Saturday, November 29, 2008

Rolling, Rolling, Rolling

Here are some of the pavements I've biked over lately:

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


"Crunch, crunch."
The satisfying sound of cracking the freshly-torched sugar surface of a crème brûlée. I heard it this morning on my commute to work, not from a spoon, but from my bike. As I may have mentioned, I thoroughly enjoy my morning rides to work, taking a winding route through Genneper Parken, a park with varied forest and farm terrain. Part of this morning's path is traced below:

The map was made with GPS Visualizer using data from my little GPS logger that I tend to take with me most places I go.

Parts of the path through the park are unpaved, and this morning's frosty temperature induced an icy topping on each of the pothole puddles along the way. The first one I zipped over made the same "crunch, crunch" as a crème brûlée being broken with a spoon when my tires sequentially cracked its surface. Smiling, I broke as many more little frozen crème brûlée puddles as I could before I exited the park. What fun.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Dutch? English? Sometimes it's just spelling...

I've been in Holland now for almost six weeks. I still haven't started my Dutch langauge classes, which is disappointing but unfortunately out of my hands... I have, however, been trying to decode what I can of the local language, Nederlands.

Spoken Dutch is, for the most part, unintelligible to me. That being said, a man asked me this evening, "Spreekt je Nederlands?" to which I sheepishly replied, "nee." I suppose that answering negatively, in the tongue in question, is ironic, given that he wanted to know if I spoke Dutch. Well, not enough Dutch for whatever he was going to say next! And, the only reason I know "Spreekt je..." is because I usually say it, followed by "Engels," to find out if people speak English. By and large, they do. Very well, as I've said before.

Written Dutch, or at least parts of it, can be quite readable, given some simple pronunciation hints and familiarity with letter-combinations. Some words look a lot like English, slightly misspelled -- think like a text-messager, and they're clear. For example, melk = milk, nieuw = new, het = the, and seizoen = season.

Once I determined that the letter combination "ui" sounds like "ow," a whole list of words opened up for me... Exit signs here say "UIT," which doesn't follow French rules and rhyme with wheat, but is pronounced exactly like the English "OUT." Very clear! Similarly, huis=house, and throw a little German vocabulary in there and stadhuis is suddenly City Hall.

In Dutch, the letter v sounds like an English f. So, vriend is obviously friend, and vriendlijk, thanks to the letter combination "ij" which sounds like "eye," is friend-like, or, simply, "friendly." People end their emails here with "met vriendlijk groeten," which, knowing the German "mit" is with, means "with friendly greetings." Nice, eh?

The Dutch don't have a sound like the English "th," neither hard like "though," nor soft, like "through." They use a "d" instead, as for example in the name of the nation, Nederland, which we call The Netherlands. I addressed the peculiar article and plural in an earlier post, not that it makes a ton of sense. Anyway, the word "fiets" looks nothing like its English equivalent, "bicycle." Bear with me. I have a nice fiets that I ride to work every day, and doing so is very Dutch, very fun, and very environmentally friendly. I like it. Riding a bike here, you often see a sign that says "fietspad." Remembering d=th, it's a bike path! And, a nice shortcut through the park, to boot. Sweet.

My new favorite Dutch word is one that I found cast into the lids of manhole covers throughout the city. VUILWATER. Reviewing, vuil sounds like foul, and foul-water? Well, that's the sewer, right? Yeah, this took me six weeks to figure out. Give me a break. Just getting a bank account took 2 weeks...

Oh, and did I mention that Google knows I'm in Nederland? All the ads I see are now in Dutch, which makes them even easier to ignore. However, this one I found amusing, and very readable in a mispelled-English sense:

What do you think? Yes? No? Maybe?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Ride Between the Raindrops

Tuesday morning was horribly rainy. Well, it was horribly rainy until after I biked to work, got soaked, and got to my desk. Right then, the clouds blew past, and a gorgeous blue sky opened up. Nice, eh? At least my office has a nice window...

