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Day 2: Overeenstemming and the Treaty of Maastricht

February 2, 2012

Day 2 of 29 Days of Dutch begins with Overeenstemming, the translation of which is “Consensus.”

The pictures I include below are of the Parliament in Maastricht, in the Province of Limburgh, the Netherlands. This is where the Treaty of Maastricht, or in Dutch “Verdrag van Maastricht,” was signed in 1992 (almost 20 years ago today). As many of you probably know the treaty was the birth of the European Union.

What makes “overeenstemming” Dutch?

While of course formation of the EU is not exclusively Dutch, the idea of building consensus is.

The Dutch have a longstanding history of reaching a consensus (a solution with which everyone can live) and cultivating a feeling of collectivism.  This comes largely from both their Calvinist foundations and also can be tied to the sense of collectivism and teamwork that developed out of working together to drain their country, build dikes, and keep their feet dry. It infiltrates many aspects of their society–government, in the workplace, in student clubs, etc.

Also, the room in the Provincial Parliament Building has the world’s tallest door. I consider this to be Dutch considering they have the worlds’ tallest people. 🙂

 

Me in the Provinciehuis! Don't I look just like a member of Parliament?

Inside the Provinciehuis next to the world's tallest door. FINALLY building elements which are proportional to Dutch people.

Side note, someone asked the speaker if the colors in the room “meant something”…. he responded dryly, “This is what we call art.”

Oh and the guy also mentioned that DESPITE the crucifix on the wall in the corner of the room, religion does not influence government in this part of the country.

 

Below is the actual table where the treaty was signed. They told us (directly) that the Japanese tourists needed something to look at. The table was ordinary before but they had to make it spectacular to please the guests.

Tot Morgen!

 

(If you missed Day 1, check it out).

 

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Day 1: Muuranker

February 1, 2012

Welcome to Day 1 of my Fun-a-day… 29 Days of Dutch. Please see 29 Days of Dutch for a full explanation.

Dit is een Muuranker. 
Literally, it translates to “wall anker”.  You see these all over Dutch houses (and  I’m slightly cheating because you see them also in Venice, Italy).  Initially they served a purpose: they were anchored at each floor to help stabilize the structure.

What makes it uniquely Dutch? 

Most houses in the Netherlands were built on sand and peat.  These are non-solid foundations.  Just as your sand castle settles a bit when you make it on the beach (before it’s wrecked by the big kid or a wave), so did the foundations and buildings along with them.  There are much better examples of these, more dramatic and beautiful in Amsterdam. But I didn’t go to Amsterdam today– I took this one of the house across my street, so you’ll just have to suffer and I’ll perhaps add some better ones later.

I don’t know if this day muurankers serve a purpose or if they are for decoration.
Dutch friends, feel free to chime in.

Muuranker. Like a staple, used to help stabilize houses/floors in weaker and settling foundations.

PS- I can’t figure out how to rotate the image on this stupid blog.  Turn your head 90 degrees to the left like you’re eating a taco. This will help.

London’s Calling, bridges falling

November 13, 2011


One of the best things

about this fellowship has been living so close  to so many cool places (close by American standards, that is).  I’m doing my best to take advantage of opportunities to travel as they come. As such, I’ve unofficially settled on a goal of One Outside-of-Holland adventure per month, so here is November’s (im-)proper visit to London.

Partly because I’ve been to London before and partly because I’ve begun to appreciate more spontaneous ways of seeing the world (okay, I’m lazy), we went with no proper agenda.  Instead, we followed the River Thames and Michelle’s colleagues (locals) around the city, meandering as tourists but also got a bit of local flavour (I’m speaking British, so spelling it that way too).

Just as we wandered through London, so wanders the direction of this post. And I do henceforth (in British English) declare an apology for the ADD nature of this script. However, I think that if you follow along reading in your own adorable and somewhat- incomprehensible British accent, I think you will appreciate the shiny objects as much as I did.

My Top 3 Highlights:

1) What trip to London would be complete without taking a commuter boat to and from the major flood barriers? The Thames River Barrier below protects the city from flooding. (It’s pretty big)

Excited!

