4 Sep
The Five Emotional Stages of trying to understand a Dutch conversation
Becoming Dutch
This cartoon first appeared in the September/October edition of DUTCH:The Magazine
28 Aug

Amsterdam in Tourist

Every year thousands of tourists descend upon Amsterdam to explore the city and take in its many sights. They are usually easy to spot but it is not always their maps and suitcases that give them away. Sometimes there are more subtle signs that can be used to tell the tourists apart from the locals:

1) Tourists will be the only ones wearing any item of clothing with the name ‘Amsterdam’ printed on it.

2) Despite the many photo opportunities offered by Amsterdam’s beautiful canals, stylish architecture and impressive museums tourists will be the ones excitedly taking photos of Fabo.

3) Tourists will be the ones talking the loudest about visiting the Red Light District (and lying the most about what they are going to do there).

4) They will also be the loudest ones on the train from Schipol to Amsterdam and the quietest ones on the way back (usually due to hangovers).

5) They will be the ones who are most fascinated by wooden shoes and will be unable to resist the temptation of sitting in a giant novelty clog.

6) They will be the ones standing in front of a train ticket machine, holding a 50 euro note, trying to figure out where the paper money slot is (and inevitably try putting it in the debit card slot).

7) They will also be the ones trying to scan their home printed train ticket on the OV readers.

8) They will be the ones who are most surprised to discover that ‘vla’ does not mean ‘milk’.

9) A family of tourists will be the one cycling in a group down a pedestrian street and along the tram tracks oblivious to the danger.

10) Ironically, they will also be the ones who mistake a cycle path for a foot path despite the large amount of bicycles swerving around them.

11) English tourists are the ones who will look the most confused about Dutch waiters always ‘forgetting’ to put milk in the tea.

Are there any more signs that I have missed? How do you recognise tourists in Amsterdam?

21 Aug

Back Pain

I think I made the Chiropractor Gods angry with my last post. Two days after sharing the story (of the bizarre chiropractor ad) I woke up from a normal night’s sleep and discovered that I could not move. Technically I could move if I chose to, but since doing so caused me incredible back pain I tried not to. When I did eventually attempt to stand (very slowly) I discovered that I could not stand up straight. I was permanently bent slightly forward, as if my back had decided that that was far enough and walking up right was over rated.

By day two I was using a walking stick to get around and by day three I was taking so many painkillers that there was a danger of my family-in-law holding a sudden intervention. During dinner that evening I was slurring my words and even drooling ever so slightly.

“Maybe you should just call the chiropractor,” my wife suggested as I limped around the house on day four. It was the closest thing I was going to get to an actual intervention. “Just use my phone. I have the number in there.”

I retrieved her phone as she drove and scrolled through the contact list until I saw the name Chiropractor. After a short conversation with the receptionist I had an appointment set for 8am two days later. I didn’t really think about how early in the morning the appointment was until I put the phone down. I’d only been thinking about getting my back sorted out as soon as possible. Unfortunately for my wife she was also going to have to get up early in the morning to drive me there since I was in no condition to drive myself.

When the morning of the appointment arrived we woke up at 6:30am, got ready and jumped in the car (metaphorically speaking, for me it was more of a slow easing in to the car with lots of old man sounds). Rather than waiting with me in the waiting room my wife was planning to drop me off at the chiropractor then drive to the train station to get a cup of tea and return a short while later to pick me up again. It seemed like a good idea. We arrived, I got out the car (slowly) and waved good bye to her as she drove off. I turned around and slowly limped into the building and towards the reception desk…

… and then I limped back to the car and my waiting wife half an hour later without having actually seen the chiropractor.

“What do you mean you didn’t see the chiropractor?” my wife asked, looking puzzled after I informed her of this.

“They had no record of my appointment,” I replied while slowly lowering myself into the passenger seat, “Owww… Whoever I spoke to yesterday forgot to write it down. The chiropractor wasn’t even in yet because he didn’t think he had any early appointments. They phoned him at home to try and sort out the mix up.”

“So do you have to come back another day instead now?” She asked.

“No. We have to come back later today. I got an appointment for this afternoon.” I replied.

“But what have you been doing for the last half hour?” It was a valid question, especially since she’d been watching the front of the building, expecting me to come out of it but I had not. I’d just approached the car from behind, walking up the street.

“Wellllllll…..” I started, realizing there was no good way of explaining where I’d been.

Once I’d learned that my appointment was not going to happen it felt silly to simply stand outside the building, waiting for her to return from her tea break. I didn’t have my phone with me so I couldn’t simply call her. So instead of simply feeling like an idiot I’d decided to be an actual idiot and started walking.

“… I walked to the train station. I thought I might still catch you there,” I finished and quickly put on my seatbelt, hoping that this would somehow distract her from what I had just said. It didn’t.