While riding in the rain, which, by the way, is not as bad as it sounds thanks to really effective fenders on my bike, I was watching the other cyclists dealing with the weather. I believe there are three types of foul-weather cyclists. The largest group, like me, simply deals with the rain, although we're not happy about it. I have a nice rain jacket, and biked with my hood up, although some others didn't have or bother with a hood. Regardless of our garb, we simply grit our teeth, bow our heads to the wind, and go. We get wet, and we deal with it. The second group, a minority group maybe half the size of the teeth-gritters, is made up of ultra-prepared foul-weather cyclists, with things like fancy rain suits, waterproof shoe-covers, waterproof panniers, etc. These bikers laugh in the face of rain because they are simply impervious to it.

The final group, least in number but not in style, appears to blithely ride between the raindrops. These cyclists, mainly highschool-age girls, by their appearance, were completely unprepared for rain, wearing jeans, cotton jackets, and otherwise normal clothes, and with hair done and streaming behind them, smiling and laughing with their friends on the way to school as if totally unaware of the deluge I was fighting. They didn't appear to even be getting wet -- although I thought I saw one girl unconsciously brush a droplet off of her cheek. Amazing, I tell you. I truly wish I had a photograph, but I was too busy gritting my teeth and trying to ride faster than the water could saturate my pants. Actually, I think that a photo would not be effective, as it would minimize the appearance of the rain and just look like girls biking to school on a normal day. Maybe if I showed a photograph while dowsing the viewer with a glass of water, that would convey what I saw...

Monday, November 10, 2008

Migrant Worker & Amerikaans Burger

I'm officially a migrant worker -- a legal one, too!

I got my residence permit today, one month to the day after touching down in the Netherlands. Not bad, eh? It says VERBLIJFSDOCUMENT, a convenient Dutch single-word for "residence permit." It also says I'm here as a kennismigrant, or knowledge migrant (sometimes translated as highly skilled migrant).

Which reminds me of one of my first days in the Netherlands. Perhaps still bleary-eyed with jetlag, I misread this sign:

Seeing instead "Dead Migrant," I was a little concerned for my future. On second glance, I was much relieved.

As I understand the knowledge migrant designation, most large companies can sponsor kennismigrants. However, certain professions are explicitly not allowed: soccer players, spiritual leaders, and prostitutes. Lucky for me, my skills don't align with any of these! My nationality (nationaliteit) is listed as "Amerikaans Burger." So I'm a burger, too. And yes, burger means citizen.

Dutch immigration policy, like that of most countries, is interesting and inconsistent. From the rest of the EU, of course, things are fairly simple, but for everyone else, it depends both on skill set and on country of citizenship. Coming from USA, Canada, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand, immigrants and migrant workers get a big break: they don't need an MVV, or Machtiging tot Voorlopig Verblijf, which is an entrance visa and temporary work permit, before they arrive; and, more importantly, they don't need to pass the Dutch language and culture test once they're here. This test is arguably to help people learn about and assimilate into Dutch culture, although the exception made for a few lucky nations is viewed by some as discriminatory against the many applicants from African and Middle-Eastern countries.

Coming from the United States, a nation of great diversity, where strict political correctness makes taboo anything even remotely discriminatory, I have been keeping my eye out for such things here. Despite the Netherlands' well-known spirit of openness and tolerance, I have several times heard a murmur of prejudice here toward immigrant minorities from Morocco and Turkey. Interestingly, I think the attitude is something like disappointment that these immigrants don't behave more Dutchly: that they are simply not adopting enough Dutch culture to fit in. Toward myself, I have observed nothing like this -- perhaps because I come from a culture that is, relative to the entire world, quite similar, and perhaps also because I have consistently expressed my interest in Dutch language and culture. Whatever the reason, I have felt quite welcome here, and now my shiny new residence permit makes me feel, well, right at home.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Foggy Bike Day

Tuesday was a foggy day. Fog in the morning; fog all day; fog in the evening. From my office window, I could sometimes not see the nearest buildings through the white haze.