2) OR …Without walking across Tower Bridge and boating underneath London Bridge?

OR

(3) Without sweeping views of Rotterdam Harbour  in the Netherlands on two memorable flights?

The land you see in this picture has been made by humans from nothing, using sand from the bottom of the north sea.

I told a Dutch friend that these were my favorite parts of the trip and he asked in surprise why this was the case. So I told him, quite matter-of-factly, that it’s because “I love massive engineered structures!”

… (awkward moment in Holland #325)

My friend then told me that I shouldn’t say that out-loud and that it makes me sound nerdy.

“Sorry?”… (That’s Dutch for, “excuse me?…or “What the $@* did you just say?”).

Well… look at the pot calling the kettle black.   (Sorry Dutch friends, this is an English expression). Un-named Dutch-friend is an engineer and THAT means he has an actual degree in nerdiness—it says so on his business card and pocket protector. AND he lives in Delft, which means he is surrounded by nerdiness—by choice. (As there are mainly engineering firms, research institutes, and a huge technical university in Delft.)

I’ll cut him some slack, because perhaps he was thinking what you’re thinking right now—there are SO Many more lovely things that I could see in London, so why get excited about these?

To name a few:

Big Ben

Buckingham Palace, The Imperial War Museum, Winston Churchills’ Cabinet, The National Galleries,The London Eye, Westminster Abbey, The Tower of London, Piccadilly Circus…

Forgive the clouds... but it is London afterall

Well–who are we kidding?

Not to sound unintelligent or narrow-minded, but in highschool we had the choice to take OR avoid Modern European History. I opted for the latter, and chose to take French and Spanish languages  instead because history never interested me much as a teenager. And because it was after lunch.

Similarly, I didn’t open an Art History book after middle school, so other than seeing the greats (Picasso, Van Gogh, Monet, and Walt Disney), I’m not much for art museums OR 10-million-year-old painted pottery. Though that’s mainly because I was also terrible in ceramics class and am just jealous.

*Slight embarrassment

I’ll admit that at times, especially now that I live in Europe, I am embarrassed for not remembering just how many wives Henry the 8th had, or that King James was the King of both Scotland AND England at the same time…

I once received scathing glares from we’re-too-cool-for-you British exchange students at a wine and cheese party when I didn’t recognize that one of them was dressed up (at a non-costume party, mind you) as Margaret Thatcher.

Though honestly, Hollywood-– you could make my life much easier if you would just release historical movie in the same chronological order in which the events actually occurred.

Cate Blanchett-for example, won the  Academy-award for, “Elizabeth” released in 1998.

I did not take this picture.

It turns out  that Judy Dench also won the Academy Award that SAME year for playing THE SAME Elizabeth in, Shakespeare in Love.  Judy Dench is way older than Cate Blanchett, obviously, so this adds a completely unnecessary layer of  confusion.

Further, Princess Elizabeth  (a child) played by Freya Wilson in the 2010 release, the “King’s Speech” with Colin Firth

I did not take this picture either.

is the SAME  Elizabeth from the movie, “The Queen” released five years ago in 2006.

What’s worse is, she is actually the real Queen now–despite being a wee little one in a film just last year.

How can this be??

Back to London:

Water, on the other hand, has always fascinated me and is fairly straight forward.  It pretty much flows by gravity and tides.  When it gets really cold, rather than wearing a scarf, it turns to ice. And it knows that it can’t support people. We have recognized this as well, so we built bridges over it. When water decided our bridges weren’t big or strong enough, it let us know. So we thought a little harder, and tried again. Water does not wage warfare, or change thrones numerous times. It doesn’t kill a queen who may not be able to give birth to a son. Water does not talk in OMG, LOL, or other TLAs (Three Letter Acronyms). It DOES tend to flood houses or other development that maybe should not have ever been built on its banks, but then that is no surprise by now and it’s our choice to adapt or not.

So… I much prefer water.

