Monthly Archives: November 2011

A few things I don’t miss about the US

My not so secret love affair with Europe began over 10 years ago on my first voyage abroad on a family vacation to Paris when I was 15. I will never forget the feeling I had when I took my first steps out onto the alluring streets of arguably the most romantic city on earth. I immediately felt at home wandering the tiny historic streets, watching people sit outside at cafes in the middle of the day drinking wine, smoking cigarettes and reading French Vogue. I loved everything about this new city. I loved the architecture, the accents, the amazing food, even the infamously chilly French attitude. I remember thinking to myself, “I will live here one day.” 10 years and many many trips abroad later and here I am, well, in Europe at least. So I don’t exactly dream away my days at cafe’s smoking packs of cigarettes and writing in my journal, but there is something about living here that has changed me.

While there are many things and many more people I miss dearly from the States, there are a few I have to say I’m happy to do without…

There’s nothing more disturbing than seeing some teenage mom dragging her 5 screaming kids through the isles of Wal-Mart buying Kraft Maccaroni and Cheese and Fruit Loops in bulk.

  • Sarah Palin

Need I say more?

  • Driving

I’ll take my bike any day thank you very much!

  • Hicks/ Rednecks/ Republicans (just kidding…)

OK, maybe I do miss this a bit…

  • US Healthcare

It’s so funny talking to my Dutch friends or any Europeans for that matter about the never-ending healthcare debate going on back home. People here just don’t get it. “What’s there to argue about? What do you mean, everyone there doesn’t have access to healthcare?”

Well… you’d think it be that simple wouldn’t you…

By the way I pay about $400 a year for complete coverage in Holland (including, dental, prescriptions, and doctors visits) When I graduated college (at 22) and was unable to get a job with benefits, my parents were paying several hundred dollars a month to make sure I had health insurance. There’s something wrong with this picture… At least things have improved a bit…

  • Boston Market

There’s nothing more disgusting to me than a big pile of congealed mashed potatoes, covered in lard and served on a plastic plate no less… (Ewh)

  • Fast food

This is just sad… Where is Michelle Obama when we need her?

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The story of Sinterklaas

I was recently introduced to the Dutch holiday tradition known as Sinterklaas. Sinterklaas is a Santa Claus like character who comes from Spain, or is it Turkey? I haven’t really gotten a straight answer about this one yet. Regardless, he comes from somewhere warm, on a boat, with lots of presents and helpers. These helpers known as “Zwarte Piet” (black Pete) are covered from head to toe in soot from the chimneys they scurry down to deliver presents to children in the middle of the night. Sounds pretty familiar right? For a week following the arrival of Sinterklaas children place carrots (for Sinterklas’ horses) in their shoes and put them by the window hoping to find a present in them in the morning. If the little boy or girl has been good they will receive a present, BUT if they have not behaved Sinterklaas will take them away in the middle of the night and bring them with him back to Spain (or Turkey)…

This year the festivities were planned to take place right outside of our living room window. Sebastiaan and I had completely forgotten about the arrival of Sinterklaas this year so when we looked outside our window in the morning I was not quite prepared for what I saw.

There was a crowd of a few hundred of Dutch people in black face. No seriously, black paint on their faces and hands, AND as is the tradition, the children were also dressed up as Zwarte Pieten. We just had to go outside to get a closer look. So there I am 26 years old standing with my boyfriend surrounded by hundreds of screaming blonde children with black paint on their faces.

All I could think about was, what would happen if someone tried to do this in America? I can only imagine how long it would take for just about every civil rights organization out there to be up in arms putting an end to Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet for good. As shocked and mildly offended as I was, it was hard not to be swept into the joy of this unique Dutch tradition. The children laughed, waved and sang songs to Sinterklas while parents held them on their shoulders, took pictures and sipped on hot chocolate.

I have to say it was all pretty sweet. I even found myself thinking, “wow, I can’t wait to do this with my kids.” I think we’ll just have  to do without the black face paint…

Life after 25…Is it all downhill from here?

Today I woke up with the sad realization that I’m not 21 anymore. I mean I know how old I am, I’m not that old for christ sakes, but I really still had this feeling that I was a young 20-something with a hot-bod and all the time in the world to make mistakes and bear little or no consequence at all. Where has all the time gone?

I’ve reached the point where I realize that shopping at Forever 21 really should be reserved for those under 20. I even catch myself looking at 21 year olds thinking how can they leave the house like that? Why, they’re practically naked! Then I remember my drawer of crop tops and mini skirts I proudly flaunted in college but wouldn’t be caught dead in now. When did I go from the free-spirited college girl who could go out all night and then wake up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and head to my 8am class? If I went out like I did back then now I would need an IV and oxygen just to make it down the stairs in the morning. Why didn’t anyone warn me about this?

