Case File #113c
It has been almost two years since the strange events that first started The Great Speculoos Mystery. It began one morning when I discovered a mysterious jar of Speculoos left on my desk by an unknown person. Despite my best efforts at the time I was unable to discover their identity. Half a year later a second jar of Speculoos appeared on my desk. Once again there was no note, no clue and no one stepped forward to claim responsibility. The trail went cold again and for a long time I heard nothing from my mysterious benefactor. Until last week…
The Great Speculoos Mystery Begins Again
A third jar of Speculoos mysteriously appeared on my desk again just a few days ago (technically it’s a tub).
Upon discovering it I immediately started questioning the people who sit around my desk. Unfortunately none of them could recall seeing anyone place the Speculoos there or say with any certainty when it had first appeared. I cannot rule out the possibility that they might all be in on it but I cannot prove it either (and I doubt any of them would brake under interrogation).
Although the appearance of another jar of Speculoos is exciting, without any extra information, it is another dead-end… or so I thought. There is something different this time, something I had not expected, something exciting; a surprise hidden under the lid.
A hidden message! The mastermind behind this great mystery is trying to communicate.
It is clear from this message that I should expect more Speculoos surprises but what does the ‘-B-‘ mean? Is it a clue to the next gift or the mystery person’s identity? Could it be a letter of their name perhaps or simply a red herring intended to point me in the wrong direction?
I could try to covertly secretly obtain hand writing samples from all my colleagues for comparison but HR warned me against that sort of thing last time when I tried to collect finger prints. I could set up a web cam on my desk with a movement sensor but that would generate hours of footage with no idea when the next drop will happen. It’s has been a year and a half since the previous drop.
So instead I have decided to leave a message here for this mysterious unknown person. I know they are reading this.
To the mysterious supplier of my Speculoos,
I have received your message. I do not yet know if you are friend or foe. You know about my Speculoos addiction but I do not know anything about you or who you are. However, I am intrigued by your desire to communicate. What made you change the rules of the game? Does it come from a desire to be caught, or perhaps a calculated risk to show off your intellect? If that is the case I challenge you to leave another message and I look forward to receiving the next Speculoos surprise.
Once a year during November Sinterklaas arrives in The Netherlands and brings with him his helpers the Zwarte Pieten. The black face paint of Zwarte Piet often causes a few raised eyebrows from those who are not familiar with the tradition. In recent years there has been a lot of debate about whether or not the look of Sinterklaas’ trusted helper should be changed. There have been a few attempts at creating alternative Zwarte Pieten; Blue Piet, White Piet and even Rainbow Piet. None have fully taken off yet but here are a few alternative Zwarte Piet whacky suggestions of my own which I think might help:
Alternative Zwarte Piet:
Do you have any other alternative Zwarte Piet suggestions?
My first real St Maarten experance.
Every morning I start my work day by travelling from the far away land of Friesland to my office in Amsterdam. This normally takes about two hours by train. Although it has resulted in most people thinking I’m crazy for wanting to live so far away it does give me lots of time to write, draw and re-watch the entire seven seasons of Buffy The Vampire Slayer with in just a few weeks. It’s time I use well.
The Curious Incident of The Frisian Swan
During one of my more recent morning trips I noticed that my train had started to slow down while we were still within Friesland. Eventually we were just creeping forward a section of track at a time. A few moments later the train conductor provided an explanation over the intercom system in Dutch (which I have translated into English):
“Ladies and Gentlemen. As you might have noticed we are going slower than normal. This is because there are reports of an injured swan on the tracks… It is a Frisian swan so ‘that’ is why we are going slower.”
He seemed to be stressing the fact that it was a ‘Frisian swan’ and not any old injured swan from some other lesser province. Was that the only reason we were slowing down? Would we still have been going full speed if it was a Dutch swan or would he have stopped the train, got out and given it a fine for travelling on the tracks without a valid ticket? I guess he was just a proud Frisian train conductor or Frisian Swans are rarer than unicorns.
Ten minutes later we started to speed up again and an even prouder sounding train conductor returned to the intercom.
“Ladies and Gentlemen. We have returned to normal speed since we have passed the Frisian swan. It is now safe and being taken care of so it’s all good news.”
I was surprised that there was not a stirring instrumental version of the Frisian anthem playing in the background as he made his announcement. I half expected the other Friesian commuters on the train to throw their hats up in the air and cheer. As a resident of Friesland I was ready and willing to join in but sadly the train carriage remained quiet. I guess I was in the carriage with only Dutch passengers.
