Friday, November 12, 2010

Dag Blog Followers, Tot Ziens Nederlands and Hello Australia

I’m missing my kissing! My three kisses to be exact. I recently landed back in Australia with the lion and lamb (and the Dutchman curiously missing due to work commitments – likely story). After 25 hours of travelling, I was overjoyed to be greeted by my parents at Perth airport, and expressed this like an incoherent drunk (albeit sober due to the Joey in the pouch) and we reunited with a hug and a kiss, yes just one, and I felt like there was something missing in our reunion. So we’ve been back two weeks now and I’ve also reunited with old friends, and can definitely confirm I miss three kisses. One kiss just isn’t enough.

When I was getting ready to leave the Netherlands I knew there would be things that I would miss and things I would prefer in Australia. Surprisingly some of the differences I didn’t expect, and I need to jot them down before they quickly leave my placenta addled mind. So in this last blog of an Aussie in Holland, I thought I’d give you a quick summary.

Driving in the Netherlands was initially a challenge, particularly on snow affected roads. I expected to have trouble adjusting to driving in Oz but apart from a few heart palpitating moments at roundabouts, I’ve been fine driving on the left. What I have had trouble with is sticking to the speed limit. It is ridiculously slow, 100km per hour on enormous deluxe highways and freeways. There is room to have about four lanes in what has been dedicated to two, and you can only putt along at 100km per hour. Then there are other roads in the middle of nowhere with little traffic and speed limits of 70km per hour. I think the Dutch system of 30km per hour in built up residential areas and then 120 km per hour on freeways is far better.

Shopping. I was so ready to say good riddance to the old bags at Albert Heijn and a big hello to Australian supermarkets and an abundance of choice. But I must say after my first visit to the Woolworths I went up and down every aisle and was completely overwhelmed and couldn’t decide what to buy, I was also surprised at how expensive everything was. I don’t think it will take me long to enjoy all the choices we have here, but I sure will miss walking to the supermarket and walking back home again with my shopping trolley. Most things are accessed by car here.

Meat. My old friend meat, hello and so good to see you again. I have eaten the most delicious meat since I’ve been back in Australia. Beautiful organic beef steaks, lamb, lamb and more lamb. Meat that resembles well meat actually. I will not miss the poor excuse for meat that is served up in Holland and I should be easily able to keep my vow to never eat another piece of pork. Of course not unless it’s bacon, ridiculously yummy bacon or leg ham, deliciously carved off the bone. Very glad to be back in the land of meat eating carnivores with enough space for our cows to room free.

Call Centres. Okay no differences to report here. In the Netherlands I managed to navigate my way through the answering systems and speak to people in my dodgy Dutch and English mix, I had to spell everything out. Same same in Oz, sure it’s much easier to negotiate the IVR’s but you still have to spell everything out because you are speaking to a person in a Call Centre in India.

Brown versus Green. One of the best things about the Netherlands is the gorgeous green, flat, lush, countryside. And while I have travelled from a water logged green land to the desert (Perth is built on sand dunes), I also don’t mind the brown. It’s sort of welcoming like an old friend. This morning I pictured a galah out the front of our house. The land may be harsh but the bird life is fantastic. We are loving having a big suburban back yard, with a distance from our neighbours, and blue skies, ahhh the blue skies and sunshine, always soothing on the soul. Sure 37 degrees in “Spring” is a lot hotter than we ever experienced in Holland, but it is fabulous to get the washing dry.

Escalators going the “wrong” way, no skinny and ridiculously steep stairways to contend with, fantastic customer service, the distinct lack of incidental exercise, big cars with big engines but you can’t use them, always searching for the plug to get the power cables to fit, it’s all different and it’s all good. I’m delighted to be back in Australia. We loved our 14 plus months in the Netherlands, we will always look back on the time with fond memories. The door is open for returning some day. As we have a mixed Dutch/Australian family there will always be flights back and forth.

Thanks to all the fellow bloggers and readers for reading this blog and providing encouragement along the way. I’ve enjoyed the writing process and recording some memories of our time abroad. I’m thinking of blogging again, and with the pending birth of the Joey in the pouch (only five weeks to go) I might go for a mummy theme.

Tot ziens, dag, see ya later.


Monday, October 4, 2010

Welcome to a meeting of the United Nations!

The lion and lamb visiting class
Every Wednesday and Friday I attend a meeting of the United Nations. Okay, I admit, it’s not technically a UN meeting as such. Our meetings are not about creating solutions for world peace and we are not world leaders, but we do have wide representation from countries around the globe. On Wednesdays and Fridays I go to Nederlands lessons, and our group is just so culturally diverse it makes it a wonderful experience.

So just where do these people who attend my Dutch lessons hail from? Last Friday we had students from Afghanistan X 2, Iran, France, Morocco, Afghanistan via Sweden, Australia, Somalia, Syria, Brazil, Colombia, Eritrea, Lebanon and Iraq. Last Wednesday the class included people from Hong Kong, Turkey, India, Siberia and Kazakhstan (I showed great restraint not making any Borat references). And this is by no means the exhaustive list as students come and go and this week we were missing people from China, The Netherlands Antilles, Ghana and Pakistan.

So apart from the fact that I go to Nederlands lessons to learn Dutch (which is sometimes a by product from attending) I also go there for the social interaction. The most amazing thing about this lesson is that I feel like I’m in a room of equals. That’s right, it doesn’t matter that we all come from differing family, religious, social and economic backgrounds. It is irrelevant that we have vastly differing levels of formal education and that we don’t speak the same mother tongue. We are equal as we all muddle along with a varying ability to speak Dutch, some with far greater fluency than others. We are all foreigners in this land and all trying to improve our ability to communicate in Nederlands.

For the most part the individuals in our lessons are tolerant of one another, there is often much laughter and the atmosphere is gezellig (pleasant). Occasionally we celebrate a birthday or event and there is a range of foods produced from different cultures, and it is always delicious. For the most part it is women who attend these lessons and we are all there to learn, to have a good time and respect the differences of one another.

There have been so many benefits to me from attending these classes which are held for free by Piezo (a not for profit). Some of these include:
Communicating in Dutch – I’m forced to speak in Dutch both in the lesson and with the friends I’ve made as for the most part Dutch is our common language
Common bonds – being able to relate with others about their experiences assimilating and sharing, has made me feel not alone in adjusting into a new society
Cultural understanding – this has probably been the biggest highlight for me, meeting so many wonderful people from differing nationalities and learning about their customs and beliefs
Gratitude – a number of my classmates are refugees and I realise how easily you can take for granted; safety, peace, privilege, health care, education, employment and an easy life with an abundance of choices
Geographical knowledge – on a number of occasions I’ve had to race home from the lesson to consult Wikipedia to clarify just where a country is, that a fellow student comes from
Having fun – for the most part the lessons are fun and I do enjoy learning, although probably could prioritise it a little more outside of these classes

It’s great to learn what other buitenlanders (foreigners) enjoy about living in the Netherlands. For many life here is much better than in their originating country, but for many separation from family can be hard. I think for the most part people feel like Holland is safe and an easy country to live in and like the Dutch people. There are differing views on how good or bad the weather is in the Netherlands and the lady from Siberia says she feels the cold more here! A reference I will be sure to use again “if the lady from Siberia thinks it’s cold here, then it must be freezing” (FYI - an Oz definition of freezing is anything under about 13 degrees).

