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