“You walked to the train station?!” She exclaimed after pausing briefly to laugh. I guess it seemed like a reasonable reaction considering the train station was over a fifteen minutes walk away and I had a bad back. “What made you think I would still be there?”

“I thought you’d still be drinking your tea,” I said with the conviction of someone who didn’t know they had already lost the conversation.

“But I drove straight back here after I got it. You weren’t going to be getting off a train were you! Why would I wait outside the train station?”

“To drink your tea. It’s not unreasonable to think that you might.”

“Yes it is,” she laughed, “Of course I was going to drive straight back here. This is where I was going to meet you… I don’t get it. Where you hoping to out run the car?”

“Of course not. I was keeping an eye out for the car on my way there in case you already drove back.” There had been a flaw in that plan anyway that I’d only realized after leaving the train station again. I’d been looking for our car which is silver but we’d borrowed her Dad’s car which is dark grey. I’d been looking for the wrong car. It didn’t matter anyway. It turned out she had driven back using a different route than my wild guess. “Anyway, I thought you might still be there.”

She simply stared at me with a puzzled look on her face before bursting out laughing and starting the car. During the drive back she could not help glancing at me every now and then, laughing. The word ‘men’ was muttered a few times.

When we got home again (and my wife had recounted the whole story to her mother and father) I discovered that I had a voice mail on my phone from the Chiropractor. When I listened to it the mystery deepened.

Hello. This is the chiropractor,” a polite female voice informed me in Dutch, “You had an appointment at eight o’clock this morning that you missed. Could you please phone me back on this number when possible?

“What the hell!” I thought, “I was there.”

How could they be so un-organised that they forget to note down my appointment and then call me back an hour later, accusing me of missing it? Our old chiropractor would never have made such a mistake. I’d woken up early in the morning for nothing. All of this could have been avoided if…

“Oh no!” A horrible thought had suddenly occurred to me. I quickly checked my wife’s contact list and redialled the number.

Hello,” replied the polite female voice from the message.

Hello. My name is Stuart. I think I might have had an appointment with you this morning which I missed,” I replied in my best Dutch (which is not ‘best’ by most other people’s standards).

That is correct. It was at 8:00 this morning,” she replied.

This is going to sound like a strange question,” I began, “but is this the chiropractor in Rotterdam?

It is,” said the voice on the other end of the line, slightly puzzled by this line of questioning.

It’s important to remember at this point in the story that we had recently moved.

Then I know what has happened. I’m really sorry. It’s my fault,” by which I meant it was my wife’s fault, “We’ve moved and I thought I was calling our new chiropractor here in Friesland when I made the appointment. That explains why they had no record of my appointment when I went there this morning.

The voice on the other end of the phone simply giggled, “That’s ok. These things happen.”

We said our goodbyes and I hung up. Afterwards I informed my wife that she had forgotten to update her contact list and had given me the wrong number, to which she still continues to reply with, “You should have checked the number before calling. Didn’t you notice the area code?”

To which I have continued to reply, “I didn’t look at it. I trusted you! You said you had the number.”

I have yet to win the argument.

Since then the chiropractor (the one in Friesland) has sorted out my back and I am now pain free. He even apologised for the mix up to which I had to explain it was actually my fault and tell him the whole story.

7 Aug

Dutch Camping

A chiropractor waiting rooms are not inherently funny places but as I waited with my wife for her appointment I was having serious trouble keeping it together. My badly suppressed giggles and sniggers were starting to draw the attention of the other patients in the room too. Occasionally one of them would glance up from their newspaper or phone to see what was going on, quickly looking away if they accidently made eye contact. To make matters worse I was starting to infect my wife. She was desperately trying to ignore me but could not help giggling whenever I whispered a comment or observation about what we were both witnessing.

The waiting room included several chairs, a small play corner for the children, some posters about good health and one of the largest flat screen television I have ever seen, which was showing what I can only describe as 1990’s Chiropractor propaganda. In fact, I’m not entirely sure it was not an advertisement for a cult in disguise.

“YOUR BODY CAN HEAL ITSELF.” The text on the screen loudly announced in all caps-lock. “People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those of us who are doing it!”

I half expected the next screen to read; Rise up now and show them that our way is the only true way.

“It isn’t that they can’t see the solution, it is that they can’t see the problem.” It announced instead, crediting the quote to G.K.Chesterton. I looked him up briefly later. I’m fairly sure that he was not talking about chiropractic treatment.

The screen suddenly changed to a scene of children happily dancing and playing in an open field in slow motion as the onscreen text told us off for being bad parents.

“You have their hearing checked… You have their eyes checked… You have their teeth checked… Shouldn’t your children’s spines be checked too… by a professional.”

I was sure that if I turned up the volume I would discover that the video included dramatic music and a voice over by the movie trailer guy as well.

The next clip showed an elderly lady trimming the roses in her garden and looking very happy about it but the onscreen text told another story.

“American’s make up 5% of the world’s population.”