Before coming to the Netherlands I didn’t think I was going to be a foreigner as I thought we’d be locals as I live with a Dutchman. Now I’m here I’m happy to be a foreigner, but don’t really think of myself as an expat. When we return to Australia we will also be foreigners to a degree, not me, but our Dutch speaking lion (for awhile till her Aussie English kicks in) and for the Dutchman (till his Aussie accent replaces his Dutch one – if that ever happens). What I’ll take back to Australia is a profound respect for migrants and their plights, in particular for refugees who leave war ravaged countries and seek refuge in a “lucky” country for a better, safer or easier life with opportunities and choices.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Making the most of life??? - Carpe Diem

For those of you who might have missed Dead Poets Society or Latin class, Carpe Diem translates to ‘seize the day’. I’m reminded of this phrase when I walk past a flat in our neighbourhood and on the sign hanging above their front door is Carpe Diem. It always makes me stop to think, have I seized today?

When I think about this question I can’t always say yes that I have seized the day. Sure I am living in a foreign land and occasionally lucky enough to be off exploring Europe (like on our recent trip to Prague). More often than not, I’m doing the hum drum stuff stay at home mothers do wherever they live.

What I have realised however that kids are fantastic examples of Carpe Diem in practice. Not only do they seize the day but they savour the moment. They take great delight jumping in puddles, pretend vacuuming the floor and throwing their food off the table.

This morning I was walking to school with the lamb riding her bike, complete with pink lamb teddy bear tucked into the bike rack, she was enjoying every second and singing on the top of her voice all of the way. On our late arrival to school she was greeted with a chorus of hellos and excitement and walked proudly into the room like a celebrity, I thought this is a girl who is seizing the day.

I pondered all the way home (accompanied by some more quiet and pleasant singing by the lamb) about how I’m not “seizing the day” quite enough. Sure I celebrate the little victories in life, like learning a few new Dutch words or managing to navigate my way through a telephone response system in Dutch. But at the moment I feel like my life is on hold. Yet again!

You see I’m going through one of my major life changes. I tend to time these with pregnancies and I’m up to my third. In my first pregnancy I was looking down the barrel of going from career woman to a single working mother, a fairly intimidating prospect, but fortunately one that turned out exceptionally well. For my second pregnancy we spent half of the pregnancy deciding whether to move country or not. It turns out what we did, and adventures of which have been detailed in this blog. And now with our third pregnancy and a baby Joey in the pouch (ready to get out in about 12 weeks) we are looking at moving countries again. I really want this process to hurry up or at least be decided one way or the other. However I need to wait until all the cards fall into place and have no control over the outcome.

Waiting isn’t something I’m good at! Sure I can masquerade as a super relaxed mum, but if you scratch below the surface I’m a type A personality going undercover as a relaxed person. Having no control is an anathema to a Type A character. So now you see where my problem lies.

In working out how to get through this time of the great unknown I need to learn some lessons from my children and embrace their passion for life in the here and now. Seizing the day needs to be making the most of the individual moments and trying not to think about tomorrow, next week or next month. I need to embrace the great Aussie saying of “she’ll be right”. Hmmm, now I’ve found the solution, I just need to put it into practice :-).

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Our first year... Happy Anniversary to us...

What an amazing ride the last year has been! Having a baby, moving house, packing our bags, leaving Australia and arriving in the Netherlands with a 4 week old lamb and a 2 ½ year old lion. It’s time to do a year in review and travel down memory lane...

August 09

The Dutchman wisely decided to make his great escape from Oz in advance and in a moment of madness my brother (let’s call him JB) and sister in law (let’s call her the baby whisperer) very kindly agreed to accompany the lion, lamb and I on a 23 hour 35 minute flight abroad. The highlights of this exceptionally long and tedious trip were the baby whisperer soothing the lamb, and finally coercing the lion into sleep after almost 20 hours without it, being deliriously tired and laughing hysterically out loud while watching The Hangover, and finally watching JB collecting all the crazy bags off the baggage carousel in Amsterdam.

In our first month...
• Succeeded in not being run over by any bikes
• Adjusted to living in an inner city (Rotterdam) apartment 
• Freaked out sitting in the driver’s seat but not driving the car
• Wondered where the proper ‘big’ supermarket was 
• Fell in love with Delft
• Discovered a passion for fresh stroopwafels AND lekker kibbeling AND patat and fritte saus

September 09
We found a house to rent. When I say ‘we’ I really do mean the royal ‘we’, I was chief researcher, but due to fear and language barriers I let the Dutchman do all of the negotiating and contract signing with the Real Estate Agent. I found it a real surprise to have to put a rental application in with the agency BEFORE even seeing any properties. Then ONCE we were approved we could go and look at vacant properties and choose which one we liked. Fortunately we found a house we loved and still do. We didn’t pay a deposit or a bond and there are no rent inspections (how fantastic is that?).

Our second month...
• ‘We’ (the royal we) renovated a house that we don’t own
• Became frequent flyers at IKEA 
• Ventured further afield in the Netherlands
• Felt incredibly frustrated at my lost independence
• Met new friends and little playmates 

October 09

By October it was already time to pull out the scarves and beanies. People started talking about wearing their summer or winter jacket (no such thing exists in Oz you have a jacket in winter that would probably translate to a summer jacket here). We went to our first birthday party and I learnt how to say gefeliciteerd (congratulations) to everyone and shake hands with all present, and eat cake before eating anything else (great idea). Was quite enamoured by the Dutch custom of introducing yourself rather than waiting to be introduced, and think it’s particularly helpful when you can’t remember someone’s name.

Our third month...
• Felt more at ease with life in the Netherlands
• Requested emergency care packages of Ugg Boots & Vegemite
• Discovered crème mergpijpjes and big battenbergs (delicious cream and chocolate or marzipan and chocolate biscuits)

November 09

Two life changing events happened in November that made our lives in the Netherlands far more enjoyable. The first was the lion started Peuterspeelzal (like 3 year old kinder from ages 2 ½ to 4, three times per week).  Being the social butterfly the lion is, she adjusted beautifully and these lessons really helped her to settle into life here and also learn Dutch. Within three months from starting school (as we call it) the lion was speaking fluent Nederlands (and much to her Oma and Opa’s delight high Nederlands – apparently they speak posh in Zoetermeer).

The second life changing event was starting Nederland’s lessons. Commenced lessons at Piezo, a voluntary organisation in Zoetermeer offering free lessons for migrants and free child minding at the same time. These lessons are questionable in how effective they are in teaching you Dutch (there is no set course, just show up each week and the teacher will teach you whatever they feel like on the day) they have been absolutely invaluable in helping me to assimilate and meet fabulous women from all over the world. It has also been great for the lamb as he has been adored by the caring child minders and learnt to have a little time away from his mum.

In our fourth month...
• Settled in to a routine and began really enjoying life abroad
• Pulled out the winter woollies and didn’t question if we needed to wear a jacket
• Experienced vandalism NL style

December 09

Enjoyed our first Sinterklaas (Saint Nicholas) celebration and the festivities this included. The lion became officially Dutch with a celebration ceremony at the Gemeente (council) where she demonstrated some of her lioness behaviour (I’m surprised they didn’t revoke her citizenship on the spot). The lamb experienced his first Christmas and the lion and I our first white Christmas. We celebrated the First Christmas and Second Christmas Day (it’s such a wonderful idea to over indulge on two days in a row). Loved the fireworks and people going out in the snow to risk blowing off their fingers and toes on New Year’s Eve.

In our fifth month...
• Loved celebrating Sinterklaas, Christmas and New Year
• Laughed at the Dutchman riding his bike to collect the Christmas tree
• Felt like we were living in Afghanistan with fireworks being set off nightly
• Ate many delicacies including... kerstbrood (Stollen), olliebollen (fried donut like delights) and pepernoten (round spicey cookies)
• Enjoyed the snow

January 10

The New Year brought new beginnings and the birth of this blog. It felt strange to go back to school in January so close to Christmas, and not to enjoy our summer holidays that we normally have in January. The love and fascination with the snow started to wear off, and realised you just have to go outside every day, regardless of the conditions.