When I was 16 and thought about what I would be doing at 26 it seems so far away and 26 seemed so old. It seemed so serious. So grown up. I’m nowhere near as settled as I thought I’d be. In fact, I’m even less sure of what I want to do now than I was at 16. I’m not sure, but I don’t think that’s how it’s supposed to work.

So now I know I’m not a young 20-something but I’m nowhere near ready to don the mom jeans and join the PTA.

Whats’s a 26-year-old girl, well woman, to do?

Maybe it’s time to embrace 26. It’s not so bad after all. I no longer let the opinions and judgement of my friends rule every decision I make, I am much more sure of who I am and am even starting to like myself a bit and I have an amazing boyfriend who is the type of man I didn’t even know existed a few years ago.

So I may not be able to party like its 1999 (or 2004) but I’m heading full speed ahead into a beautiful new stage of my life and I have to say, I’m pretty happy about that.

Lost in Translation

One of the most frustrating things about living in a country where you don’t speak the language is that constant feeling that your words are essentially well, lost in translation. While most Dutch people speak English exceptionally well (actually, better than many Americans) there are still times where I see that confused look that says “I have no idea what you’re talking about so I’m just going to nod, smile and hope you don’t notice.”

I know that look all too well…

Last year my Dutch skills were pretty much obsolete so when Sebastiaan and I would go to family functions or hangout with his friends they would all make an effort to speak English. As is to be expected usually the conversation would switch back to Dutch and I would sit there trying to smile but really thinking about what color I was going to paint my nails later or more likely, what I would be doing if I was home with my friends at that very moment. Eventually Sebastiaan would look over at me and notice the lost and homesick look in my eyes and try to translate whatever joke was so hilarious that had everyone but me in roaring with laughter. By the time he was able to stop laughing long enough to tell me what was going on, it usually didn’t quite translate and just resulted in an awkward pause in the conversation.

Actually, many of the arguments Sebastiaan and I have had are due to the language barrier we are still learning to navigate. It’s not that he doesn’t understand what I’m saying (his English is pretty much perfect), it’s more a matter of interpretation. What a native speaker might simply brush off as a bit of sarcasm, is taken so literally and so personally that before I know it we are in the thralls of a full-out argument and I haven’t even had a chance to figure out why. Both of us have what you might call… hot tempers, so taking the time to really listen to what each other are really trying to say before going for the jugular is a bit of a struggle. It’s something that I’ve really had to force myself to be conscious of. I now try to take a second, let the residual burn from his comment fade and try to understand what he was actually trying  to say. 9 times out of 10 an unnecessary fight is avoided.

It took us about a year to realize this.

Even though I can now carry on a basic conversation in Dutch and for the most part follow the conversations around me, sometimes I still long so badly to speak to another American, just so that I can talk as fast as humanly possible and throw around as much slang  as I can. Yesterday at work I spoke to a customer from Texas. I was so excited to speak with someone who actually knew what I was talking about that I pretty much wouldn’t let the poor guy off the phone. We ended up talking about my home town, the weather, traveling, accents, pretty much anything I could think of, anything to keep him on the phone.

I think I even threw a few “y’alls” in there, just for kicks.

Dawn in the ‘Dam

Riding my bike to work today I was thinking about how early in the morning is by far my favorite time of the day in Amsterdam. By the way, I am by no means a morning person; in fact, I’ve been told on numerous occasions that in the morning I resemble a 200-year-old creaking medusa awaking from a decade long hibernation. I’m the type of person that presses snooze a
minimum of five times each morning and will not respond to any form of communication until I have had at least 30 minutes to feel sorry for myself for having to rise at whatever ungodly hour it is. On days that I have to get up earlier than my boyfriend I catch myself staring at him all snuggled up in bed, cozying up on my pillow sound asleep and having to repress the urge to smother him right then and there.

But, the thing is, early in the morning is the time where you are most able to appreciate the beauty of the city. There are no loud, obnoxious tourists standing in the middle bike path snapping pictures of everything in sight wondering where that strange bell sound is coming from until they turn their tourist heads and notice an army of bikers heading toward them at warp speed and finally decide to clumsily stumble out-of-the-way just in the nick of time, the prostitutes have closed their windows and are sound
asleep until nightfall and there are no drunk pre-teens making a ruckus the way only fellow teeny boppers know how.

