dutch Bible Belt. Even though I am of the Christian faith myself, I wondered, “Does this bother me?” I don’t fit in. But then, I’ve never been a person who has been easily able to fit in, and this made me a prime candidate for feeling comfortable as an expat.
But frankly the California girl in me is rather fascinated by the exoticism of living in a part of the Dutch Bible Belt (by the by, Gouda does have other populations alongside the Christian groups with strong convictions). A neighbor of mine, a recent Indonesian immigrant to Holland, frequents a sewing group which is dominated by some representatives of the stricter Caucasian Christian women. “They have three or four children before they are twenty-five, can you imagine?” my friend related to me, and then she snorted, “They’re always talking about their crotch problems in class.” I find myself pondering this statement from time to time imagining the ladies stitching things up.
The second point was that the Dutch could be persuaded to believe that: “Americans have a less healthy lifestyle than in other western cultures.” I keep hearing on the news that obesity rates are rising in The Netherlands. The Dutch government is moving towards a “more American system”, and has cut dietary advice from the national health insurance coverage plan. Then journalists were telling the story about the Post Code Lottery handing out thousands of bicycles to winners as prizes. This has left local bicycle dealers in less populated areas of The Netherlands bereft of customers, and these shopkeepers are up in arms protesting. Conclusion: the Dutch are still biking everywhere because no matter how you cut it - to a Dutch person a free bike equals an even cheaper mode of transportation.
“America is a country where looks are important. This is why a lot of American people get plastic surgery.” This was the third statement I was asked to comment on, and I immediately thought of the sight when I visit America of so many people with rows of white picket fence teeth. However, then on the other hand, a great deal of citizens exist hanging on the lower rungs of the social ladder, and they (and perhaps the ladder) often are missing teeth. I never wore braces as a child, and my teeth are reasonably straight but there are two teeth near the front that give me away as a “have not” case. If I lived in the States, I’d probably have to have them fixed. I like my “European” teeth; I think they give me character.
Lastly, I was given the statement “Americans are extreme in their ways (For instance: Environmentalism, consumption, religion).” A friend of mine, also a long term ex-pat, just came back from the states where she was taking care of a hospitalized relative. She lodged herself at the patient’s house. “The amount of cans,” she exclaimed to me as she related the experience, “I had to throw half of them out. Expired.” American pantries mesmerize me. I used to open the custom carpentered cupboards of my grandmother’s pantry with a feeling of near ecstasy; those rows of jell-o boxes all different flavors and hence all different colors, the tins of tuna, the canned corn, the stocks of sugary cereals, they all made me happy. “It’s there!” I would think, “Anything my heart could possibly desire must be in there.” Of course I don’t have a pantry like this in Holland because I’d have to lug the contents of an American pantry home in turns on my bike to fortify my just-in-case-I-get-snowed-in-out-in-Iowa-cravings. And then I don’t have a customized storage pantry with special folding and rotating parts. I have nowhere to stock the goods and if I managed to find an empty inaccessible corner to fill, it would truly be inaccessible and I’d probably never be able to get at the hoarded groceries again and expire like them. Amen.
Disclaimer: I am only speaking for myself, of course.
Where is Yvette?Artie Aardvark’s Amazing ASTRON Adventures
Before we begin, I’d like to introduce you to my new friend Artie Aardvark. Artie is the mascot of the AARTFAAC (pronounced “aardvark”) project that I work for at the [read more] University of Amsterdam, where we look for transient radio signals from the sky. Because Artie takes his job seriously he has volunteered to explain Interesting and Important Astronomy Sites this blog may visit, as he rightly assumes that he can explain technical stuff in a better and cuter way than I would myself. So with that I give you Artie’s Amazing ASTRON Adventures, where ASTRON is the Netherlands institute for radio astronomy ~100km east of Amsterdam.Oh my goodness I’m so excited, I’m on my way to ASTRON to see what astronomers do! Here I am on the train looking at the Dutch countryside. It is very flat and filled with farms so far as I can see.When we made it to ASTRON I could tell because the Dwingeloo Radio Telescope was poking out of the trees! This was the biggest radio telescope in the world in the 1950s, but now is used by hobbyists. They do things like detect neutron star pulses and talk to people in around the world by bouncing radio signals off of the moon. It sounds like a fun hobby to me!