I think growing up on the Great Lakes had something to do with it.  And that is, after all, one of the reasons I chose to move to Holland, as opposed to other, drier places like say, Jordan or Nevada.

So BACK to my story- the reason the flood barriers, the bridges, and Rotterdam Harbour were my favorite sites is because I love bridges–and listen up, Dutch friend,  I’m not ashamed!  (*See Golden Gate Bridge post from last year’s marathon training.)

Despite that I love “nature” (as Dutch-friend and other Dutch people call it) and building trails, despite that it saddens me to see our rivers all channelized and blocked off by concrete

Concrete flood control channels in Walnut Creek, California

and our waterways all heavily manipulated…

Pop Quiz, is this river delta in California or the Netherlands?

— I remain fascinated by heavily engineered structures of any kind—many of which are impressive if for no other reason, than the sheer scale of them.

Like this one for instance, here in the Netherlands. The Maeslantkering, (pronounced Moss-lont-caring). It is one of a few storm surge barriers that protect the Dutch from the North Sea. Note the size. Each long arm of this barrier is the length of the Eiffel Tour (more than 3 American-football fields tall).

Look at me (in the lower right). I’m standing as tall as I possibly can, and I come no where NEAR the top of this thing!

Though in hindsight, this is probably a good thing, no? Otherwise, I might as well be protecting the Netherlands from flooding—

Alright, here goes … (Drumroll)

wait for it…

wait for it…

Ta-daaa!

My friend Hayley drew this picture of me.

Something tells me the Dutch wouldn’t’ consider ME (above in braids) to be the same value for the 450 million Euro they spent on the Storm Surge Barrier, but I disagree.

Storm surge barrier can’t tell jokes.

I will not apologize for loving the water-fighter-offer (does that sound less dorky than flood protection barrier?) or the over-water-transporter (bridge) built by nerds and architects. But to appease the masses, I will concede that there were other “notable” gems of my trip to London.

(1) “Bonfire Night” fireworks show in Battersea Park.  This night celebrates the 405th Anniversary of Guy Fawkes’s unsuccessful attempt to blow up the British Parliament

Celebrating with the masses

(2) Drinking real apple cider (hard cider) on the River Thames (that’s the London Eye behind us which we also rode)

(3)Vegetarian fish and chips … (!!!)

Ignore the green pile of mush. It shouldn’t have been allowed and I’m still not sure what it was. But yes, I ate it. All.

  

(4) Lion’s Bum in Trafalgar Square  (though I’m not sure if that’s how it’s written in the guide books).

(5) Attending Even Song (evening worship service) in Westminster Abbey on Sunday night.

(6) And this guy

But ALSO…

The last-most-favorite part of the trip was my Airplane Travel. Not only did I get to see Rotterdam Harbour from up high, but notably funny and embarrassing (maybe more  for our mothers than for us) moments on our trip happened on the airplanes—both coming and going.

Our flight from Amsterdam to London-Gatwick took off at 9:30am Friday.  In the airport, we had just enjoyed a nice Dutch breakfast of poffertjes (cute tiny fried Dutch pancakes—we’re talking really cute), a mushroom-cheese omelette, and white wine.  Yes, wine… why? Because why not.

Eet smakkelijk! (Dutch for “bon appétit”).

Delicious poffertjes. Tiny, deep fried pancakes with powder sugar

At around 9:45 am, the cute British flight attendant came by with a cute smile and cute British accent and she offered us tea, coffee, or orange juice.But my traveling companion and I exchanged a glance and instead asked, “do you by chance have any white wine?”

The flight attendant paused for a minute, as she looked a puzzled, and kept smiling.

After a moment, she responded  sweetly—

“But it’s breakfast?”

Awkward silence

Accompanied by a disapproving glance (#571) from two Dutch college-age boys sitting in front of us as we sheepishly cowered back into our upright chairs.

The flight HOME was more successful as we took a flight that departed reasonably at 6pm.  We did have to run to the gate–that was definitely the closest I have ever come to missing a flight (except once when I missed a flight).