In the morning, thanks to this fiasco, I rode the bus to work. As I waited at the bus stop, I took pictures of the happy cycling commuters rolling by. (Click the photos to embiggen)

Biking home in the foggy twilight, I shot a bunch of photos from the saddle. The air looks brighter in the pictures than it did in the drawing twilight, but I overexposed them a bit to show the white fog and to enhance the motion blur.

It was a gorgeous, still evening, and the silence in Genneper Parken was as thick as the misty air. The bike paths (fietspads) were empty.

Looking into the fields beside the path, the distant trees faded to vapor.

Leaving the park, finally, another cyclist appeared, her weak headlamp preceding her squeaking bike.

Back in the hustlebustle of the city streets, this garrulous pair was chatting and hand-waving for blocks. I took pictures instead of ringing my bell to pass.

There was no rain, yet I arrived home feeling wet, my wool coat covered with tiny spheres of water. I was in a cloud.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Not Im-Presta

I had an interesting bicycling adventure yesterday. Let's call it a tire pressure malfunction, otherwise known as a flat tire. Sadly, this particular flat tire wasn't caused by a stray thumbtack or a pinched tube or any other accidental mishap -- this one was pure operator error. I learned something, though!

It turns out there is a third type of tire valve in addition to the two I'm familiar with. American bikes generally have either Schrader valves, which are exactly the same as valves on car tires, with the little spring-loaded pin in the center, or Presta valves, which are a little more minimalistic, without the spring, and with a screw-lock to keep them closed. I Googled up this photo to show these two types (Presta on the left, Schrader on the right):

I've had bikes with both types, and while I have heard that there are major wars between proponents of each, much like Nikon vs. Canon or Ford vs. Chevy, I've never really cared too much one way or the other.

My commuter bike, which I bought used about a week ago, was feeling a little soft on the rear end. Before riding home from work last night, I decided to add a little air to the rear tire. Conveniently, in the wonderful locked, covered bike parking lot at work (!), there's a bike pump chained to the fence for all to use. I rolled my iron steed over to it, unscrewed the presumably-Presta valve, and BAM! the valve shot off and the tire went totally flat. Ack! It looked like this:

An open chimney from my tire tube to the atmosphere -- not a good way to hold in air. I was stuck. It was 6pm, it was dark, and the valve top was nowhere to be found. I searched and searched with my little LED flashlight my Grandma Jean gave me, but nothing. I'm pretty sure it launched right into orbit.

I guess it wasn't a Presta valve after all. Google now tells me (too late, of course) it's a Dunlop valve, aka Dutch valve...

After a bus ride home and a return this morning, I took my broken bike to the bike repair guy who works at the High Tech Campus (isn't that great?), and he replaced the part and pumped it up in about 3 minutes. He charged me nothing (isn't that amazing?). It now looks like this, and I'm back to biking happily:

Monday, November 3, 2008

Happy Election Day, USA!

On the eve of Election Day, I urge all Americans to get out and vote! I don't care whom you vote for -- well, okay, I do, but I'm not going to push -- as long as you put some thought into it and do what you think is right. My wife and I already voted, nearly a month ago, before we left the US to come to the Netherlands. We filled in advance absentee ballots, declaring that we would be out of the country on Election Day, and sealing them into official envelopes to wait for the big day.

I've spoken quite a bit to my Dutch and non-Dutch colleagues about the US election, and it really is amazing how much they know about US politics and the US political and government systems. It is humbling, really, because while I suppose I know the prime ministers of a few nations that are often in the American news, such as the UK, Russia, Italy, Israel, and the Netherlands (and the latter only because I just moved here!), I honestly don't know a whole lot about opposition parties, the various coalition governments, and such. I doubt that many Americans do. Granted, US policy has more effect on the Netherlands than vice-versa, but their awareness still seems humbling, in the same way that everyone's excellent English language skills make me feel both lucky and embarrassed that English is my only language, not counting my classroom-level Spanish.

Currently, there is strong support for Barack Obama here. It is well-documented that the European community has been quite critical of George W. Bush's policies, especially the Iraq war. Remember Freedom Fries, the American response to France's reticence to participate? Now, it is clear that Europeans by and large want change, and it is also clear which of the change-proclaiming candidates they believe. The following table shows the result of one recent survey of sentiments in France, Germany, UK, Italy, Spain, and USA. Coincidentally, lest you fear that this was biased in some way, the poll was done by Harris Interactive, a well-respected market research company from Rochester, NY! The entire poll report can be found here.

