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.