The Netherlands: Not for the faint of heart

Hello World!

This is me! I’ll tell you about the small disasters I happily experience while living abroad

Remember what it was like to make gingerbread houses over the holidays? Gingerbread cookies with white icing and lots of ornamental candy? Well, the buildings in the Netherlands makes it feel like living in a gingerbread town, which would be great, if it wasn’t making my mouth water all the time. I am spending the next semester living in the Netherlands, but I have to tell you, I’m not sure if I’m going to make it. I seem to be a magnet for a special kind of “high quality” awkwardness and (mis)adventures here. So over the next few months to emancipate myself from the awkwardness and to eschew them off of my cringe reel, I’m going to blog about them.

4 (mis)adventures in the Netherlands:

  • # 1: Am I living with characters from a Wes Anderson movie?
  • #2: How to ruin Dutch simply by speaking it.
  • # 3:  How to make a host a dinner part that no one will come to again.
  • #4: I’m sure my eyes swelling shut will go away by itself. Probably.

# 1: Am I living with characters from a Wes Anderson movie?

You know when you meet someone with a ship (not even a boat), who has a PHD in electric engineering and a coif like vidal sassoon and they invite you to live with them, hypothetically speaking…whether or not you know it, you are signing up for an adventure. Well, in my case it was not hypothetic, but before we get to that part of the story, I should tell you, I decided to live in Utrecht rather than Amsterdam this semester. Don’t get me wrong, Amsterdam is something else— the centre is a hot pot of sex, drugs and tourists biking as though their tires are on fire, which is rife for misadventures, but I like a challenge. I looked at Utrecht and thought, now that is a fairy tale kinda town that has not just anyone can find misadventures in…

They say that you are who you associate with, so I’m not sure what this time in my life says about me, but I live with three Dutch guys, Jorick, Willem and Cees (pronounced Case). Here is a quick summary of what they do:

  • Jorick: Historian/Ornithologist (the study of birds) by day & hard core rocker at night
  • Willem: Sailed around the world for 2 years recreating Darwin’s route and is now a writer for a sailing/travel magazine
  • Cees (pronounces Case): Spark Detective (that’s what I call him), he travels around the world doing the forensics behind electrical fires that occurred and coming up with betters systems
Not only are they characters, but their personalities are reflected in the decisions they’ve made around the apartment itself. Let me walk you through some of the ‘special touches’ they’ve put into the apartment.

 

The living/dining room area has a lightbulb the size of a baby, which, despite it’s size only lights up a small corner of the room. This room also has the craziest wallpaper I’ve ever seen and this is NOT something you joke about with them, they are serious about this wallpaper. If you look at if for long enough it feels like those 3-d artworks from the 90’s where you would blur your eyes to try to see the image. Except here, there is no image.

Have you ever been eating dinner and thought to yourself, “Something is missing, I really wish there was a smoke breathing tiger painting in this room,” well here, that is not a problem! Another special feature of this is just that—a painting of a tiger, with the mouth hole cut out, attached to a smoke machine.
As far as rooms with mattresses on the floor go, mine is smaller than most with a single skylight in it. I affectionately call it the man in the iron mask room and sometimes, just sometimes I reach toward the light. The good thing about a small room is that almost everything is in reach at all times and it is super easy to monitor for dangerous animals, since that is one of my primary concerns, ahem. Most sincerely, the fact that it is the size of a birdcage gives me at least one reason to be happy coming back to Canada at the end of the semester.
#2: How to ruin Dutch simply by speaking it
Sometimes I think I’m like the superman of adaptation. Like, I could pick up a language in a few months and high-five everyone in the town because I’ve become best friends with them in a week… and then reality hits.

SUPER JULIE

I figured Dutch would be a breeze because my mother tongue is Afrikaans and it happens to be a derivation of Dutch. Amazingly enough, I understand about 75% of spoken Dutch and about 85% of written vocabulary without having studied the language at all. And yet—- I have been 100% unsuccessful in being understood by a Dutch person when speaking it–even when using common phrases in pronunciation and grammar!  Imagine if no one in Canada could understand someone with a posh british accent, now multiply that by 5 and you get the ridiculous situation I’m in. Rather than a super hero I am considering it my secret spy skill to understand more than I let on.  And every once in a while I’ll say, “Is the Dutch word for ‘superficial…’ And then bam, I say the word and confuse the heck out of them! How could someone without the basic pronouns know the word for superficial?
#3: How to host a dinner part that no one will come to again.
In the Netherlands you have to register with the city and to do that you need a letter from your landlord saying you are living there. Well, Cees did this Italian girl a favour by writing her letter and letting her register with his house even though she is living with her boyfriend.  This is sort of a big deal and so he said that in exchange she should just make a fantastic italian meal. What he didn’t know was that she doesn’t cook, like at all. And that in her mind a fantastic Italian meal should consist of 4 courses minimum, so she started to panic.
Now, typically you would expect a 4 course meal to be something like, salad, soup, main, dessert, but what our dinner consisted of was, pasta #1, pasta #2, pasta #3 and pasta #4. All of the courses were super heavy pasta dishes, all of which had become gradually more and more cold because she had made them hours in advance. I stopped at course 2, I didn’t mean to be impolite, but these were not small serving being given out and I just couldn’t force myself to do it. I politely told her in Italian that I am not naturally thin and if I eat more I am going to have to run to Canada and back to stay fit. Cees, who had instigated the whole affair ate every course very politely, but I guess he made his bed and had to lie in it!
# 4: I’m sure my eyes swelling shut will go away by itself. Probably.
Shortly after starting to stay here my eyes started to get super red and it looked like I was taking drugs (not a great impression to make on your professors at 8am). Then my eyes started to swell almost entirely closed, blur my vision and become so dry I couldn’t cry. Why?
Remember that mattress on the floor in my room? Well I also think it is made out of 80% dust. Now, being the super hero/spy that I am, I am typically invincible to all things health related, which makes my face getting ruined by a little bit of dust even more painful to admit. I’ve avoided yellow fever in Ghana, all the ails that comes from traveling to India, Thailand and Indonesia… but the Netherlands—a place without a single dangerous animal or disease— takes me down with dust. DUST!!!! (to be continued…)
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About julienne.lottering@utoronto.ca

When my family emigrated from South Africa to Canada it was 1991 and I was eight years old. From an early age it was clear to me that my roots had a contentious history. Immigration shaped me by making me more skeptical of my roots and a more trusting of my wings. Travel has never just been travel for me; it has been a way to make order out of the world. In the context of my life, travel is a stratosphere of transformative experiences. For that reason I am now living in the Netherlands with the mission to find cultural subtleties, unexpected beauty and what wild diverse experiences this exchange has to offer!

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