Look closely at the numbers. In France, 78% favor of Obama, which sounds pretty impressive, but when you see that only 1% support McCain, that's a serious landslide! France is the most extreme example, but Germany, Italy, and Spain show a similar trend, and even in the UK, where Obama's number falls below 50%, McCain's is merely 11. Unfortunately, the Netherlands was not included in this poll, but I can report that my personal discussions with people gives me the impression that the attitude here is much like that in France: serious support for Obama and the change he promises.

Today at work, I was chatting about Election Day with two colleagues: one Dutch, and one Macedonian. They asked me to explain the basic differences between McCain and Obama, so I listed taxes, health care, and the Iraq war, and tried to put the candidate's platforms (and vague proposals) into the context of what is typical of Republican and Democrat positions. Interestingly, they both see the Republican pro-business, unbridled capitalism as characteristically American, and see the Democratic ideals of tax-funded social programs and regulated economics as less "American," in fact trending more toward Socialism. It seems that the USA is viewed as somewhat of a young, brash, frontier-oriented nation, one that may dig itself a pretty big hole (for example, via financial crisis) if it's not careful. Interesting insight, eh?

So as I said, I already voted, and yes, I'll say it -- I voted for the one who starts with "O" and ends with "bama" -- much to the relief of my Dutch friends! Because of a timing quirk in when I voted in Monroe County, an absentee ballot had already been mailed, so now I have it at work to show to my colleagues. We discussed the sad hilarity of the "hanging chads" fiasco (and this poor guy) and the many different voting machines and methods in use across the United States. In defense of many confused-in-2000 American voters, my workmates did agree that the ballot layout, with candidates in a column and some offices allowing multiple votes across two adjacent columns, pretty un-intuitive. But alas, they won't be voting tomorrow, nor the hordes of Obamaphilic French... So, if you have the right to vote in the USA, get out and do it. Don't let the opportunity pass you by. And really, vote for whomever yOu think is Best, no mAtter which Man it mAy be!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Mmmm... Old Cheese Sandwich...

The Netherlands is well-known as a cheese-loving -- in fact, generally dairy-loving -- nation. People here drink milk at lunch just like Americans drink diet soda. Personally, I'm not excited about milk, but I do love cheese. Gouda and Edam are the Dutch cheeses that most Americans have heard of, and I came here with high hopes to discover the local nuances of these and others.

Admittedly, doing so at the local grocery store may not be the best way to get started. However, Albert Heijn, the local food genius, comparable in spirit at least, if not in execution, to Danny Wegman, does quite well, so that's where I began. I think that a full comparison of Wegman's and AH would be quite interesting, but I'll save that for a different day.

The refrigerated cheese shelf at AH looks something like this:
Lots of choices, lots of differently colored packages, therefore lots of new cheeses for me to explore -- right? Well, I pored over my choices here for quite some time, and as far as I can tell, it's all pretty much the same kind of cheese. And, the interesting bit is, they never say exactly what kind of cheese it is! I suppose it's something like when my aunt-in-law, who is Chinese, said, "when I cook, I don't make Chinese food, I just make food!" Here, it's all Dutch cheese, which I presume means Gouda, so there's no need to specify!

Great, so what do all the choices represent? I analyzed the packages and found three independent dimensions of variation. First, and most obvious, is the form factor of the cheese: whether it be sliced, block, diced, etc., and how many grams of cheese are involved. Second, a numbering system that includes values like "21+" and "48+." I asked my colleagues at work, and apparently these numbers correlate with fat content, but aren't simply percent fat -- I'll leave that semi-unanswered for now. Third, the only verbal description of the cheese, with monikers like "jong," "belegen," and "oude."