When the male flight attendant came bye around 6:30pm, we ordered one white wine and one bloody mary (only to keep culturally relevant it is afterall named after his Queen).  He decided, though, that we both “looked thirsty” so gave us two drinks each.  The man sitting next to us in the seat was appalled (aka, BORING!)

For us, this was bliss.

The flight was so short, however, that we didn’t have time to finish at a reasonable pace, and before we knew it, the OTHER male flight attendant came by to collect our “rubbish.” My friend and I were both mid-sip when he stopped at our row, paused, clearly surprised at the situation: (this is what he saw)

He paused a few moments, and then asked smiling, …

“ Are we having a paahty?”  (that is “party” pronounced in British)

We tried to contain our laughter, but couldn’t and my giggles shook the white wine right out of my glass. I gather this was inappropriate  Dutch or British behavior– so needless to say, we stood out a bit and perhaps the Euros (people, not currency) on board just wished we’d go back to our pop iCulture in iAmerica and stop having so much fun in front of them. I think they were just jealous.
So… while we didn’t make it to the National Galleries, didn’t drink high tea, cross the international dateline, didn’t attend a football match or enter a single museum this time around, we had ourselves a proper visit with just the right amount of walking, shennanigans, cider, embarrassment, caught a bit of British humor,got a guided tour around the Tower of London by a real Beefeater and we saw something that happens only once in a lifetime—

That’s right, we saw a unicorn. (this photo is for you, CS).

From the Low Lands to the Highlands…

October 29, 2011

Alright, so probably everyone who knows me, (or at least my highschool crew) know that my favorite movie is Braveheart. Yes, I know that Mel Gibson is a whacko now, but I prefer to remember him as William Wallace, freedom fighter, and liberator of Scotland.

I remember the first time I watched it was with my older brother Josh when he was home from boarding school.  Briarwood mall.Oh yea.

Epic.

Many who haven’t known me quite so long are surprised to find that it is my favorite movie because of the violence (which I can’t really stand in any other movie except “Gladiator.” )  But come ON, how can you not be moved by this?

My senior year in highschool and my trips home from college were defined by watching this movie on my mom’s big screen TV with 7 of my best friends sprawled out on a green leather couch and the floor with big pillows.  On occasion we let my little brother Ben hang out too.

“I’ll crush YOU!

Like a wor-um!”

Oh Yes. Try saying it and roll the “r” in worm.

So, the dream has been building for 16 years now and finally, at 31 and living in Holland with some days off, I bought a  cheap ticket to Scotland. No one else could get the days off, but I wanted to go anyway, so… I did.

Ignoring the devastating historical inaccuracies of the movie, not the least of which is that it was FILMED IN IRELAND (please say it’s not true!!!), I was in complete bliss last week.

Edinburgh, Waverly Train Station (taken from the Castle)

Rather than chronicle the entire trip for you, I’ll summarize it and bring out some highlights: I spent 5 days and nights in Scotland: two in Edinburgh (the biggest city), then 3 days in smaller villages in various parts of the country–The Isle of Skye, Inverness, Plockton (cutest town EVER), Oban.

Scotland is filled with beautiful scenery, the friendliest people on earth, and whiskey. The food was delicious—there were cakes and tea houses everywhere, many vegetarian delicacies including Vegetarian haggis, chutney, and good cheese.  Customer service was beyond incredible.

I think I'll let you write your own caption...

Scottish speech is filled with a beautiful accent and includes words like, “love”, “ay”, “rubbish,” and “ Craic” (pronounced “crack” while rolling the “r”… meaning great fun).  It was the first time I had been around native English speakers for 2 months, and took some getting used to, not having to repeat myself, or having someone else asking me to repeat myself. I also hadn’t noticed that in Holland I tune out the spoken Dutch in the background as white noise because it makes your head spin to always try to understand. In Scotland, I was able to just relax as a passive listener and not think.