In our sixth month
• Left the Netherlands and ventured across the border into Germany
• Was impressed by a man riding his bike through snow while holding an umbrella
• Started to wonder if we would ever need our thongs (flip flops, double pluggers, jandals) again

February 10

By February we were well accustomed to walking on ice, and when the weather warmed and reached the whopping heights of four degrees, we celebrated and went to Amsterdam. Gained hope that the snow was clearing and decided it was high time I purchased a bike to travel in Dutch style.

In our seventh month...
• Loved the Rijksmuseum and the scenic delights Amsterdam has to offer
• Reconciled ourselves to 4 degree weather as being acceptable
• Took possession of my new freedom machine read about it here

March 10

In Maart roots and starts (if you know this whole rhyme can you send it to me?) and Lente (or spring) sprung. We enjoyed the company of Meema and Opa (the Oz grandparents) and were surprised when they kept banging on about how cold it was (it was a perfectly acceptable 8 degrees). Opa kept asking whether he needed to wear a jacket (of course – maybe gloves and scarves were becoming optional). They shared in our delight when the temperature topped double figures for the first time.

In our eighth month...
• Fell in love with Brugge
• Enjoyed overindulgence and catching up with my parents
• Ate lots of Paasbrood (Stollen dressed up as Easter bread and just as delicious)
• A stork landed on our garden shed and shared his company for awhile

April 10

In April the sun came out and spring became alive. We marvelled at the blooms on the trees and visited the Keukenhoff. I discovered how wonderful the beach/beach experience is at Scheveningen. We were astounded that the gardens after being dormant for six months just started growing like it was on steriods.

In our ninth month...
• We enjoyed a trip to Amsterdam minus the kids, read about it here
• Found out the stork left more than we were expecting
• Started Nederlands lessons at Taal Taal

May 10

In May I taught Opa how to make a pavlova and he can now produce one of these delicious Australian desserts (Kiwis might debate this). We finally admitted our Huisart (doctor) was a moron (I’d previously excused behaviour due to language barriers). He told the Dutchman that the lion had a stomach virus and disputed her being sick with asthma!  Within two hours of seeing him the lion was admitted to Hospital for asthma where she spent the next three days.

In our tenth month...
• Gained confidence in the hospital system
• Started to speak and understand more Dutch
• The lamb learnt to walk
• Marvelled at how beautiful Spring is in this country

June 10

In June summer came at long last and we enjoyed the heat, put away our winter AND summer jackets and bared our white arms and legs to the world. In June we left the country for a lazy 15 hour car trip to the South of France and Spain (in Australia you don’t drive fifteen hours anywhere, you fly – I once had to talk the Dutchman out of driving from Melbourne to Sydney for a half hour appointment). The lion and lamb delighted in swimming regularly and living an outdoors lifestyle. The lamb spent the best part of a month with bruises on his forehead from campground accidents and falling out our back door step on a regular basis (at last he now gets it).

In our eleventh month...
• Fell in love with Argeles Sur Mer
• Ate way too many baguettes with brie and strawberries
• Went on holidays Dutch style and loved every minute

July 10

School holidays started and the weather got even better. Our neighbourhood cleared out and the streets became deserted as people loaded their cars, caravans and campervans and headed off on their three week vacation in the sun. World cup fever hit the Netherlands, and houses, streets, cars and shops were decorated with Orange. It was hard not to become enthusiastic about twenty two men running around a soccer pitch when the country of patriotic nationals were overflowing with exuberance for the game. After the Uruguay/Dutch match we had about three hundred people milling around a local roundabout dancing in the streets, blowing horns and letting off fireworks and flares, even I felt patriotic, it was a great experience.

In our twelfth month...
• Worshiped the sun like true Dutchmen
• Celebrated the lamb’s first birthday
• Visited every playground in Zoetermeer
• Got on board the World Cup bandwagon

And now it’s August and we’ve clocked up one year in this green, flat, scenic land of windmills, pastures and waterways. I feel really grateful for the opportunity to live abroad and get to know the Dutchman’s family and understand his Dutch life. I have felt free and alive pedalling my bike through the parks and streets with the lion and the lamb on board. We have laughed a million laughs and we have cried many tears (well not the Dutchman, but the rest of us have). Our journey down the road less travelled has allowed us many new experiences and we have stored away many memories which in years to come, we will look back fondly on. Entering a new situation and way of life has helped me to challenge my identity, question what is important and learn to live in the day and the moment. Most of all I think it has helped me develop more patience, be more laid back and be more compassionate towards migrants. I feel proud that we have immersed ourselves in our Dutch life and while there are still things I long for from home (namely a lamb roast with roasted pumpkin, sweet potato, carrot, beetroot and rosemary potatoes covered in mint sauce and a delicious red wine gravy), I have learnt many of the things we long for are not important and it becomes easier to live without them.

Next holiday destination is Prague, I’ll keep you posted.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Standing on the outside looking in...

On our weekend trip to Assen to visit family, I had a revelation. I think it is worth documenting my little story, in case it helps any other expats.

I come from a big family and until recently I thought this has stood me in good stead to adjusting well in life. The interplay of family dynamics and differing personalities in our family of eight has taught me to how to socialise in group settings. In the past I have been comfortable managing multiple conversations at once and the hive of activity that occurs when a group of people get together after not having seen each other for awhile. Since living in the Netherlands I’ve felt a different part of my personality come out (the quiet and introverted side) and I haven’t enjoyed social situations nearly as much as I would have in Australia.

I’ve had my challenges settling in to life in the Netherlands. The six months of winter has probably been the biggest challenge for me, as I’m a person that loves summer, warm weather and the great outdoors. The kids also suffer from cabin fever and last winter we went out on bone chilling cold days which if they had of occurred in Australia, we may not have left the house. Given winter went on so long here, I had no choice but to get on and live life regardless of the weather, and I’m impressed by the Dutch who do just that.

Summer has been wonderful, and I’ve loved experiencing a real change to the seasons. If summer was longer and winter much shorter, living in the Netherlands on an ongoing basis would be a more attractive proposition. I love that it is warm enough now to have a more outdoorsy life. We leave the back door open all day, the kids roam inside and out, they dig and play, and drag all the dirt back inside. Fine by me, they are happy, I’m happy.

Next from the weather the biggest adjustment for me has been the social barriers that I’ve encountered. I think the Dutch are in many ways quite like Australians, and while there are different customs and norms, they like to have fun (well the ones I know), celebrate with food (don’t we all) and are up for embracing life. The Dutchman and I strike a good relationship because we have very similar values. This is even though we were raised in different cultures, in different decades and about 16,500 kilometres apart. The biggest social barrier for me has been the language and lost freedom of expression, and the feeling of isolation I’ve had when a conversation takes place and I’ve had no clue what is going on.

I think my Nederlands comprehension is at a tipping point. While I still struggle to make myself understood with my poorly constructed sentences and mispronunciation, my comprehension has improved markedly over the last eleven months. So in the past when I would have completely checked out of conversations and tried to hide my embarrassment, while praying my face wasn’t going red (stupid really that I was embarrassed because I didn’t understand a language I’d never learned). I now listen and even dare to make eye contact. I’m not smiling as much like the village idiot, instead my clogs are whirring and with a duh duh duh twenty second delay (up to five minutes or maybe even a day), I finally get it. While I tend to get the topic of conversation I still have a good knack for missing the point or the joke.