Amsterdam is at peace. There really is nothing like watching the sun rise between the buildings on a canal and the smell of fresh croissants baking in the tiny cafes. Early in the morning is the only time where I feel like I actually see the city.

This morning, as I was reflecting on the allure of the quiet city streets, out of nowhere a tram comes speeding around the corner heading right toward me. My life flashed before my eyes. Moments before what would have been a potentially painful and rather messy death, I slammed on my faulty breaks, swerved out-of-the-way and skidded to a stop about 4 inches from fatality. My heart was pounding so fast and I was so disoriented I actually had to look down to make sure I still had all my limbs. The tram driver gave me the finger, the passengers looked at me with disdain and some trash men started whistling.

I love Amsterdam.

The attack of the glamazons

Looking for a way to feel really, really bad about yourself? Come to Amsterdam on an ugly day and walk around looking at all of the size 2, 6ft tall glamazons, who by the way, still manage to make smoking look sexy despite the black lungs and “smoking will kill you” labels plastered all over the cartons. Actually, don’t. I don’t recommend it at all. Trust me. I do not want to be held responsible for any eating disorders or body dysmorphia that may result. I may or may not have, for a moment, considered a blonde weave and leg extensions. But then I went home for Christmas. Did I mention I love America?  Man nothing makes you feel better than walking along the streets of Baltimore, MD, cruising by a fried chicken joint on Northern Avenue. My size 6 body has never felt better. Thank you my obese country men and women! So maybe I’m no Dutch top model, but hey, things could be worse!

The Dutch

Now, I know the Dutch have a reputation as a cold and abrasive bunch, but being the open-minded soul that I am, I always try to give people, especially an entire population, the benefit of the doubt. So I greeted my new Dutch neighbors with as much American bubbliness I thought they could stomach. I’ve been in Amsterdam a year now. I gave up. In fact, I think I became one of those (well not beautiful blonds) but one of those scowling cyclers flipping off the tourist. If you can’t beat em’ join em’ right?

Two weeks ago I started working for an IT company in Utrecht (a city about 30 minutes from Amsterdam). To say I know nothing about IT is the understatement of the century but the position was in marketing and sales so I thought, why not? Now I know why not.

First of all, I still have no idea what I’m trying to sell and to whom, but I’ll just keep smiling and nodding and hope for the best.

The people I work with are quite an interesting bunch…

There’s one Dutch man I work with who over the past two weeks I think I’ve seen crack one smile.. and I’m not even confident you’d call it a real smile in fact I think it was more of a smirk than a smile really. He’s ice-cold. There’s no warming up this guy, trust me, I tried. Even jokes at my own expense, and the expense of my country, didn’t do it for this guy. (The Dutch LOVE making fun of Americans, I thought for sure that would work). Not even a smirk this time.

Another interesting trait I’ve discovered about my new Dutch friends is the brutal honesty with which they operate. It’s one of those places where it’s better just not to ask “Does this shirt make me look fat?” because it probably does, and they will probably tell you so. My boyfriend’s mom is a perfect example of this charming Dutch trait. First of all, I love her like a second mother so please don’t get me wrong here. Linda is one of the kindest, warmest and most open people I have ever met. That being said, she certainly isn’t afraid to tell you what she think whether you asked or not.

For example, Sebatsiaan and I recently went to this amazing event in called “Taste of Amsterdam.” All my fellow foodies out there I highly recommend it. Anyway, I digress. We went to the event with Sebastiaan’s mom and her best friend. The four of us spent the day walking around the beautiful Amstel Park tasting Dutch delicacies (well Dutch food..), drinking prosecco and chatting with the various cheese, wine and beer merchants. Sebastiaan and I found this booth that sold homemade sodas, lemonade and ginger beer. We thought it was really cool so we called Linda over and asked her to try a taste. She was not impressed. She turned to the guy, scrunched up her nose and said “well, it’s certainly not for me. ” Sebastiaan turned beet red, the poor vendor looked like her had been punched in the gut and Linda just flipped her hair over her shoulder and walked away. I thought the whole thing was hilarious.

Now, if this had happened a year ago, I probably would have been mortified, profusely apologized to the guy and reassured him that he had a golden product, hell I probably would’ve given him a hug. This time, I just shrugged my shoulders, smiled and walked away with Linda. If there’s one great lesson that Linda has taught me (there have been many actually), it’s why hold your tongue? Life’s too short, if you don’t like something what’s so bad about saying so? Why am I so preoccupied with what other people think when what I think and feel is just as important? That being said, I don’t think its necessary to go around squashing people’s dreams left and right but maybe sometimes a hefty dose of Dutch honesty is just what the doctor ordered.