Scotland is filled with and surrounded by water (beautiful, of course). This is partly because of the geography and climate—lots of rain and on the sea. It’s also because so much of Scotland’s land was cleared years ago for timber harvesting, and sheep grazing so the water just runs off the land instead of infiltrating in the vegetation and forest soil.  (Enjoy your hydrology lesson for today). That said—this process has resulted in waterfalls EVERYWHERE.

This sort of thing waterfall was everywhere on the Isle of Skye

Loch Ness. (Yes, home to the famous Loch Ness Monster)

Scotland is filled with beautiful “hillwalks”, aka hikes. I wasn’t prepared with proper gear or time, so I only did a couple of short ones—I’d definitely like to go back and visit.

Old Man of Storr, Isle of Skye. It rained the whole time and since I didn't have extra clothes and didn't want to get cold, I decided to run up. On the hike down, the rain stopped and the fog finally "cleared."

Scotland is filled with beautiful highways—where you drive on the left side of the road.  One bend is more beautiful than the next—there are also no billboards.

Note the stickshift on the left too!

Edinburgh and Waverly Trainstation

I successfully managed this left-side driving and only once made a mistake. This was indicated to me by a man continuously flashing his brights at me on a (beautiful) mountain road. At first I thought he was kindly warning me that there was a police officer up ahead so I should slow down. But then I realized I was heading right for him. I pulled left, and he was just laughing, smiling, and waving when he passed.

Admittedly, I was a tad nervous that I would be lonely, but not nervous enough to back out.  When I told my friend Kathryn this, she said, “Jess what are you talking about? You’ll have a friend in like 10 seconds.”  I thought she was full of it.  I know I’m friendly, but sometimes can still be shy.

As it turns out: Kathryn was right. I went alone, but I was pretty much never alone.

Everywhere I went, I made friends—including:

–       The shop keeper of the first store I entered in Edinburgh

–       the old Scottish men playing traditional music on fiddles in a dark-non-touristy pub every Wednesday

Pub: Tass, just off the the Royal Mile. Though I was the only tourist in here.

–       the enthusiastic 70+year old couple in Inverness, members of the Scottish National Party (just won a majority in parliament) who saw me sitting by myself so they insisted I join them

Bridge over the River Ness. (Incidentally, "Inver" Is Gaelic for "mouth of" ... so Inverness means, "Mouth of River Ness"

–        the English guy on the plane

–       the Ghanaian guy on the “Free Celtic Tour” (aka, Church recruitment and proselytizing)

–       the young Scottish lad at the bar during live music in Inverness

–       the older Scottish musician AND his mother playing the live music at the pub in Inverness

Mother and Son entertaining the night away. She also kept guard over my purse and jacket next to her on the chair, so that I could continue dancing!

–       the gentleman who owns the only café on this lonely beautiful and winding road to Isle of Skye

–       the cafe owner’s Highland Cows

Highland Cows... Friendly and cute when you pet them. They lick you. But then sometimes it gets out of hand. And then they bite your sleeve and don't let go.

–       The Romanian woman who for some reason thought I was Italian, so the two of us had an entire conversation in broken italian

–       The boater in Plockton in one of only two pubs in town, who gave me his seat after 5 minutes and proceeded to spend the rest of the night introducing me to everyone in the town and humiliating his compatriots

Plockton, at sunrise

–       His compatriots who told me their life stories including experiences in the airforce, fights with cancer, invited me to chess matches to watch the Rugby World Cup Final in the Pub with the locals at 9am on a Sunday

–       The old English crackled-voice MC heading up Open-Mic night in the Irish Pub (what?) in Oban. When he went back to the mic to announce the next act, he pointed me out to the crowd, that they had a Californian on their hands and everyone in the crowd cheered. (what???)

Almost all of the above gave me their contact information, invited me out to join them, instructed me which whiskey to drink, heckled me for ordering half-pints to forcibly ordered me full ones, or told me some new place or cool story about Scotland. Even the highland cows. I’ve never experienced something quite like this before.