Which reminds me of a tangential story from my third day of work. I left work for an appointment over my lunch break, meaning I missed lunch in the cafeteria (known as the canteen, by the way). When I got back, starving, I dropped into the mini-Albert Heijn in the complex where I work to grab a snack. Conveniently, Albert had made me a selection of packaged sandwiches, and I found one labeled "Oude Kaas." I know just enough Dutch to recognize the literal translation of this as "Old Cheese." Instinctively, my mind's Homer-voice thought, "Mmmm... old cheese sandwich...," and I couldn't not buy it! It was quite tasty, on a multigrain bun, and turned out to be just the thing for my mid-afternoon hunger.

Faced with the cheese selection at the real AH, I recalled my oude kaas sandwich, and figured that the oude cheese was old, or aged, and in fact the edges of the oude kaas slices are often a little darker, looking a bit like cheese that's been sitting out for a while. This is a good thing, I assure you, as the flavor gets quite nice with a little time! Later, I did some Google research, and indeed jong, or young, cheese is the least ripe, mildest variety, belegen (and extra belegen) is medium, and oude is well-aged (over 10 months!) and sharpest. Correlated with this dimension is the hardness of the cheese, and I read that the most oude cheese is rock-hard and is shaved instead of sliced. Mmmmm...

Eet smakelijk!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Adventures in the Bus Lijn

Traffic in Eindhoven, be it car (auto), bicycle (fiets), or bus (bus!) is extraordinarily organized. There are bike lanes, bus lanes, and regular lanes; there are stop lights for each individual lane, no right-on-red, stop lights for the bike lanes, pedestrian crossing lights, and bus-specific signals as well. Very organized, yes, but also potentially confusing -- I've found myself driving into both in the bus lane as well as the bike lane!

The traffic flow at each intersection is carefully choreographed in a way that is still unintelligible to me. I recall simple American intersections where the only uncertainty a driver has is whether the left-turn arrow turns green before the straight-ahead traffic or after... Here, you wait and watch a lane from somewhere allowed to go, then some pedestrians allowed, then something else to happen, maybe a bus goes by, and suddenly you get to go. It's easy to get distracted while waiting, and nearly impossible to "jump the gun" and go before your light is green, because you really have no idea whose turn is next. No chance of the common-in-Rochester "New York left-turn," which is the quick-off-the-line left before the regular traffic gets going.

Anyway, I have been meaning to write about my adventure in the Bus Lijn for more than a week, mostly because I wanted a good illustration of an Eindhoven intersection to show all this confusion clearly. Behold exhibit A, conveniently viewed from our temporary apartment on the 7th floor:
In this photo, you'll notice many lanes going many directions. In the center are the bus lanes, indicated by the large white letters spelling BUS as well as the actual bus. On either side of the bus lanes, normal auto lanes, and further out, bike lanes, which tend to have pinkish pavement and crossings marked with big white squares. Beyond those, pedestrian sidewalks, with crossings marked with little white dashes. The opposing street has all of these except bus lanes.

So the other weekend, when we still had our rental car, I managed to drive in the bus lane (bus lijn, pronounced like bus line) as well as the bike lane (fietspad)... The bike path was just a quick oops, kind of like cutting the corner too close. Later, I hung a left, and before I knew it, I was driving over the words BUS LIJN, with grassy medians on either side, and I couldn't do anything about it. Strangely, there was another car further down the block, also in the bus lane. I guess it happens!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Now I'm Really Living Dutchly

I am more-or-less living in limbo: no apartment, no residence permit (it's pending, of course), no bank account (also pending), etc. I have health insurance, but the policy number is pending. I live in a hotel, which sounds posh and nice, but in reality is claustrophobic. I eat out for every meal, which also sounds great, but in reality is tiresome and heavy. All this feels like some kind of twisted vacation -- it's fun and interesting to be in a foreign country, but I'm spending all my time trying to remedy the aforementioned problems rather than enjoying the trip...

So, today I rented a bicycle from the hotel and rode it to work. That is the essence of living Dutchly! It was a gorgeous, chilly, sunny morning, and the bike paths were chockablock with scarfed Dutch commuters. I biked through the park; I biked by the big avenues without any worry about cars; I biked through intersections with the special bike-lane stoplights; I biked into the complex I work in and locked the bike in the ground floor of the parking garage. Very pleasant, a good way to get going in the morning, and much faster than the walk-bus-walk combination I've been doing until now. I'm sold!

