Friday, January 23, 2009

Twelve after half eleven

It's twelve after half eleven, and I'm bloggin. Wait, when?

Dutch timekeeping is a real head-scratcher. We English-speakers are used to referring to the time as something before or after the hour. Nederlanders also refer to the half-hour!

This means that 10:42 = twaalf over half elf.

Learn by example:
  • 5:00 = vijf uur, or five hours -- thankfully there's no "o'clock" nonsense.
  • 6:25 = vijf voor half zeven, literally five before half of seven.
  • 2:15 = kwart over twee, of course, quarter after two.
  • 16:59 = één voor vijf, or one before five; and yes, military time is how we roll -- when written, at least -- nobody would ever speak "één voor zeventien."
  • 8:30 = half negen, literally, half of nine.

Or, in case a diagram helps, this one is from my Dutch language textbook:

Okay, fine; I can learn a new system. Referring to the half-hour half the time is no big deal -- it just takes me twice as long to tell someone what time it is! To paraphrase TMBG, "it's later than you think it is and now it's even later. And now it's even later..."

But really, the "half" bit is confusing, because when I hear "half negen," I think "half past nine," but I'm wrong: it's "half-way 'til nine!" Extrapolating, when a Dutch colleague says "half oktober," they mean mid-September? Uh, nope! Half October means halfway through October, just like our English-speaking intuition would tell us. So much for the new system. I've asked several Dutch colleagues about the seemingly glaring flaw in their sense of date and time, and it's funny -- they don't seem to notice!

Now I'm not sure what time it is, but I know it's time to get to bed.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Bike Stairs

It continues to amaze me how well bicycling fits into daily life here, thanks to numerous little details in infrastructure. For instance, above is an image of the stairs accessing a pedestrian bridge. How to ascend and descend stairs with your bike? With a little tire-groove ramp at the edge of the treads, of course! You just roll the bike up or down the ramp while you walk the stairs.

I've seen this little detail in a few places, including at the mall, where the stairs lead down to the free, underground bike parking lot. Way better than any American mall I've been to! They give you a little claim check when you drop off the bike, and someone's there to make sure nobody takes it while you shop.

Sunday, January 11, 2009


Ice skating (schaatsen) is super popular in Nederland. When I say super popular, I mean that Nederlanders get deliriously amped up when there's ice to carve. Let me show you. Here is where I work, High Tech Campus Eindhoven:

Not a bad sunny-Friday lunch hour, skating on the pond, eh? Somebody scraped the snow off of a nice winding loop around the pond, creating a schaatsbaan for everyone to enjoy! There was music pumping and hot-chocolate (warme chocolade) for sale outside. By the way, the tall building in the background holds my office.

To me, the ice frenzy appears somewhat like the "powder day" in the Rocky Mountain states -- where it's sort of assumed that you can have the morning off to go skiing if there's a big dump of snow. However, skating this week wasn't just Friday, and it wasn't just a fair-skies fascination. This was Thursday, same scene, in the freezing fog:

Me? After discovering the schaatsbaan on Wednesday, I forgot to bring my skates to work both Thursday and Friday. D'oh! However, the weekend was gorgeous, so I strapped my skates to my bike and rode down to a pond not far from my house to see if there was any skating happening there. Wow, was there ever!

Timeless family fun. The scene on the local pond was not that different from this one, painted in Holland in the 17th century:

Schaatsen has a long history in the Netherlands, for sure. Leisure skating, speed skating, even hockey, to a lesser extent (most Dutch think of hockey has a summer grass-field sport -- played by men and women, by the way). The nation holds an impressive number of records in speed skating competitions, and, historically, skating on the vast network of Dutch canals was a favorite wintertime activity. Unfortunately, in recent years, winters have rarely been cold enough for skating! I think that a big part of the reason for the hullabaloo around skating here and now is because it has become so rare.

A famous Dutch skating marathon, the Elfstedentocht, or, literally, Journey of Eleven Cities, has become almost a mythical tradition. It was last held in 1997 because the ice has not been consistently good enough to hold a 200 km race since! It's interesting right now, because it has been unusually cold for nearly two weeks and everyone is talking about whether it will be possible to hold the Elfstedentocht. I sure hope so, maybe I'll make the trek up north to see it!