So this is my revelation that occurred. On Sunday while having a really pleasant day sitting outside in glorious sunshine with family and listening intently to the conversations (95% of which were in Dutch unless I asked questions or they were directed at me). I realised I felt like I was standing on the outside looking in. For the first time I realised they were not being rude mostly speaking Dutch. They were just being a family, enjoying each others’ company, laughing and having fun and speaking freely (albeit brutally honestly) in their native tongue. I almost cried and wished I was my sister who is good at communicating her feelings with others. Instead I made an offhand and somewhat abrasive remark (well probably not for people who like directness) about speaking Dutch all day. My brother in law responded with, “oh I think you can speak Dutch when you say grote dikke buik” (big fat stomach), my father in law apologised and my sister in law said "but you do understand". The penny dropped even further. I think the Dutchman's family are more comfortable now in my presence, to talk freely and have fun, without having to stop and translate, or fill in the gaps for me. This revelation that the reason I have trouble fitting in is hopefully less to do with my personality and more about my poor Dutch language skills. It was a double edged sword because while I was pleased/relieved to finally articulate what has been a source of previous frustration I also felt really upset and isolated.

It triggers my flight or fight response. I want to flee this country and return to the familiar and the loving fold of the family I grew up with. I want to escape hostile winters and live in a far more agreeable climate. That said, I am a resilient person and will keep trooping on. I think this revelation just has to increase my resolve to improve my Nederlands language skills, so I can also be a fully fledged member of the Dutchman’s fun loving family and so they also feel at ease with and accepting of me and hopefully get my jokes.

No more feeling sorry for myself. It’s time to adopt the great human resource principle of FIFO (fit in or fly away). I think even though we can try and embrace diversity as human’s we naturally find it easier to relate to people like us, particularly if there are no communication barriers.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Fashion Police, it’s time for some arrests...

I would love to say that I have a fabulous sense of style. However in truth, as a mother, my favourite fashion accessory is a set of hand prints on clean pants. I once regularly wore matching necklaces and dangly earrings, but now I do so at the risk of being strangled or ending up with earlobes bigger than a Masai warrior. I have been known to wear blue and black at the same time, and also double denim (but that was so long ago it doesn’t count). And thanks to the Stacey and Clinton version of “What not to wear”, I’ve weaned myself off the teenage boy look of jeans, hoody (albeit one with a cool logo) and coloured trainers (when you see my feet you’ll see the reason comfort is a must). So now that I’ve fully justified the hypocrisy which is about to unfold, let me embark on a rant about the fashion wardrobe of travellers.

We have just had the most amazing holiday in the South of France (sounds so divine, and it was) and to Spain (tapas, oh tapas my friend, you are delicious). Now if this statement alone doesn’t conjure up enough jealousy in you yet, let me post a couple of pictures to rub it in...

Back to the topic... What I don’t understand about people on holidays in gorgeous locations, is that for some reason their sense of taste goes out the window (assuming they had anything to begin with), and they seem to think its okay to wear the most horrid things.

To make things easier, I’m going to start with some generalisations by race. The Pommy and Irish tourists I saw (I’m sure they are going to just love being put in the same fashion disaster basket) certainly took the biscuit when it came to ugly bathing accessories. There must have been a kaftan sale on at Heathrow/Dublin airports on hot pink kaftans which were then worn over chunky bodies (they are see through people, you are not hiding anything). There was the girl with the tattoo on her bum (well if you going to get a discreet tattoo your left butt cheek is not a bad choice) but she was wearing a transparent tankini (also in an ugly shade of pink). The most common fashion feature of the Pommy/Irish tourist category was the burnt redder than you can ever wish to imagine skin, bearing tell tale white marks where legs had been bent, sunscreen missed or man boobs which had created shelter.  But the standout highlight from this category, was the Irish lady who came to the pool each day in black and white leopard print bathers, an almost matching black and white skirt, and an almost matching velour shawl that handily doubled up as her beach towel.

Let me move on to the people of my kin, the Dutch. The Dutch can be congratulated because with the exception of some older couples wearing coordinating khaki (what is it with holiday makers wearing khaki?), the Dutch for the most part seem to wear the same as at home. I don’t know if this is because they are too tight to buy ‘holiday’ outfits, or whether the casual wardrobe is the domain of many Dutch people. This made it very easy for me to spot the Dutch people before hearing them. And no, it wasn’t the blonde hair and being tall, and all looking the same that gave it away (tongue planted firmly in cheek here). For the women it was leggings!

I’ve been pondering for ages why Dutch vrouw’s are so committed to wearing leggings (they look tres cute on 4 year old girls, but grown women?). I have reasoned they wear them so they don’t show their knickers when they are wearing a skirt and riding their bikes. However they didn’t seem to be on bikes while on holidays. For the Dutch women not wearing leggings it was the white pants that gave their nationality away. In the Netherlands no sooner has than the sun coming out on a pleasant day, the vrouws are out and about looking carefree and happy in their white pants/shorts/skirts. This has been some form of fashion culture shock for me as the well known but unspoken rule in Australia is this... If you are over a size 10, you do not, I repeat never, wear white on your bottom half unless it is white shoes, and even then they are questionable.

But the final fashion feature of the Dutchies was their brown skin. While I was away, I loved to scoff at their sunburnt skin, but no sooner had the evening past and the sun arisen the next day, these people would come out sporting a fabulous suntan. Not like the Pomms/Irish that looked much worse on the second day, the Dutch people I saw looked gorgeous and bronzed after hours in the sun. And yes I have repressed jealousy as my sun damaged Aussie skin is covered in moles and spots due to a misspent youth at the beach.

The Spaniards regardless of their age or sagginess of their boobs clearly saw that bikini tops were not required. And the slim young French girls were big fans of butt accessorising super short denim shorts. The kids under 5 wore with a mantra, “I shalt not be seen near the pool without floaties securely attached to each arm”. And crocs (how I hate crocs) were the most common child footwear. Havaianas (how I love ‘em) have clearly become a great Brazillian thong export (that is the thong that gives you toe cleavage rather than bottom cleavage). For those with young babies Bugaboo’s were mandatory, and those with older babies/toddlers (and the smarts to work out big prams are a pain in the proverbial) then Maclaren strollers were the absolute must have beach/pool accessory.

So while the fashion police were not present on my holiday. They would have been seriously busy handing out tickets and taking into custody people for fashion crimes. They could have started with this person who looks curiously a lot like me.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

There is nothing funny but a toothache, but 3 front teeth, now that is funny

Today feels like the first day in forever since I have had no pain in my teeth, face or jaw. I’ve recently become well acquainted with the Dutch dental system which is, like many things Dutch, interesting.

My tooth broke back in March after some over enthusiastic chewing, on let’s be honest, lollies. Anyhow, a quick call to the Dutchman’s dentist found her to be on holidays, so I thought I’m tough, I can wait. Pain continued.

A week later I got through to the Dutchman’s dentist only to be rejected! The receptionist put me on hold, spoke to the dentist who said NO, she did not want me as her patient. Boo hoo, serious? (This led to a little melt down about how frustrating it can be to live in this country and a paranoid suspicion I was being rejected based on speaking English.) I have never ever heard of an Australian dentist not wanting to line their pockets with more cashola from a new patient.

I finally found a dentist, who over the period of the next couple of months, worked happily away in my mouth. She also worked on a ‘needs to know basis’, providing little information on what she was doing. Speed was also her priority and I quote “let’s see how many fillings we can do in 40 minutes”. There was no reference to quality, nothing to recovery, and suspicion mounted that I had chosen a dodgy dentist.

Last Thursday I was in extreme pain, okay well it’s all relative really isn’t it? (It’s not like I got run over by a train and had lost both of my legs, but my tooth hurt.) I rang the dentist and said I needed an urgent appointment and was told they didn’t have anything for a week. At this point, my voice was wavering, I had kids crying in the background, and I was about to lose it. So I bravely asked, “okay then, give me the number for the emergency dentist” (what a fabulous concept, it’s done on a rotation system for all the dentists in the area), and was told that MY dental practice WAS the emergency dentist for the day! (Seriously wondering what exactly you have to do to get an appointment for the emergency dentist). After pleading they made an appointment with a dentist no more than three hours later.