“That seemed like a weirdly low number to be bragging about in a Dutch chiropractor’s waiting room,” I whispered to my wife.

“But take 64% of the worlds drugs.”

I know that the video was probably made in America but since it was being shown in Holland and I’m British my first thought was; Is this anti America propaganda? Are we supposed to hate the American’s now for only leaving us 36% of all the drugs?

“WE CARE FOR YOUR HEALTH… without drugs.”

You probably have to. The American’s have taken most of them, I thought to myself.

The next scene showed an old couple happily looking through the memories in their photo albums as the onscreen text promised some kind of immortality.

“Will your body last a life time?”
“Add LIFE to your YEARS. Add YEARS to your LIFE.”

I realized that either way my old age probably won’t look like that. We’ll be looking up old family photos on Fliker or Facebook and complaining about pixel quality or who really has the copyright on them.

“MARK YOUR CALANDER,” the on-screen text suddenly commanded, “BE SURE TO KEEP APPOINTMENTS… FOR BEST RESULTS.”

The caps-lock made it seem like an official government mandate. I wondered if I would get in trouble if I didn’t start writing down dates.

As I looked for a pen my wife was called into her appointment. She quietly told me to behave myself and disappeared from the waiting room. As soon as she was gone I took out my phone and started covertly filming the screen.

“Does everyone need a chiropractor? Or only people with spines?” The screen text joked with a heavy hint of sarcasm. I could not help but marvel at the fact that I just got talked down to by an advert from the 90s.

After 15 minutes (and a few other hilariously cheesy scenes) the video started looping through the same scenes again. Even on a second viewing it was just as funny and I could not stop myself giggling. I continued filming it all, for posterity.

It seemed like such a weird place to have such a video running since the primary viewers were going to be chiropractor patients who are already sitting in the chiropractor waiting room, waiting for their chiropractor treatment. It’s not going to bring in a lot of new customers.

A short while later my wife returned from her treatment. She spotted what I was doing straight away and had to suppress another fit of laughter. I put my phone away, we collected our things and got ready to leave. As we made our way out the door a thought suddenly occurred to me. I quickly returned to the desk and made my own appointment to see the chiropractor the next week. I guess it does not hurt to get it checked after all… I’m sure I didn’t do it because I was influenced by the video in anyway…

“Don’t come here to get healthy and leave loved ones at home… Share your success story with a friend,” the screen suggested ominously with that slightly cult vibe again as we left.

Chiropractor Screens
31 Jul

Dutch Camping

During the summer months (or at least the part of summer that has good weather) the highways of Holland become filled with caravans as Dutch people make their way to camp sites all over the country (and nearby countries if they have enough patience and petrol). The Dutch love to go camping but it is not camping as most of us might know it.

For the Dutch, camping does not mean roughing it in the woods, fighting against nature, scavenging for bugs and trying to start a fire by rubbing two sticks together. No, when the Dutch go camping they go camping on their own terms. Being away from home does not mean that you have to miss any of the luxuries of home. Gas cookers, refrigerators, washing machines, televisions and DVD players are just a few of the things considered essential camping equipment by the Dutch.

Likewise, having a caravan, which by its very nature is mobile, does not mean that you actually have to be able to travel anywhere with it. Dutch campsite spots can be rented for as long as you like. Once they have found a camping site they like the Dutch will settle down and start the process of turning their caravan into a permanent, non-moving summer home/bungalow, complete with a conservatory (front tent), heating, indoor plumbing, outdoor kitchen station and a garden (which in itself will include a garden shed, garden furniture and several garden ornaments).

However, there are a few things that are out of the Dutch’s control.

Most camp sites only have one spot where the mobile network and/or wi-fi is any good. This spot will often be out in the middle of a random field somewhere next to a cow. That’s why most phone calls usually involves a five minutes hike first.

The weather rarely acts as expected (or desired) either. Beautiful sunny weather will often be interrupted by a sudden hurricane or rain storm. When this happens everyone seems to enter a strange state of denial. During the most extreme weather there will still be someone swimming in the outdoor swimming pool, someone will still be attempting to have a barbeque and someone will be chasing a runaway sun umbrella across the campsite because they didn’t think it was ‘that’ windy.

If you have children things will be extra busy as you either try to keep them entertained or keep them out of trouble (or both). People often underestimate how much work this is. That is why you will often find a group of exhausted and stressed parents who mistakenly thought it was a good idea to hold a children’s birthday party on the campsite.

Despite the few things that are out of their control the Dutch still love camping and once everything is set up, the weather is good and the children have settled down (or gone off exploring) it is time to relax…… after you’ve mowed the lawn, washed the caravan/tent windows and done all the other little maintenance and upgrade tasks that you suddenly realized needed doing.

I know all of this because I have a caravan… A caravan with heating, indoor plumbing, an outdoor kitchen station, a garden and many other things.