Monday, January 5, 2009

€8,50 in Amsterdam

What can eight and a half Euro buy you in Amsterdam? Nevermind what it might get you in the red light district; at the Bloemenmarkt (flower market), in December, it will buy you 50 fresh tulips:

The bloemenmarkt sits on a series of boats in the Singel canal, and despite being an unabashed tourist trap, it boasts an amazing array of fresh flowers and ready-to-plant bulbs. It's open zeven dagen per week, even in the middle of winter. Here is a typical scene from one of the vendors' boats:

By the way, eight and a half Euro, or acht Euro vijftig, is written €8,50 (not €8.50). When writing numbers, these clever Europeans swap the comma and the dot compared to Americans. Convenient, eh? Luckily, it's rarely ambiguous, as you probably wouldn't mistake €8,50 and €8.500,00. Though eighty-five hundred Euro would buy you a whole lot of tulips. Veel tulpen!

When you then bring home 50 tulips to your smiling wife, stuff them into the largest vase you own, then wait a day for them to relax and open their little faces, you get something like this:

Not bad for December flowers, bought outdoors in the cold, carried halfway across town, and then home under a seat on the train, eh? And yes, they were purple to begin with, not red like the ones in the top photo!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Discovering America

A few weeks ago, I discovered America on a map of the Netherlands. Located in Limburg province, close to Germany, it beckoned to me softly, but didn't quite justify a special trip. So, while on the way home from driving my parents to the Düsseldorf airport, I detoured briefly off the A67 motorway to take a look.

America? Land of opportunity? Maybe in name only... there definitely wasn't much happening here on this frosty morning. According to Wikipedia, it has 397 residences. I didn't audit their figure.

If you're curious about the sign, the "gem. Horst a/d Maas" means America is not big enough for its own gemeente, or city government. It is part of the gemeente of Horst aan de Maas, which has about 30,000 residents.

One fun thing about named places here is that they not only announce your arrival, but also your departure, which of course means this photo (disclaimer for the Department of Homeland Security: no need to bug my phone; it's just a Dutch road sign):

Why bother with the "no more America" sign? Partly because of speed limits, I think. In general, speed limits are not posted on roads. The limits are posted on a big sign when you enter the country and (for the benefit of international arrivals, like me) at the exit of Amsterdam Schiphol airport. The sign looks like this (photo by celesteh):

Isn't the little windmill in the city silhouette cute? The sign means that in towns, or "built-up areas," including named places like America, the speed limit is 50. Outside of built-up areas, such as just beyond the "no more America" sign, it is 80. On highways, the limit is 100, and on motorways, the limit is 120. Don't forget! Of course, anywhere, such as on residential streets, these signs can be overridden by red-circle speed limit signs.

So yeah, I stopped by America on my drive home from Germany. Nice morning drive, eh?

Kleine TeePee

Okay, so it's been a while since I posted. But, dear reader, lest you think I don't give a cr@p about you anymore, here's proof that I do.

As I've written already, I am experiencing many little differences in customs, attitudes, and consumer products here in Nederland. One interesting tidbit from the necessary room (called the toilet here, by the way -- a bathroom must have a bath, and in many houses does not have a toilet, the toilet being a separate room off the hall) is the typical roll of Dutch toilet papier. See the following comparison, between a Dutch roll and an American roll:

They say "things are bigger in America," and this is definitely true of toilet paper rolls. What does this say about the, um, output of Americans? Perhaps they're more "full of sh!t" than the Dutch? I dunno.

Anyway, I am amused at the difference in content between these products. As you can see in this end-view photo, the Dutch roll has an outside diameter smaller than the American roll, and an inner diameter larger!

I know, I know, the American roll is the so-called "Double Roll," but I argue that this, while initially a marketing gimmick, has become the de-facto standard size. This is similar to how sometime between when I was a child and now, the McDonald's soda size previously known as large became a medium. Then value meals became the standard, and Starbucks had to abscond non-volumetric descriptors for their cups. All the while, by the way, Dutch coffees stayed the same size -- decidedly small, to my eye, at just about 4 fluid ounces.

Double rolls don't exist here, which means more-frequent roll-swapping for me...