Here are some action shots taken from the saddle. First, a typical Eindhoven intersection with the pink bike path, mini bike stoplights, pedestrian crosswalk to the right, and of course car lanes to the left. Very organized, and very safe for biking.

Next, the approach to the only hill on my commute, the little bridge over the Dommel River.

And finally, approaching the High Tech Campus (on the right, across the road).

As I mentioned, it was chilly this morning. Not cold by upstate New York standards, but cool enough that I wore gloves. I noticed that I was in the minority with regard to manual insulation. I saw quite a few cyclists with one hand on the handlebar and the other in their pocket! Makes sense, I guess -- warm one up for a few minutes, then switch! I was the only one with one hand on the handlebar and the other taking photos, though, for sure!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Bier Automaat

No, this isn't your typical American Pepsi machine... this one serves Heineken! I discovered this in our hotel, and by golly, I was obligated to give it a try. Yep, it works! Heineken in a can for €1.50. Homer would definitely "woohoo!" about that.

And, speaking of bier, it turns out that Dutch restaurants serve ridiculously tiny beverages -- that is, unless you order beer. If you order soda, water, or sparkling water, you invariably get a glass 0.2L bottle and a tiny tumbler to pour it into. 0.2 liters is 6.8 ounces, meaning less than 1 cup! For €2! For reference, a typical American vending-machine soda, at 20 oz, is thus just about exactly 3 Dutch servings. What I find interesting is that in the same restaurant with the 0.2L sparkling water, ordering a beer gets you about twice that volume, always poured neatly in a glass meant for the exact brand of beer you're getting, and often with a little paper skirt at the bottom to absorb the condensation. I think this disparity clearly illustrates the priorities here! Also, if the tidy, normal-sized beer isn't enough, in some places you can order a grote bier, or large beer, that is just about a pint -- perfect for the Brits in the house, I guess. I haven't attempted to order a grote water, but I have successfully gotten a carafe of tap water.

Back to the vending... Automaat is my new favorite Dutch word which appears to be used for any kiosk/service/vending machine. The machine that dispenses parking passes is a parkeer automaat; an ATM is a geldautomaat or bankautomaat; a coffee dispenser is a koffieautomaat; etc. For an interesting assortment of verkoopautomaten, or "machines that sell stuff," see this page. Based on all my newfound knowledge of automaten, and the aforementioned pictorial examples, I assume that the Heineken-hawking Pepsi machine may be properly called a Bierautomaat -- my new favorite machine.

Friday, October 10, 2008

All's well in the 'hoven

I'm not sure if "the 'hoven" is an established nickname for my new hometown, but if not, it should be. It's not unprecedented, either. The city just a bit north of here is known as "den Bosch," rather than its full name, 's-Hertogenbosch, but really, who would say all of that and start it with an apostrophe-ess, anyway?

The real news behind all this name-chatter is that my wife, my dog, and me all made it safe and sound, if slightly overtired, to Eindhoven today. This involved a drive from Rochester to Toronto that took 4 instead of the usual 3 hours because of emergency road construction; a long, overnight, but thankfully direct, flight to Amsterdam; and then a sleepy, trafficky, 2-hour drive to Eindhoven. Meredith and I had a surprisingly comfortable trip in the immense coach cabin of our KLM 747, nicknamed "City of Nairobi" and really not much smaller than some cities. Somehow the seats didn't seem so cramped, and the duration so intolerable, as they have on other trans-Atlantic flights, . Maybe it was the thrill of actually doing this; maybe it was the great service from a huge team of flight attendants (truly, no irony here, despite the seeming impossibility in today's air-travel scene: they were numerous, polite, and super-efficient); or maybe it was that the seats were just a tiny bit more suited to my lumbar region than the last Airbus I rode. Sure, there was traffic, the plane left late (but landed early), the dog dropped a load in her kennel along the way somewhere and emerged scared and stinky, and the Amsterdam car-rental folks took a while to get a suitable substitute for the car I actually reserved... but in any case, we made it. And, most importantly, our hotel let us check in early so we could couch out for a bit before attempting to convince our bodies it was mid-day instead of 6am after a sleepless night.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Goedenavond, Cowboy