At my emergency dental appointment on Thursday, the dentist started drilling away (he also worked on speed and limited communication).  For example, he didn’t bother wait for the anaesthetic to kick in, he just started drilling away and figured something was wrong when I flew up horizontally in the chair almost convulsing. Fortunately he then paused for a few seconds. After questioning (which went something like this, wwwaaa isssshhh wooong) I learnt I had a tooth infection. And after seeing the size of the needles going into my mouth I figured out he was doing a root canal (even I can be bright sometimes). After a very quick treatment (less than 30 minutes), he said he got 90% of the infection (what about the other 10%?) and to take a couple of panadol if I needed them.  He ended with “make an appointment with your regular dentist” no saying this is going to hurt like hell for a week, just a goodbye, or probably dag or some such Dutch farewell.

By Saturday the pain was killing me. (Okay I’m exaggerating again, it wasn’t really killing me, but it bloody hurt.) A quick call into a different emergency dentist, and she asked me who my regular dentist was, upon my response paused and sighed (oh no, even I can figure out this isn’t good). That said, I don’t think she was too keen to work on a Saturday and got me off the phone by telling me it might hurt even more if she opened my tooth up, so I had a couple of panadol and a lie down.

On Sunday I took possession of the title family lion, and really was starting to roar. Again back on the phone to yet another emergency dentist (did I mention this was after having a pink fit because ALL  phone messages are recorded in Dutch) and the girl was fantastic, she was like, “yeah sure, I can fix it, how quickly can you be here?” Fifteen minutes later this dentist was saying things like, “did they do this? No? Aha”. “Did they do that? No? That explains it”. Anyhow, after spending much time and care on my very sore tooth, she told me it would be better in 1 to 4 days. Even I could wait that long, considering it’s now June and this all started in March.

Tuesday came around and I nervously rang the emergency dentist. The pain in my mouth was still there, but I couldn’t face going back to my dodgy dentist. Tentatively I asked the receptionist if the emergency dentist would take me as a new patient (this is worse than dating!). Walla, after a few minutes and a positive outcome, I was booked for an appointment next week. Oh what a delight. What a delight to have no pain in my tooth today and not to be rejected by another dentist. The root canal work continues...

Meanwhile, as we are on the subject of teeth, I think it is timely to laugh at a photo of the Dutchman (he is a good egg and was happy for me to share this). When he was a boy he somehow managed to grow three front teeth (this defect hasn’t manifested in the kids just yet, but it was his second set of teeth, so there's still time). For the record his teeth are perfectly straight and normal now.
Even with 3 front teeth, wasn’t he a cutie?

Friday, May 7, 2010

Flags make me ponder...

Driving into Assen the other day I was excited by all the flags hanging from the pristine houses in the perfectly symmetrical tree lined streets. Cars were washed, gardens were awash with colour, windows were sparkling, and flags were flying high. Oh I must get a photo of this, I declared to the Dutchman, I even felt patriotic enough to get a family photo in front of the flag at Oma's and Opa's.

So as excited as I was to see all the flags on Queens Day, when I ventured out early morning the following day, I was somewhat dismayed by the fact all the flags had been taken down. I mean seriously, had they all remembered? I drove and drove looking with dismay at the distinct absence of flags. My spirits were suddenly lifted, by one solitary flag still flying, phew, what a relief, at least someone in this country is not organised.

Now the reason why Australians would never hang flags out on Australia Day is because they would forget to take them down, possibly for weeks or months. I could imagine saying, why not leave it up till next year? Groups of young people (not me, people much younger and more foolhardy than I am) would be tempted to do nude runs along the streets carrying their stolen flags proudly. There would be public debate about whether the flags flying high in front of our respective houses should be the red white and blue one (like the British flag but with some stars added to it) or the Aboriginal flag (black for aboriginal people, red for the earth and yellow for the sun.  A flag I saw in Brugge reminds me of it - just rotate the stripes to the right and imagine the heart as a sun).

The public debate might extend to whether it’s okay to hang a Greek, Italian, Vietnamese, Chinese, Afghan, Indian, Sudanese, South African or any flag for that matter, on Australia Day (after all Australia is a very multicultural society and shouldn’t Australia Day embrace just that?). The debate would continue about whether Australia Day should be changed from the date some Indigenous Australians refer to as Invasion Day.

The Netherlands is a multi cultural society too. My Dutch lessons are like a meeting from the United Nations, with classmates from... Brazil, Hong Kong, Colombia, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Ghana, Morocco, France and the list goes on. Maybe the rich history of Dutch language and society leads to a truly defined cultural heritage. This well defined Dutch identity may also be why I think it’s hard for migrants to assimilate (this view is supported by the fact Geert Wilders is in politics).

So here in the Netherlands, on Queens Day I saw only Dutch flags flying, with the exception of both Dutch and Swedish flags flying outside of IKEA. The Dutch flag gets flown as it is a celebration of the Queen’s birthday (which is quite different from Australia Day). In Australia we also celebrate a Queen’s birthday too. But the reason why we celebrate is because we got a long weekend, in the middle of the year, when everyone needs a break. I haven’t encountered too many royalists in Australia and the Queen doesn't really feel like our Queen. That said at the last republic referendum in 1999, the majority of Australians voted in favour of maintaining the status quo.

So some simple flags hanging from the houses in The Netherlands have led me into a brief rant about Australia Day, an Australian Republic and assimilation in The Netherlands. Flags are much more than a piece of coloured cloth hanging from a pole. They represent symbols, ideologies and a sense of belonging. And isn’t a sense of belonging one of Maslow’s identified basic human needs? I ponder...

Thursday, April 22, 2010

A day at the beach

Last Sunday was a glorious day, the sun was shining, birds were singing and the blossoms on the trees were blooming. It was a day not to be wasted, so our family set off for a day at a beach.

Off we went in our big red car (oh ah) to Scheveningen. Funnily enough, we weren’t the only ones with this bright idea. 

As we drove (at walking pace), I marvelled at all the families heading off to the beach on their bikes and declared to the Dutchman that next time we will do the same (he laughed).  I was mesmerised by all of the people sunbaking on their balconies (isn’t sunbaking so 1985? – apparently not). And yet again I was in awe of all the sparkling clean windows, with their perfect symmetrical placed candles and floral displays for the world to see (so typically Dutch).

At last we made it to the beach, the sand was yellow, the water green/blue, and there were crystal clear skies. It was my first beach experience in the Netherlands, and coming from a country of fabulous beaches I wasn’t sure what to expect.

Going to the beach in Australia is all about sunburnt feet, sunscreen and sand everywhere. They are covered in colourful dome tents with people cowering inside. Kids have their UV50+ protection long sleeved rash vests and their board shorts, many parents have the same. The goal is to show minimal skin to a) avoid sunburn and b) have less body parts to put sunscreen on. Everyone is wearing sun hats, the bigger the better. If you are lucky you might even have an esky with an ice cold six pack inside.  And if you are luckier again your dad (or anyone within eyesight) won't be wearing dick dacks (speedos/sluggers/budgie smugglers).

Well I must say my first trip to the beach at Scheveningen was a wonderful experience. You don’t have to go on the sand if you don’t want to, you can just walk up the boulevard and choose whichever lovely outdoor restaurant/eatery/bar your heart desires. You can sit back and enjoy your ice cold beer and bitterballen (delicious fried balls) and keep calling the waiter back for more. If you are Dutch you can get your kit off, and sunbake behind glass wind shelters until you are redder than a baboons bottom. Your kids can play on the sand, and you can watch them from the comfort of your outdoor couch. The water is far enough away you’ve got time to catch them (the kids that is) if they do a runner to the water's edge.

