As a stereotypical Englishman I have a particular (and some would say unhealthy) interest in queuing. Most English people do. It is a natural instinct for us to wait in lines. We might complain about the amount of time it takes to reach the front of the line once we are in it but this is just all part of the tradition. We like the queue. We don’t like the waiting. We like the sense of order, of rules, the idea that even if we have to wait an annoyingly long time at least there is a system.
This is why (as an Englishman) queuing in Holland has taken some time to get used to (putting it mildly). In Holland queuing is an extreme sport. There are no rules, only survivors. The most extreme cases of this can be observed when attempting to board a busy train in Holland. This is something that I have to do daily so I have had a lot of time to analyse it scientifically and take notes. There are several steps to what can be loosely termed ‘queuing for the train’ in Holland.
Step 1: The Cluster
Preparations begin the moment the train is spotted in the distance. The Dutch start moving towards the edge of the platform, trying to predict the best place to stand in the hope that they will end up near a door once the train has stopped. This causes small clusters of people to form around the predicted door locations. However, since they never get it right these small clusters end up shuffling along the platform with the slowing train as they try to keep up with their chosen door. This often causes them to walk backwards into other people, swallowing them up into their group.
Step 2: The Gap
Once the train has come to a full stopped the cluster of people (that have gathered around each entrance) will reform slightly to create a narrow gap leading away from the door. This gap is for the people exiting the train, however it is more of a gesture than a practical exit route. It is kept as narrow as possible just in case anyone at the back of the cluster tries to use it to gain ground.
Step 3: Hold The Line
As passengers exit the train the people on the outer edges of the cluster already start to get restless. They shuffle and move around, trying to see how much longer they have to wait and if there is any weakness in the group that they can exploit. Always be on your guard.
Step 4: The Collapse
As the last person exits the train the cluster of eager Dutch people will immediately collapse in on itself as everyone tries to rush forward through the doors at once. Arms, elbows, bags, large suitcases, hot cups of tea or coffee and body mass are all legitimate strategies to keep people back and gain ground on others. A battle cry is optional.
If a passenger is too slow getting off the train before this happens they are doomed. They will be swept back up onto the train by the unstoppable current of oncoming passengers and find themselves at the next station before they realize what has happened.
If you survive and are able to board the train you are one of the lucky ones. Many people have not been so lucky. Dutch queues take no prisoners and should not be taken likely… Of course, if you have made it on to the train there is still one challenge that awaits you; The race to find a seat.
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I am thirty five years old. I have been learning Dutch for the last fourteen years. During that time I have gone on courses, attended classes, filled out homework and taken exams.
My daughter is two. She has been learning Dutch for two years (the first year mainly involved listening). She has not gone on any courses or attended any classes. She has never had to do any homework or take any exams either (unless that is what the scribbles on the wall in crayon where last week).
She might be half Dutch but there is no denying that my Dutch is better. This is because I have a twelve year head start and a really good motivator; I can’t let her get better at speaking Dutch than me… And that might prove to be difficult because she is already gaining.
Alarmingly she has already over taken me in some areas of the Dutch language. For example; unlike her I am unable to name all the Care Bears in Dutch, I do not know all the words to the Nijntje theme song and until yesterday I did not know the Dutch word for rainbow (until she told me).
This is a little unfair because I don’t get to practise the same kind of words that she does. I simply don’t get a chance to use them in my everyday life and would get strange looks if I tried. I can’t stand up in the middle of a meeting and say that, “the points made are all well and good but we must consider that the tijger doet rrraaaaaaa and the poes doet miauw.” I would probably be escorted out of the building and advised to seek help.
To add insult to injury my daughter and I will often have ‘disagreements’ over English vs. Dutch. Just last week we were having a debate about whether her favourite ball was green or groen. She was of the strong belief that it was groen. I was trying to introduce the idea that it was green. She was having none of it. When I tried to meet her half way and concede that the ball was both green and groen at the same time she only became more defensive in her beliefs.
“Neeeeee Papa! Groen!”
Sometimes when I do say something in Dutch she might try to repeat it but get the pronunciation slightly wrong. When that happens I repeat the word for her again so that she can retry. Because of this we usually end up in a loop, each saying the word one after the other, again and again. To be honest, after a while I get slightly lost and start to wonder who is leading who. It’s possible that she is actually trying to teach me the correct pronunciation of whatever word we have ended up saying over and over again to each other. When this happens I try to use the ‘I am an adult’ approach to proving that I am right and break the loop but then my wife usually enters the room and tells us that we are both wrong.
It is possible that I am going to lose this race.
Allow me to introduce Little Stuart, Invading Holland’s latest guest blogger (I could not name him Stuart Little for legal reasons).
As you can see he has a striking resemblance to yours truly. That is because he was made by my Mum as a Christmas present (not as voodoo doll). He is based upon my Dutch Stuart cartoon and includes a tulip shirt, red trousers with braces and even a pair of clogs. My two year old daughter has taken an instant liking to him, especially the hair.
The other day I took Little Stuart to Amsterdam and let him lose on the city with a camera while I went to work. So without farther ado, here is Little Stuarts’s Amsterdam Adventure.
“Today I got to explore Amsterdam. It sure seems to have a lot of canals. I wonder if the rest of Holland is like this.”
“Strolling through the flower market. They sell… flowers… like the name suggests.”
“Checking out the local art.”
“I wonder if they have a pair in my size.”
“After many hours of standing outside the palace I did not get to see the Dutch King and Queen but I still had a lovely day in Amsterdam.”
In other news; the real Stuart (me) was interviewed last week over on AngloInfo. I talked about my accidental arrival in The Netherlands, learning the names of the Care Bears in Dutch and the best advice that I ever got about living in Amsterdam. You can read the full interview here: Expat of the Week: Stuart from The Netherlands
I have broken the law. I am a criminal. I might even be a master criminal. It is hard to tell at this moment since my criminal career has only just begun. However, there is no doubt that my downward spiral into a life of crime has begun.
I did not mean to break the law. My crime had not been planned. It happened by accident. However, there is no turning back now. I am forever tainted. I can no longer claim to be the innocent civilian that I once thought I was.
I will have to live with the crime I have committed for the rest of my life. Every day that I look in the mirror I will now see the face of a criminal staring back at me. I can never undo what I have done. My only hope is that those of you reading this will learn from my terrible crime…
I drove seven kph over the speed limit through a village in Friesland.
At the time I did not realize that I was driving seven kph over the speed limit or that my crime had been witnessed by a traffic camera for that matter. Never the less, from the moment it happened I was a lawbreaker on the run, a wanted man, a criminal at large… at least I was technically, until I paid the fine a few weeks later and my debt to society was fully repaid.
My family-in-law on the other hand are never going to let me forget. They are having too much fun making jokes about having a criminal in the family.