This weekend we had a blowout garage sale in an attempt to shed some of our junk before making the big move across the Atlantic. Having a garage sale is always an interesting experience, once you get past the sheer work involved and the pitiful payoff, because of the variety of people you meet. Neighbors we'd waved to but never spoken to showed up and told us stories about people who owned our house 30 and 50 years ago; students new to Rochester came for cheap lamps and such; one father bought swords (real swords!) for his two sons; a really nice guy stopped in and chatted for a bit and was stoked to buy my Operating Systems textbook (and take my Mac OS 9: The Missing Manual from the "Free Books" bin). Lots of people asked about where we were moving, and we were happy to tell them, "the Netherlands." Most people seemed to think that sounded pretty cool, told us a random Amsterdam visit story, or mentioned a friend or relative that lives or had lived in Holland at some point.

One guy pulled up in a big, rusty pickup truck. He was pure cowboy, which is a somewhat rare sight up here in Yankee country, with beat-up jeans, a plaid shirt, and a dusty black cowboy hat. I think he had a mustache, but I don't really remember. With a nice cowboy drawl, he too asked where we were moving, and upon hearing my reply, he said, "Goedenavond." Double-taking, I said, "You speak Dutch?" He proceeded to say a bunch more in Dutch, which I didn't understand a word of, and seeing my blank stare (and surprised look), he scowled and said, "What are you doing moving to Holland if you don't even speak Dutch?" Embarrassed, I admitted that I was going there drastically unprepared, but that I hoped to start Dutch classes as soon as possible. He seemed to find this all quite amusing, and went on to explain that his ex-wife was Dutch, and that she never taught him Dutch, but expected him to understand when she spoke Dutch to him. With time, he did... So then he proceeded to teach me some Dutch swear words and insults appropriate for an ex-wife, all of which I have already forgotten. Oh well.

So the Dutch cowboy made quite an impression on me. But so did the dad who bought his sons swords. What dad buys his 8 year old a medieval broadsword?? And his 6 year old a Spanish épée??? Yikes! People never fail to surprise me... what a wonderful, wacky world!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Why Europe?

It seems, as I go about telling friends and acquaintances that I'm moving to Europe, or specifically to the Netherlands, they typically have one of two questions. One is, "you can smoke pot there, right?" The other is, "why would you want to move to Europe?" I'll address marijuana in a later post after I do more - umm - research - on the subject. As for why Europe, well -- let's just say it was my destiny:
I got this in a fortune cookie maybe a week before discovering the job opening at Philips. Or, to be accurate, before my wife discovered it. I know, I know, this is just the Chinese vocabulary on the back of the actual fortune. But, the so-called fortune, like so many, is merely a saying, or in this case, a command: "Restrain yourself from intruding into other's businesses. [sic]" Obviously, as in all matters superstitious, I ignored the part I didn't like and focused on the bit I did want to hear. And then I finally found a way to live in Europe.

Europe has been a favorite place for my wife and me to visit over the past 10 years (since way before we were married, btw). We've been lucky enough to have friends to visit in France, Germany, and Switzerland, and to have experienced their weddings in a French chateau and on the lonely Italian coast of Cinque Terre. We have made at least a half-dozen trips, including one that touched the little ville of Upavon, in Wiltshire, UK, where I lived for two years as a young lad. I had a brilliant British accent then, but blimey, it's all gone to pot now.

Meredith and I have mused that when we visit Europe, we tend to visit "medieval Europe," spending our time wandering old, pedestrian city centers and touring castles. We have never visited suburban Paris, where real people live and work (no offense to our awesome Parisian friends who are definitely real and who live in the 15th). What I mean is that our visits tend to focus on sights and food rather than true modern culture -- hey, we're tourists, what can I say? So, we have been wanting to live in Europe, to mingle with the real people and their modern European culture. So, doggone it, we put our mind to it, and here we go! Expat Europe ahoy! My fortune is coming true!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Foosball, Dutch style (Klompenbal?)