Oh going to the beach in the Netherlands is a pure delight! It’s time the Aussies established more eating/drinking establishments, right on the side of the beach.  The OBH and the Cott are good, but it's not quite the same as enjoying a day quite literally on the beach, without really having to go to the beach as such.  The weather is not so hot that you get ridiculously burnt in five minutes.  And when you get back in the car you don't tattoo your stomach with the buckle of your seat belt or burn the finger prints off your hands on the steering wheel.

What are we doing next Sunday?  My vote is for going to the beach again.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A day out in Amsterdam...

Recently I had a day out to Amsterdam. Big deal you might say. Woo hoo, I say, yippee, a day off, without kids (I mean without my little cherubs of joy and happiness). We really didn’t care where we went, a day off is a day off! So the agenda for this day out was a) go to a museum b) check out the red light district and c) drink beer. I’m pleased to say all were achieved, but an unexpected event did take place, I had a massage. First, let me set the scene.

We arrived a tad weary and foot sore after a standing train trip (temporary insanity and pure delight from being set free, led to a quick – read crazy - decision to journey on a longer trip than necessary). Keen to get away from the Central Station hullabaloo we found a tram to take us to the museum district.

Walking tall (the Dutchman) and smug (both – but mostly me) we passed the very long and rain soaked Easter Saturday queue into the Van Gogh museum, having gladly purchased our express tickets online. We raced around the seriously over crowded museum at a cracking pace, trying to quell the rising disquiet. The novelty of the multi lingual crowds including a few Australians wore off quickly (I stopped myself to running up to people and saying, are you Australian? where are you from? you see I don’t hear English that much living in downtown Zoetermeer, it’s all Dutch). After a somewhat empty museum experience (not overly enamoured with the art, apologies to the Van Gogh enthusiasts) we were pleased to find the exit and burst out into the fresh air and temporary sunshine.

A little frazzled, we found our way into the red light district, and I was surprised at the age of some of the women in windows (both young and old). It was seedier than I expected and the aroma from the coffee shops filled the air. Keen to escape we ducked out of the rain into a bar (after our third attempt we found one decorated in pirate theme – and no we weren’t looking for a pirate bar) to discover the no smoking rules are rather loosely applied (yes we were looking for no smoking – I’m a reformed smoker snob). The beer still tasted good and we downed a couple and set off for further adventure.

We found a delicious Japanese restaurant, and I realised how much I missed Japanese cuisine, which I haven’t had in NL (the Dutch clearly haven’t embraced Japanese like Aussies have). It was an added bonus the menu read the same as Japanese in the land down under, and unlike other Asian food here was not Dutchified (read - with an odd curry flavour).

Tummies full, we stopped outside a Chinese massage shop (looking pretty legit – it even had a picture of a body with acupressure points on it). The Dutchman opted for a foot massage which took place in the shop in comfortable leather (probably pleather) chairs. For my head, neck and back massage, I was asked to go downstairs by a Chinese lady who by rough estimates was a third of my size (I’m no Amazon, just a healthy Australian, a little bit chubbier for two kids and a few too many stroopwafels). The stairs were so tiny and narrow I had to do a quick calculation to see if I would even fit! Making it successfully down and a quick miscommunication between the miniature masseuse and I, it was established I had to be naked from top to waist, with my jeans undone. Okay, I can live with that, but I wasn’t expecting her to watch me get undressed (she might have been thinking, crikey I’ve got an oompa loompa here – really I’m not obscenely obese, she was unnaturally tiny). She administered a somewhat unorthodox massage (I spent much of the time giggling and wondering if she was going to offer a happy finish – while at the same time being pleased it was me and not my Dutchman getting the massage). My miniature masseuse had obviously watched Meet the Fockers (think the scene where Gaylord’s mum massages Pam’s dad), and spent much time kneeling over my body on the bed while kneading my shoulders and basically riding me like a pony. It took all of my resolve not to laugh really loudly, partially through fear out of what was going to happen next, and mostly because I kept having flashbacks to another unorthodox massage I had in India (I had a man massage the majority of my body, paying particular attention to my lady lumps – and if that wasn’t humiliating enough – he put me in this quasi shower and washed me down – and, can you believe this, I even paid him and a) did not die of embarrassment or b) get sexually violated any more than I've already discussed here. It turned out he wasn’t the man recommended by the lonely planet he was just filling in).

Having escaped my interesting massage in Amsterdam experience the Dutchman told me they were all laughing upstairs about the squeaky bed downstairs, and joked about what the (skinny mini) masseuse was doing. So that was my massage in Amsterdam!

We finished off our big day out with many more beers (Palm and Jupiler) and the Dutchman finally dragging me home to my awaiting family. Back to being a mum again...

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Things I do differently here...

Living in Holland in my mindset is sometimes like being on holidays. Only difference is, this is our life and we are not on holidays (not counting next week when we really are on holidays in Bruges, bring it on). I don’t know about you, but when I’m on holidays all rules get thrown out the window, calories don’t count and anything goes.

So you might be already thinking I live my life with wanton abandon (I think that was written in one of my school reports once, or maybe it was wanton foolishness?). While deep down I’m a carefree spirit wannabe, the one major thing I do differently in the Netherlands is WORRY!!!!

Worry, worry, worry. No. I do worry less than since I first arrived in this country with a 4 week old baby in my arms and a 2 ½ year old tiger (she has been downgraded to a lion). I worry less now (after being here 7 months) because I’ve had plenty of time to work out all of my contingency plans for my worry (Mum, stop reading now I’ve already worried enough for both of us).

My major worry has been about water. That’s right water. Coming from a land surrounded by water, you might wonder about the concern? It’s that water is everywhere. If we ran off the road we could end up in water, our lion could get out of the house and end up in water. I could ride my bike with the lion and the lamb into water. What if we got flooded? Okay I don’t think I need to go on, you get the gist.

While we are on the subject of water, it is something I do use with wanton abandon (take that - teacher’s name I have no idea of). Having such an abundance of water is so different from drought ridden Australia where dinner party conversations can be about how many litres of water you consume per day. Here, we have showers or baths till the hot water runs out, I clean veggies with the tap running, I wash one pair of socks in the washing machine (okay I’m exaggerating). Not having to think about conserving water is fantastic (greenies don’t berate me now for all the energy we use heating that water).

Now what were the other worries I have? Mmm can’t have been that worrisome if I can’t remember them. I think when you come to a new place there is a certain element of fear of the unknown. It doesn’t take that long for familiarity to breed contempt (no I don’t think that was in a school report, more like.... Liz distracts others, some things never change).

So what else do I do differently here? Glad you asked. I let the kids eat just about anything (I know, I’m a crazy-o-bonkers). Well within reason, it’s not like they are eating lekker frikandel with any great frequency (translation – delicious refried sausage – you shouldn’t think too hard about its contents). But I did let the lamb (that’s my son not a young sheep) eat a freshly cooked and delicious stroopwafel the other day (translation - syrup waffle) and he thought it was heel lekker (Australian translation - bloody delicious). My carefree attitude to my children’s diets has been born partially from shopping and partially from baby feeding guidelines. You see shopping here (and finding what you need) can be hard enough without reading labels to find out what nasty additives and colours are included. And the advice you get on what to feed babies differs here from Oz and it differs again from the UK (a quick hello to Annabel Karmel, love your book). So I’m going with the good old Australian ‘she’ll be right’ attitude.

Love thy neighbour. Another thing I do differently here is talk to and interact with my neighbours (outrageous I know). We invite each other’s children to birthday parties, we play in the park together (that’s the kids not the adults), we pop around to each other’s houses at 10pm at night (actually I don’t go to anyone’s house at 10pm and was very surprised to have a visitor at that hour). Having great neighbours and neighbourhood complete with children’s playgrounds is going to be something I really miss when we move back to Oz. It is great social fabric that keeps this country together and something that is missing from urban Australia (exclusion here to rural Australia which is different).