Needless to say I spent a LOT of time laughing.
Despite its size, I was not able to see as much of the country as I would have liked and so it shall stay on my list of places warranting a return.  No, this isn’t an add for the Scottish tourism board, though perhaps when my fellowship is up here, I should consider applying…

Oban, Scotland

Though I was a bit sad to leave Scotland and return to a flatter place with similar weather and and a mother-tongue that is not my own, I can reflect upon and appreciate a great few days living the dream (FREEDOOOMMMMMMM) –and I feel so lucky to be still realizing a dream of mine which has been to live in another country. In Scotland, I saw hills, castles, hidden cemeteries, lots of rain, the sea, boats, Celtic Crosses, kilts, whiskey, heard bagpipes, ate lots of cake, drove on the left side of the road, and danced all night with a guy who talked like Braveheart.

Which is basically like dancing with Braveheart.

So… what more could a girl want?

For good measure, here are three photos (from my hike to Old Man of Storr, on Isle of Skye) to prove that I actually WAS here. Let's here it for the automatic timer. Note: inclement weather, AND how in the top photos, I actually thought I was tall enough to block your view of the mountain--so I ducked. 🙂

Why be discreet when…

October 29, 2011

 

You can just humiliate?

Part I-apartment layout.

I share the washer-dryer machine with my next door Dutch neighbor and her boyfriend on the top floor of our building. This is a great advantage to the flat. Incidentally, our apartment doors are 3 feet apart and face one another.

Our mail boxes are stacked-shelves on the bottom floor, so when people get letters or packages, they often go on the shelves. On occasion, I have had a package delivered to my neighbors’ house and I then go there to pick it up. But I have never had something delivered to my door proper. Such a service does not quite exist here. 🙂

Part II- the (apparently non-)Standard Protocol 

Once, my  next-door neighbor accidentally left their clothes in the dryer, “delicates” some might say. Since I needed to use the dryer, I grabbed an extra towel, wrapped the under-garments in the towel, and set them on the floor next to the her door.–Such that it looked only like a nicely folded towel.

 

Part III-my mistake

Last week I left for a 5-day trip to Scotland (blog post forthcoming) and before I left, I apparently left my “delicates” in the dryer. I do not know on which day they were discovered. I also do not know whether Anne or her boyfriend Martijn discovered them.

Last week before I left, I ALSO ordered professional business cards—I’m not officially representing my California organization over here, so I had to get some individual/Fulbright ones made. I was quite proud of them, as I designed the layout and took the photograph–it’s an extra special picture of the Elwha River in the Olympic Peninsula (Washington State) from a solo hiking trip I took 4 years ago.  Last month the Elwha Dam was finally removed, and the river (and fishes) can run free now– Okay so this is beside the point, but the emphasis is on the excitement I had for these cards.

I do not know on which day they were delivered.

Part IVthe (true) standard protocol–and surprise

When I came home from Scotland late Monday night, I went to put my key in the lock, but couldn’t.

Why?

Because multiple of my lady garments were hanging on my door handle, blocking the lock.

“Wrapped in a towel,” you ask?

No.

“Wrapped in an opaque bag of sorts so you couldn’t tell what they were,” you ask?

No.

My undergarments were hanging on the door handle.

Exposed.

To everyone.

Great. 

Oh look! My new business cards also made their way to the top floor and now here they sit!!

Under the undergarments.

REALLY? 

…Just incase there was any question about the ownership of the above lady- items.

I had to laugh as I glanced over my shoulder nervously and wondered how many times the neighbors had passed by these personal items just hanging so freely on my door handle. (I think my mother is more humiliated than me at this point). I know it’s not the end of the world– but STILL people.

I hope there weren’t many visitors or appliance repairmen over the past week.

So do you think under the Dutch-Dictionary.com, the definition is:

DISCRETION: Di-Skre-shun

noun:

1. For sissies

And after my description, I know you’re dying to know how my self-designed business cards look.

Here they are.

Why be polite when…

October 7, 2011

You can just be direct?

Definition from "Dictionary.com"

Yesterday I was in a supermarket here in Delft, staring at the fruit when I felt two nudges of something pointy and metal in my back.  I turned around to look and it was a non-smiling Dutch woman in her 70s–

The woman repeatedly pushed her shopping cart into my back until she got my attention and until I took the hint to move out of the way so she could pass.