Whenever a group of British expats get together the conversation always ends up leading to the same subject; what products and tasty treats do you miss from England? Everyone has at least one thing that they miss, something that they can’t find here in The Netherlands or something that simply does not compare to its British counterpart. This usually involves childhood favourites, items for special occasions or just something that is considered quintessentially British. It’s the kind of conversation that leads to me browsing the British Corner Shop website at two in the morning, while trying to resist the urge to lick the screen.
So when the British Corner Shop actually contacted me a few days ago and asked if I would be interested in receiving a free selection of their items I was not able to say yes fast enough. Of course I would love to receive a free care package from home… But what items to get? I started thinking about all those conversations I’d had with other British expats and asked myself the same question; what are the things British Expats miss the most when they are living abroad?
Things British Expats Miss: Food
Tea is more than just an important part of British life. It ‘is’ British life. A lot of the things that we have achieved as a country would have been impossible without our unique ability to solve any crisis with ‘a nice cup of tea’.
Once a British person has chosen their favourite brand of tea they will stick with it for life with a devotion not seen in most marriages. In fact, if you believe in such things it is possible to say that ‘you don’t choose the tea, the tea chooses you’. That is why sometimes only a British brand of tea bag will do.
This might also explain why my Dad sometimes carries around a pocket full of his own favourite brand of tea bags when visiting The Netherlands and sneakily switches them with whatever tea bag he has been given.
The British love a good biscuit almost as much as they love a good cup of tea. This is possibly because of the important role the biscuit plays within the tea drinking experience. The Dutch might melt their stroopwafels above their coffee cups but we Brits have a proud tradition of dunking. A good host always offers a packet of biscuits to their guests for tea dunking purposes.
The category of biscuit is very important too. There are two main options: Basic biscuits (such as Digestives and Rich Tea Biscuits) or what is sometimes referred to as ‘the fancy biscuits’ (such as Chocolate Digestives, Jammie Dodgers, Bonbons, etc). The biscuits you choose to serve can tell your guests a lot about you and what you think of them. Likewise, the way your guest reacts to an offer of biscuits can tell you a lot about them. For example, a good guest always politely refuses at least once before accepting a biscuit. It’s traditional.
In England no school pack lunch or visit to the pub would be complete without a packet of crisps. The Dutch might be very adventures with their flavours (paprika, bolognaise, etc) but for some reason they have never fully embrace the good old British salt and vinegar or cheese and onion crisps and that is a shame.
It’s not just these two flavours that a lot of Brits miss either. Britain has a proud tradition of novelty crisps that have never quite made it to Holland; Monster Munch, Quavers, Skips, Wotsits, Hula Hoops, Squares, Space Raiders and (one of my personal favourites) Frazzles which are technically more like real bacon than Dutch bacon.
Yes, technically the Dutch have bacon but it is not bacon as we Brits know it. To us bacon is not bacon unless it is thick with streaks of fat in it. However, to the Dutch bacon is not bacon unless it is sliced as thin as possible and can be mistaken for sandwich meat. Neither side will ever truly agree on which one is correct (even though we all know it is the British thick bacon). It’s one of the things British expats miss the most.
Out of desperation I once tried to make British bacon by frying a whole pack of Dutch bacon together into a single block… It didn’t work.
The Dutch have some very good mints but I’m talking specifically about Polos; the mint with the hole. Until they have tried them I don’t think the Dutch are able to fully understand why anyone would want a mint with a bit missing from it. Surely it must be broken. It’s certainly not value for money. They simply don’t understand the joy of being able to put the tip of your tongue through the hole in the middle or seeing how thin you can get it before it breaks.
My Dutch wife was very easily converted to ‘the mint with the hole’. In fact, as soon as she heard that I would be receiving a package from the British Corner Shop her first reaction was to shout, “Get Polos!!”
Anyone who grew up in England will know that Cadbury is the one true chocolate to rule them all. There is not much more that can be said on the subject.
Other things British Expats miss when living in another country include; Yorkshire Pudding, Clotted Cream, Branston Pickle, Mr Kipling (who makes exceedingly good cakes), Bisto gravy, Heinz Baked Beans and anything else made by Heinz.
Is there anything I missed from the list? Did I make the right choices? What food do you miss the most from your country? Do you think there are other things British expats miss?
If you are a British expat and have never tried out The British Corner Shop you really should. They have everything you might miss from back home. Just try not to drool on your keyboard too much while browsing (as I did).