Apart from eating too many Dutch delicacies, I live a much healthier lifestyle in The Netherlands. Terra Mia in Bulleen (a pizzeria) must be suffering from our lack of custom. I walk. Everywhere. I walk the length and breadth of Zoetermeer pushing the gypsie wagon and about 25 kilos of precious cargo. Now I’ve got my bike I ride too. We don’t eat out. I mean never. I cook delicious meals (well at least I think so, the kids and Dutchman aren’t always convinced) so we eat home every night (at nana time – 5:30pm). This is the land of incidental exercise. We park our car away from our house (no drive in garage here) and I have to walk up and down two flights of stairs to put on endless loads of washing. No wonder the Dutch aren’t so ‘fatso the fat arsed wombat’ (rights to Roy & HG) like so many Australians are. Australian’s weight imbalance problems stem from driving our V8 holden commodores everywhere. In Australia we gladly drive two minutes up the road to the bakery for a meat pie and snot block (Dutch translation – it’s like a tompouce but with delicious thick vanilla vla like filling).

So you’ve read enough? I’ve said enough (and it's bedtime at 11:45pm - very unAustralian). In summary, life is different here, in some ways worse, in many ways better. The future challenge for our family is to take the best from everywhere and find contentment where ever we are.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

My new bike - Part 2

A quick update for those interested in my new pushy. Bike arrived, in perfect working order and was assembled hastily by the Dutchman without complaint. I underestimated the fact that he is a kind hearted engineer, and loves building stuff. Luckily for him our house is full of Ikea furniture and he has been kept busy since our arrival.

So the bike has been going great guns. I have been wobbling around town, with either the lamb on the front or the lion on the back. Today I got out for the first time with both the lion and the lamb onboard, and all enjoyed the incident free ride. Maybe I was being mildly ambitious saying I was becoming Dutch by getting the bike as I’m not quite ready to join Dutch bike riding elite. None the less, the lion, the lamb and I all love it. A picture is here for you to admire... 

Thursday, February 25, 2010

My new bike

Tomorrow I become Dutch. I’m so excited. I suppose if you look at this from a technical perspective, I’m not really becoming Dutch as such, instead I am going to be a little bit closer to becoming Dutch. Ahhh, tomorrow I take the delivery of a brand spanking new, black and white, super hot, Redy Nonna. Okay well maybe the name doesn’t sound so hot, but the black and white colour surely makes it so. It comes complete with a seat at the front for the lamb and one at the back for the lion and enough room in between for me to pedal. Tomorrow I take possession of my first Dutch bike. A moeder fiets or a mum’s bike if you like.

The choice was difficult, at first I was keen on a babboe, a three wheeler with a big boat like space at the front that you can pop your kids into. Then I thought maybe an Omafiets could be kind of cool in a old fashioned grandma sort of way (I love not only the name but the fact there is no shortage of Oma’s getting around on their bikes). But it was the Redy Nonna that won my heart and the Italian grandma name gives it a more sophisticated edge, and okay I admit it, it was the only mother’s bike in my price range that took my fancy (isn’t that such a nanna thing to say?).

Tomorrow it comes and my real Dutch journey begins. I’ve already managed to keep my car on the right side of the road (I drive along saying keep right, keep right). I can even navigate the footpaths with the red gypsy wagon on the right hand side (that is of course when they are not covered in ice). The transition to bike path should not be too difficult, I hope. I’m sure however there will be rules and order unknown to my innocent self which the locals will kindly point out to me.

So can I ride a bike? I still snigger at this question that has been asked of me on more than one occasion since I arrived. It was years ago since I got the tennis racket caught in the front spokes of my beloved white racing bike and skidded through a busy intersection on my teenage chest (I only dented my pride). And it was even more years ago when I stacked riding my very small friend’s bike (the bike not the friend) as I couldn’t pedal fast enough to keep up with her very big bike (I ended up in hospital diagnosed with mild concussion and needing three stitches to the head). Yes of course I can ride a bike (shake head, roll eyes and swish hair).

When the Redy Nonna arrives tomorrow, the only challenge I face is… well okay there is two, the first is organising (read - motivating or perhaps cajoling) a tired Dutchman to assemble it on a Friday night (I suspect he will be keen to relax and I will be unable to come up with any compelling reason other than an unbridled sense of enthusiasm, why assembly can’t wait until Saturday morning). The second and real challenge I face is...  I’ve never ridden a bike with precious cargo before (well that is if you don’t count me riding around the kitchen table on the lion’s beautiful red and yellow 16” puky with the lamb on the handle bars and the lion on the back). And perhaps there is even a third challenge, I don’t have any memories of bike riding in wet weather and definitely never through snow.

So I’ve put my OH&S (occupational, health and safety) hat on (it’s the red supervisor’s one in my imagination), and got serious about some hats. Now I know it is definitely not cool to wear stack hats in the Netherlands, which is kind of ironic because everyone rides bikes and no one wears helmets, but in Australia it is law enforced to wear helmets but no one seems to ride bikes (well not so many over the age of 18 when you can drive a car, and why ride a bike when you can drive a car?).

Helmets. We have one pink and white flower covered helmet being retrieved from storage (this means Meema is going through a series of numbered boxes in her garage to find the corresponding box which matches up to bike helmets on the numbered list - lucky the Dutchman is seriously organised – such a cliché I know – who is laughing now). We also have a blue and white speedy mouse helmet accompanying the Redy Nonna on it’s journey up from Bladel in Netherlands’ south. Once we have the safe head gear in residence, we can just hope the lamb’s stage of insisting we wear bike helmets at all times is not revisited (it’s fine for us but must make the neighbours wonder about the hazards in our house, which I can assure you are limited to being underfoot).

Practice. I’m psyched to take a couple of practice runs to blow my bike riding cobwebs out.

And more practice. When I do get up the courage to venture out with the lion and lamb on board I’ll be sure to wobble out the back gate, down the lane way and hopefully away from my neighbours’ watchful eyes. I think it’s only a matter to time before I blend in with the Dutch bike riding nuts. I’ll be soon riding along with a kid on the front and one on the back, pram securely attached to pram holder on the side, two big bags of shopping on each of the handlebars, handbag over my shoulder and mobile phone attached to my ear, and somehow among all of this I will be holding an umbrella and riding through the snow.

Can I ride a bike? Harrumph, I suppose it’s all relative really.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

It's all Double Dutch to me!

Double Dutch
Language that cannot be understood, gibberish, as in 'They might have been speaking double Dutch', for all I understood. This usage dates from the 1870s. Source:

So I’ve made it thus far through life (let’s say over 30 and less than 40) knowing only two languages. English (not the Queens English), and Australian slang, (which I like to practice regularly). It was only a few years ago when all I needed to know was my native two languages.

Life has changed. I’ve changed. I find myself living in a foreign land with a Dutchman, a lion and a lamb. The lion can pronounce G’s with such guttural enthusiasm she sounds like a native cheesehead. You should hear her rattling off groen, goed zo and goedemorgen, I can hardly believe she is my child.

Before I boarded that jumbo jet for a 23 hour flight with 2 children, a potty, and the oddest assortment of luggage you have ever seen, I was assured I didn’t need to learn Dutch to live in the Netherlands. On arrival I was pleased to discover the Dutch for the most part speak English perfectly.

I’ve been here just on 6 months now. The first couple of months I absolutely loathed going shopping and was terrified of opening my mouth. As time has progressed I’ve become happier to engage with others in my travels, mostly in English, with Dutch, hello’s, thank you’s and good bye’s. In fact ‘dag’ is one of my favourite words, cos I can even say it.