I laughed because despite my surprise, I thought it was kind of funny and expected her to apologize and smile too.

She did not. She glared and pushed on.

Do you think that if I looked up the definition of “polite” on Dutch-dictionary.com,  it would read:

po-lite; adjective:

1. Useless American tactic

2. Inefficient use of time

heh.

Home Sweet Home

October 5, 2011

I’ve been here officially 1 month and 4 days.

I have not posted much of an update for a while.  I’d love to say it is because I’m extremely busy and could find no time to plug in…

OR that it’s because I’m living in some very remote windmill town where the only electricity to plug in a computer is generated from—the windmill (go figure)—and it hasn’t been very windy. …

Windmills at the Kinderdijk

OR that my cute Dutch bicycle and wooden shoes block the wireless signal.

None are true—I’ve haven’t written because I’ve been feeling a little low in the low-lands.  The move has been a bigger adjustment than I had anticipated and I’ve not been in the mindset to tell fun stories about my “adventures” here. Moving in and feeling at home has consumed a fair amount of my energy and this was unexpected but rest-assured, I’m on the rise and fortunately it’s much better now.

I figured that since I’ve been to Holland many times before and since I already knew a number of people in the same town, and since 99% of the population speaks English …that it wouldn’t be an adjustment and I’d just glide into every day life.

I was wrong.

Not in a big way, but I was wrong because of many little ways from subtle differences that all together,  leave me with a strange and often isolated feeling that I can’t quite put my finger on. (Sorry mom, ending a sentence with a preposition is not grammatically correct but in this case, it just suited the moment).

So what are they? these differences? 

Not the food. First of all, I get to eat tons of cheese.

Second, chocolate sprinkles on a piece of bread is considered an acceptable lunch.

I can drink Belgian beer with the best of them and dipping fries in Mayonnaise is a piece of cake.

It’s not the music.Dutch people have Ipods and listen to the same stuff we do antisocially on the train and in public places.

It’s not the transit. The trains work really well and are always on time (despite what Dutch people will tell you about train tardi-ness, I have NEVER waited for a Dutch train the way I wait for and sit on broken Amtrak trains in the U.S.).

Inside of a typical train-- my route to Delft.

Further, there are more bikes in this country than people, and I mastered training wheels back in 1984 so I’m rolling with every no-helmet-wearing, 5-bicycle-lock-using, cute-little-bell-ringing, 6-foot-five-blond-hair-blue-eyed (and brown-haired-brown-eyed) Dutch person.

Perhaps it’s the Dutch coffee?

Though Dutch coffee isn’t as strong as what I’m used to, it is always served proper with a cookie—so that makes up for the taste.  Plus, a very generous soul in California (who will undoubtedly have a place in heaven) sent me some Peet’s coffee from the U.S., so I can’t complain about not starting my mornings right. (Though incidentally, “Peet” of Peet’s coffee, is a Dutch immigrant. Coincidence?)

Is it my friends and family?

Nope.  Sorry, American friends—but it turns out that you’re quite replaceable.

(only joking).

I’ve got friends here and their parents with whom I cook dinners, go on long runs, hike in the mountains (not in Holland, of course), and even have strong political discussions.  Europeans, I’ve noticed, enjoy speaking much more about politics and controversial issues than Americans.  My friends have also run me all over town to help me get and assemble furniture to produce a nice, cozy home.

Though admittedly, both friends AND family are having and raising babies right now and I wish I could see them in person.

Why was it, then  that my thoughts occupied 50% of the time with, “What am I doing here? Should I go back to California?”

Turns out, it’s the adult version of Homesickness.  Yep, good ole, first-night-at-a-sleepover-party or first-time-living-away-from-home homesickness—Unexpected for me given I’ve travelled before.

It’s that feeling where I’m always on alert because things are just a little bit different—:

-I have to first read the menu in Dutch and then guess the translation, look for a translation, or ask my Dutch friend to translate it for me.