To get close to the telescope we had to put on hardhats. Mine was a little bit too big…
Nowadays at ASTRON the astronomers help build and run lots of astronomy projects all around the world, and some are even in space! Here I am inspecting some models of instruments ASTRON is working on for future projects. I also liked the aluminum blocks on the right side of the table, showing how a heavy solid block could be made a lot lighter by drilling and hollowing out the inside.
I also got to check out a mirror polisher up close that is used to give a telescope mirror the right shape. I was amazed to learn that “right shape” for astronomers can mean within the thickness of one of my hairs!
In the middle of the tour I got tired, and decided to get some coffee…
… which was good because I was alert enough to help the engineers keep an eye on things at JIVE headquarters! JIVE is short for Joint Institute for VLBI in Europe, and VLBI is short for Very Long Baseline Interferometry. It is funny that astronomers like acronyms so much that they have acronyms of acronyms.
JIVE is really cool because they take radio telescopes from all over the world and link them together to make more detailed observations than if you were just using the one telescope. They can do stuff like pinpoint where a mission orbiting Mars is within meters!
This map shows where telescopes involved with JIVE are around the world. And all those signals end up here in Holland!
Tour done, it was time to listen to some lectures. Yvette was at ASTRON this week for Nova School, a program aimed at first year astronomy PhD students in the Netherlands, so there was a lot of learning for a little aardvark like me. At least I could help Yvette with her talk on AARTFAAC! She and my other friends on the team are hoping to monitor the night sky 24/7 to find rare radio outbursts from mystery objects like neutron stars and black holes, and I’m excited to see what they find.
After all that it’s time for a rest, so I’ll talk about some other adventures later. Thanks to Daniela for helping with the pictures!
Windmill FieldsOne step up in the bicycle world
Bicycles are everything here in the Netherlands and I have blogged before about my antics, about how I was never cycling again when I first got here.
Well I have got used to it now, as most expats eventually [read more] do. My bike has become part of me, I would never dream of walking to the shops anymore, Why? when I can easily cycle, even in the ice, even if it is slippery and I have a 3 year old on the bike constantly giving me her voice of encouragement, " Don't fall mummy, Don't go boooom mummy" We fell once 2 years ago and she has never forgiven me for it.
But I have gone up in the bicycle world, I have advanced one more step, I now have a children's seat at the back. A notch up in this cycling lark.
Now if you have never cycled with a child on your bike you may not know what I mean but first you get a seat for the front, makes the steering slightly weird and you have to get used to it and then when your child is about 14 kilos, or like Funky Monkey, their knees get so far up to the handle bars that steering is near on impossible, it is time for an upgrade and you get a seat for the back.
A whole new experience! I can't see her anymore, which is bizarre and she finds it funny too as she keeps saying " Mummy turn your head and look at me", as she does so she precariously tilts us to one side as she happily leans over to see me, which results in me shouting, " No, we will fall" which then starts her off with the afore mentioned words, " Mummy don't fall"
It also stranger to maneouver the bike with a 14 ton (it feels like that anyway) child on the back. And sharp turns are more carefully carried out. I also learnt that I can't lift the front wheel up anymore to spin it round a corner when walking a) she is too heavy b) the bike tips up. Physics was never a strong point of mine.
So i am proud in this new advance of my biking skills, although I have a dilemma, I don't know where to put my handbag (or shopping for that matter)! When Funky Monkey was on the front I had carriers on the back but now the seat is there I cant have them. Dutchie took off the front seat ignoring my protests as to where am I going to put my handbag? His response was hang it on the handle bars or over my shoulder, great more weight to make me even more unstable than I already am!!
So I have sneakily put the front seat back on, he hasn't said anything and I have a place to put my handbag once more.
The moral to all this is buy a proper bike upon arriving in the Netherlands, what the Dutch call a moederfiets, a mummy bike, designed to carry 2 children, shopping, a cat, a dog, and any other random child, animal or object that you encounter on your cycles.
So there will be a part two to this adventure I am buying a new bike with the help of a great Dutch system called the Fiets woon werkverkeer regel at my work...........
For the moment if you see a slightly erratic cyclist with everything but the kitchen sink on her bike, just leave about 1m of distance around her and approach carefully, she is not responsible for her actions,
Some great bike pics.