I’ve started some Dutch classes, and even listening to what my partner is saying to the kids. That said, I still get completely overwhelmed at times when someone tries to talk to me in Dutch and I smile a lot like the village idiot and nod my head. Hopefully the smile negates the lack of response and they just think I’m a happy mute rather than stupid.

My Dutch language skills are slowly improving. Sometimes it’s a only few minutes after a person has spoken to me that I’ve figured out what they’ve said. Only yesterday a man on a tram was telling me how sweet the lamb was even though he was screaming like a banshee (the lamb that is not the man). I didn’t think I understood because really it isn’t that common for someone to find a hysterically crying baby sweet.

I’ve started to try and engage with other parents from the lion’s peuterspeelzal class. She attends a special class for kids coming from non Dutch families and most of the parents seem as awkward as me because Dutch is not our native language.

If you are coming to The Netherlands, for a week, a month or even three months, I agree with my Dutchman that you do not need to learn Dutch. But if you want to live here for longer and integrate into society, life will be far easier (at least I hope so) if you learn the language.

In the last week I’ve made a commitment to myself to have a red hot go at learning Dutch. I’m declaring this here and now in a public forum to hold myself to account. The only problem is, half the time it all sounds like Double Dutch to me.

Note: It took approximately 8 handfuls of hagel slag (giant sized chocolate sprinkles) to write this post

Monday, January 25, 2010

From Gate to Plate - 'fresh' fruit and veggies in NL

The other day I was passing the time voyeuristically viewing my facebook home page and I came across this picture. The photo was taken outside a restaurant in Albany, Western Australia and rather than your typical menu and price list, it lists the food products used in their meals and the distance travelled to get the food from the gate of the producer to the plate in their restaurant.

Now firstly, I’ve gotta say, I love it. It’s fantastic marketing to start with. I would eat there in a minute! I would feel so smug knowing the produce is both fresh and local, and hasn’t been sitting in a distribution centre in BFI for weeks before being shipped across the country or the world before it finally gets served up in the restaurant.

I also like the idea of supporting the local community. In a region as abundant as the south west of WA it is both a viable and marketable business proposition.

I think it is cool this restaurant (I don't even know it's name, it might be prudent for them to insert restaurant name on top of produce list) doesn't promote the prices of their dishes. Who cares if you are paying a few bucks more to salve your environmental conscience? (This maybe delusional given you probably don’t live in Albany and had to drive/fly there in the first place). But having eaten at this restaurant (which I just know in my intuitive heart of hearts is delicious), you could walk out satiated and feeling proud of yourself, imagining you are leaving behind only a light foot print on the planet.

This photo has got me thinking... I’ve been banging on to my Dutch partner ever since I landed in the Netherlands (in a not so environmental jumbo jet), about where the fruit and veggies that we now buy come from.

I have learned there are still products coming out of Zimbabwe, (I thought the land had been divided up into unviable small land holdings). I have bought snow peas, sugar snaps and beans, labelled as Zimbabwe, Egypt and Madagascar, (they all come in the same packaging, does a distributor buy bulk and package up or is it BS?). A quick and possibly dodgy calculation shows the distance between the Netherlands and Zimbabwe as 5500km, now that’s a hell of a long way for my snow peas to get from the gate to my plate.

It has been exciting (small things) to learn Kiwi fruit manage to make it across the oceans from the land of the long white cloud to the land of cheese and clogs. Well you see they are Zespri Kiwis and my friend works there in Tauranga in New Zealand.

I was blown away that the bananas come from Brazil, now that seems like a long way away (it’s a shame all I learnt in Geography was about cumulonimbus clouds). A quick consult of google maps it is another 5500km (is that a coicidence or did I not clear my earlier caclulation) from the gate in Brazil to my daughter's banana eating hand in the Netherlands (personally haven't been a fan of bananas since eating too many as a child and spewing on mum and dad's bedroom floor - sorry, too much info I know).

The oranges come from Spain, god love em, they are delicious! At least they aren’t from California (I have an inherited prejudice of Californian oranges which are imported to Oz even though there are also grown in Mildura).

What has surprised me most is it is just not the supermarkets importing 'fresh' food. At my friendly Saturday morning market in Delft (which is clearly more commerical than farmer's market), the ‘fresh’ fruit and veg also includes food that is imported.

So anyway, I suppose you are wondering what my point is about all of this? No, well I sure am, let me think…

Well, if it was up to the Dutch to consume Dutch produce that was only grown in their local region, they would end up only eating potatoes and boerenkool (kale – farmers cabbage), which I must say is a delicious dish to have, but could easily be limited to consumption once every three months.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

It snowed... It snowed...

Okay, I was warned it would be cold when I came to the Netherlands, but I had no idea it would snow. As an Australian in the Netherlands my previous experiences of snow have been on top of a mountain with a couple of planks strapped to my feet. Snow to me has been something that is accessed only after a five hour drive finishing with an impossibly steep and windy mountain road, and a good dose of car sickness. I don't think of walking out the back door of my house onto snow. That has happened maybe once in my life, and in retrospect maybe it was drawing a very long bow to say it was snow, it was more like ice passed off as snow. As a five year old, and with no other perspective I was happy to believe it was snow.

In a former life, I dreamt of living in the snow. My wild imagination had me living in Canada or Austria, swishing my way down never ending ski slopes, covered with fresh powder and lined with trees on each side. I fantasised about Apres Skiing, of cute boys, of dancing all night and skiing all day. I was committed to do a season, to give it a go, to improve my skiing ability and to see the world. So that life didn't go further than my imagination, but I was very surprised when three weeks ago or so, I ended up living in the snow.

The first night I scoffed at the predictions, yeah right, sure it will snow. But at 4am in the morning when the magical flakes were coming down, I woke my partner to share my delight. He was enthusiastic, and even managed to get out of bed and have a look, but it wasn't long before he was sucking back some Z's, while I was jumping out of my skin, unable to wait till the morning to check it out. I even dreamed the snow had all melted by the time I awoke, but in reality it hadn't, I arose to a winter wonderland.

It wasn't just one day of snow, as those living here in the Netherlands know. After our first really big dump of snow (about 15cm) my partner and I put the sleeping lamb in the cot, rugged up the little lion, and went out to play in the snow. We ended up with two kids on the lounge room floor watching baby TV, while we, the parents, played in the snow and upgraded frosty the snowman from a metre high version, to a double balled two metre high snowman who sat in the back yard proud as punch with his new girlfriend. For a week, neighbours would look into my house and smile, and I would think, what they find my messy, toy covered floor sweet? And then I would remember frosty and the missus peeking through the windows like a pair of old perves.

2009 the year of the lamb's first Christmas, was the lion, the lamb and my first white Christmas too. What a delight! At new year the snow came again, and we got to see in 2010 among fireworks and snow.

The other day, I sat mesmirised while in the space of an hour our place went from covered in crusty ice, to wonderful white. I shook my head as I navigated the red kinderwagon through the snow to pick up the lion from school as I just couldn't believe that I was walking through the snow as part of my daily life, I imagined telling the lion in years to come, when we lived in Holland when you were a girl, I walked through the snow to collect you (insert halo here).

So while I'm still very smitten with the snow, it isn't all schnapps and yagerbombs. Doing a week's shop, is not so possible in the snow. I've grown muscles on my muscles lugging two kids to the doctor's through fresh snow. Our trip to Berlin was postponed due to snow. The snow melts and becomes ice, and like every other person I slip and slide as I get around in the snow. Today we even had a rollover with the red kinderwagon, and to this mother's terror, my precious lion and lamb also hit the ground, luckily we came off OK. The snow has been the cause for much of my recent pleasure and today has been the catalyst for a meltdown about how hard it can be to live in the snow.

The snow is always whiter :-).