-It’s the train that I’m pretty sure, but not ALWAYS, will take me to where I need to go.

-It’s making online transactions and securing logistics all in Dutch, which, I mostly can read, but often have to use “Google Translate” and after a while, it becomes exhausting.

-It’s not asking the server to fix my bill when I’ve been overcharged because the extra effort in another language sometimes just isn’t worth it.

-It’s asking for someone at the train station to help explain something and then being told “no” because it’s either not their job or they just don’t feel like helping.

-It’s standing on the street and looking confused, wishing that someone who walks by might just care and offer to help (Canadians are AMAZING at this! Way to go Canada)…. But they just don’t.

Recently I learned, however, that many strangers will MORE than help you if you approach them, but I was told that Dutch people culturally have about .5 meters of personal space and they like to respect the space of others as a result. And those with whom I’m friends have helped me immensely without ever expecting anything in return.

-It’s realizing that I’ve been speaking English to non-native speakers for so long–which is fine, but I find  that I can’t actually recall some words in my own language. And that the emails I send to friends back home sometimes are incoherent with unusual placement of auxiliary verbs and adjectives.

-It’s explaining why I’m here all the time and NO, I’m not a phD student, NO I’m not a Post-Doc, NO I didn’t move here for a boy, YES I wanted to move here despite the terrible weather (NOW they tell me!)

-Yes I moved from California, NO it’s not sunny all the time.

That’s Los Angeles.

I don’t bring these up to complain, because the minor differences won’t even be noticeable soon. And the other 50% of the time here is fantastic. 50% is growing to 80%.  I’m having experiences (at least one a day) that I couldn’t possibly have back in the U.S. and these certainly outweigh the negatives.

Examples:

-Taking Salsa dancing lessons, instructions completely in Dutch, with non-english-speaking-Hungarian dance partner with whom I speak Spanish (common language somewhere!). I pretty much just giggle the whole time.

-Flying to Italy last minute on a cheap European flight (in 2 hours!) to help a friend drive his car back to Holland through the mountains and stopping in Austria and to see castles in Germany along the way.

Drive through the Alps from Italy--Austria--Germany--the Netherlands

Neuschwanstein Castle, Füssen, Germany. We made it just before closing.

-Eating chocolate chip yogurt.

-Going to Amsterdam for the afternoon with friends.

A rainy afternoon in Amsterdam.

-Drinks and h’ors doeurves at the U.S. Embassy in the Hague paid for by American Tax-dollars (thanks by the way!)

-Free coffee at the university.

-Free printing at the university.

My street. American cats sleep on couches, Dutch cats sleep on boats (see far right curled up brown furball)

-Being SURROUNDED by people working on water issues.
-Being surrounded by Italians. (I have no idea how this happened, but I’ve stopped trying to figure it out).

-Street signs like this one. (please tell me you think this is funny)

Note, "Straat" is Dutch for "street"

-Going to an African dance party across the street with African DJ, awesome music, people from everywhere.—We look like one big advertisement for the United Colors of Benneton.

Was that not politically correct? —>this leads me to the next bonus. 

-Holland is not politically correct and it’s okay here. They’re not racist either, but they don’t worry the way Americans do in every single situation.

And the BEST thing??
-Not leaving a tip for the waiter at dinner.

I still have days when I question why I’m here, when I miss San Francisco Bay and sailing, when wish I could watch Michigan football with their best season in four years (so far), and when I wish I could see the Detroit Tigers in the playoffs.  But I have other days when I think I’d like to stay here for longer than 9 months.

I love riding my bicycle, living in the cutest town on the planet, and I really enjoy missing all the 2012 Campaign Political adds on the television. Did I mention not-tipping the waiter? Because that’s pretty incredible.

I haven’t been able to pin down what makes me feel exactly at home or exactly estranged… but the difference between the two is starting to blur.  More and more people reach out and I am actually getting a bit too busy with “adventures” to notice the worries.

And the more fries with mayo that I eat, the line will dissolve altogether in no time.

Sunset from my roof, looking down my street.

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