One of the many reasons I'm dying to move to the Netherlands:

I've been anxious to post this since I shot this picture in the Van Abbe Museum in Eindhoven. It's a wry and insightful comment on what's important to people in the Netherlands. I think. In any case, I find it quite amusing! I didn't record the artist or any other details, forgive me...

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


I've been meaning to comment on the name "the Netherlands," because of its peculiar plurality and definite article, and because of the confusing uses of "Holland" and "Dutch." Coincidentally, my wife's young cousin said something hilarious the other day that I have to include... Meredith said, "We're moving to the Netherlands." He replied, "Oh, I know about that -- it's like Never-neverland, right?" Um, yeah. Hopefully, at least, the Tinkerbell version and not the Michael Jackson version.

Anyway, "the Netherlands." As I understand it, this is a literal description of what may synonymously be described as "the low country." In French, the name of the nation is "Les Pays-Bas," which looks nothing like "the Netherlands," but which translates literally exactly the same, and which is also plural. In Dutch, the name of the nation is "Nederland." No plural, no article -- and, in my opinion, much tidier and easier to use. In fact, I may use "Nederland" in future posts, as well as the much more efficient abbreviation "NL," which is used in official capacities, on oval car stickers, as well as the end of URLs (e.g. Perhaps you saw the abbreviation "NED" used in the recent Olympic Games, or saw the Dutch swimmers' outfits with "Nederland" across the front in a really cool typeface.

So what about "Holland?" Though often used interchangeably with "the Netherlands," Holland actually is the name of a subregion of the Netherlands. The major cities of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and the Hague (den Haag, another interesting use of definite article that is used in both English and Dutch) are all in Holland, while Eindhoven, where I'm moving, is not. For the most part, people here and there say Holland inclusively and get away with it, but I'm going to try to be a little careful about it if I can. I got caught once already -- I told a friend I was getting ready to move to Holland, told him a little about the job and the city of Eindhoven, and he replied, "wait, that's not really Holland, then, is it?" Wiseguy! Along these lines, the term "Hollanders" describes people from Holland, though is sometimes used to describe people from elsewhere in the Netherlands, but the term "Dutch" properly describes all people in the Netherlands.

I haven't determined the proper etymology and usage of "Hollandaise," but I will report back after seeking out some more eggs Benedict.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

So I'm going to the Netherlands...

After a lot of talk about wanting to live in Europe, things finally are falling into place, and I have a new job to take me and my wife to the Netherlands. Why the Netherlands? Well, for an American who doesn't speak a second language (not counting my classroom Spanish), the Netherlands is relatively easy: EVERYONE speaks English there, and they're humblingly accomodating to someone who has no idea about Dutch besides "spreekt u Engels?" (Do you speak English?) Plus, the job is with Philips, which is not only an amazing company, but one whose official language is indeed my mother tongue. Plus, the Dutch have nice arrangements with the USA for practical details like Social Security, and they make residence & work permits available for someone with technical education and skills. Plus, the Netherlands is full of bicycles and trains and compact, efficient cities. Plus, importantly for my tendency to travel, it is very well-connected to the rest of Europe!

This being the inaugural post of Living Dutchly, I should perhaps expound on my subtitle, "An American's Foray into Dutch Culture." I'm moving to the Netherlands because I want to experience it. I'd like to live, well, Dutchly, at least for a while. I expect to be thrilled, enlightened, confused, and occasionally annoyed with the nuances of Dutch culture, given my longtime familiarity with the details of American culture (both as a participant, read: pie eating; and as an observer, read: NASCAR). I hope to dive in to bicycle commuting, gray skies, tulip fields, and bier (yes, beer), and to explore places, people, and things I haven't discovered yet. Hopefully, through this blog, I can convey some of my experiences to the wired world, or, at the very least, record them for my own memory's sake.