In the 'spits'

30th November 2007, Comments 0 comments

Who would have expected that the strategically located Netherlands, praised for its great infrastructure and holding the title of the logistics gateway to Europe, is 10 years behind in road construction? Blogger Dutched Pinay goes on to elaborate.


I was sitting across from this bubbly Dutch female reporter. She is about my age - mid to late thirties - and she writes for a local government publication. We were sitting inside this dimly lit café in Nieuwegein Centrum and it was just past eight in the evening when we moved our conversation to the subject of the traffic situation in the Netherlands.
She knew about my daily grind with the A2 – Utrecht to Amsterdam to Utrecht, and asked me what it is like compared to Manila. It's not something one can compare, I told her. They are two different worlds. One is governed with rules that could make legalistic rulers sigh in ecstasy, while the other would make them wish they were never born. 
 As everything in Manila happens within three meters of your moving car, it's always an action-packed driving moment. This daily road survival and aggressive-defensive driving, quite typical in many developing countries, has given me a quick reflex response that Dutch motorists can only dream about. However, amidst the chaos in Philippine traffic, there is some sort of unexplainable order.
Now, let me talk about my love/ hate relationship with the A2 – the artery that links the thickly populated Ranstad to the south, and which is claimed by many to be the busiest highway in the Netherlands. 
For the record, I drive 80 kilometers daily. I get all sorts of people telling me I am crazy to sit in traffic for two hours a day. Multiply the two hours by five times a week, then four times a month, and 'voila', I already earned a week's salary! How ironic to have toiled and laboured for this elusive Dutch drivers license that cost EUR 3000, only to be stuck in traffic most of the time. 
There are other alternatives to driving to work of course. I could take the train, move house, or change job. Unfortunately taking public transport to where I work would take me approximately three hours every day, provided there were no delays and I didn't miss any of my three connections. Moving house and job switching are open options of course but, as we all know, it's not always that easy. 
Inasmuch as everybody hates traffic and insofar as I want to go along with the flow, I actually learned to fine-tune myself with it. I guess traffic in the Netherlands is a lesser evil compared to traffic in Manila. 
A little trance

This might sound weird but driving to work and driving home is actually one of my highlights of the day. During the two-hour combined journey, I get to spend time listening to my favorite music; trance. Locked inside the car with the volume pumped up, I can float into another world. There have been times when I've wished that my journey was longer. On passing the circular A10 ring heading towards Amsterdam Zuid where the new rows of glass skyscrapers are built, I feel a rising dread that within five minutes I'll be at my destination.
Women make up

There is another reason why I don't curse the morning traffic – I get to short-cut my morning rituals at home and do my make-up in the car. I have become so adept at it, that during the broken bumper-to-bumper stretches in the A2 I can quickly switch from applying lipstick to flipping my overhead mirror back into its place, my hands on the steering wheel, and my feet on the gas pedal. Recently, I was told that this is prohibited by law but couldn't find a reference online pointing to this ban.
Then I made the mistake of telling a Dutch customer that I apply my makeup in the car in slow-moving morning traffic. His eyebrows rose up playfully imitating Mr. Bean, and shook a rebuking finger at me, "No, no, no, you are not going to drive behind me!" "I once got hit by a woman from the back because she was busy putting eyeliner on!"
I still can't work out if his statement was serious or funny.
What men do

Many men on the road are equally guilty; for instance of reading the morning paper, telephoning, smoking while sending SMS, fumbling with their agendas, eating breakfast, and I swear I have even seen a couple shaving.
This is probably my biggest A2 dilemma, an embarrassment so to speak. A while back - I had a meeting in Eindhoven with a potential employer. My scheduled appointment was 16:00 and little did I know that the traffic between Amsterdam –Utrecht - s'Hertogenbosch was going at turtle pace.
It was 15:00 on my watch, 2 hours on the road, and I am stuck somewhere in Vianen, still halfway to Eindhoven. By this time I have turned red as a beet behind the steering wheel. Frantic and cursing, I switched off the music to cool my head which was about to burst.
At 15:15 I was on the phone with the Director I was to meet with, "Sorry, maar ik ben bang dat ik niet op tijd ben - Ik zit nog in Culemborg!" [I'm sorry but I'm afraid I won't make it on time - I am still in Culemborg!].
I tried to sound calm but I think it sounded more like a plea. I hate being out of control and I had resigned myself to the fact that I had messed up this chance. Don't career experts say – Never be late to your first interview?
"Geen probleem hoor, we zijn hier tot 6 uur. Doe maar lekker rustig joh." [No problem, we are here until 6 pm. Just take your time].
I had to shake myself – Surreal? Am I dreaming? Did I just hear that? He is going to wait for me until 6 pm?!
After sitting three hours in traffic, I finally made it to the company's office in Eindhoven at 16:30. I was welcomed warmly by the Director. He was a nice chap who totally sympathized with me over my three-hour road ordeal, and at the end of the interview he scheduled me for a second meeting with the top man of the company in Europe. Who would have thought coming in late to an interview would get me through the second round?  

With the current overhauling of the A2 (and many other highways with problem points in the country), Rijkswaterstaat expects normal traffic without delays to commence by 2010. Unless the population of the Netherlands rapidly doubled by that time, I think I will miss the little and mundane things I enjoy now when stuck in traffic.

Sometimes we find positive things during not so favourable times. Or perhaps I am a hopeless resilient optimist. We live in a world full of paradoxes.

30 November 2007

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[Copyright Expatica 2007] 

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