Since living in Holland I’ve had a surprising amount of conversations with people that did not realize The Netherlands and Holland are names for one and the same country. Obviously these are not conversations I have been having with Dutch people. They seem to have caught onto this fact due to insider knowledge.
I’ve been told the reason for the two names is much like the way England is referred to as Great Britain and/or The United Kingdom sometimes. Holland is only the name for two Western provinces with in The Netherlands. Technically this might mean my blog should be called ‘Invading the two Western provinces with in the Netherlands’ but luckily for me Holland is used to refer to the entire country in most cases now.
This might sound confusing but it is not as confusing as the wedding invite I was once sent by an old college friend which was addressed to me in The Neverlands. As much as I would like to think otherwise I am pretty sure I have aged in the five years I have been here and I think the only way to see Tinkerbell is to spend too long in a Amsterdam coffee shop. Of course it’s always possible that she thought I was living with Michael Jackson.
Its late and I seem to be suffering from a small amount of insomnia again for the third night in a row. This means I have been spending the time I should be sleeping surfing from site to site on the Internet and flicking from channel to channel on the TV in search of entertainment which will hopefully help my brain switch off.
I have quite a few channels to choose from when wearing out the batteries of the remote control and luckily for me the Dutch only subtitle English spoken shows instead of re-dubbing them. However, when looking for something to watch past midnight there is only one thing that can be found….. sex phone line commercials.
They are everywhere. Even on the main stream channels. Starting at midnight they all start to show more and more of these ads between programs until they are showing nothing else. During my teenage years I might have stayed up late to sneakily catch a peek at the 15 minutes adult channel previews which were less explicit then some of these adverts but I’ve grown up a bit since then (maybe that is just a fancy way of saying I need better porn). I want some normal entertainment. I’ll even take a Jean-Claude Van Damme or Steven Seagal movie at this point.
It was surprising to see these kind of commercials on normal late night television when I first moved to this country but now they seem almost normal and blasé, simply a sign that I have stayed up too late and should go to bed. However, I do owe something to the women on these commercials. There was one way in which they helped me when I was alone in this country and knew no one. Listening to the phone numbers being read out taught me how to count in Dutch. This is also why I can count in a very sexy voice.
Nul… Een… Twee… Drie…
The company I work for has a great way of solving problems sometimes.
Employees bring crates of beer into the office at the end of every Friday and all the rooms end up becoming a mess of empty beer bottles and full ash trays (plus there was the time we cellotaped one of the designers to his chair).
Buy lots and lots of beer on Friday for the employees but only allow them to drink it in one room to contain the mess.
With spring starting hopefully they will let us start using the garden again as well. We used to have great fun with drunken water fights on a Friday night because the company had given us all Super Soakers for the Christmas before.
But last night as I drank my company payed for bottle of beer and chatted with my coworkers I realized something….. I’m old.
I was not thinking about the amount of birthdays I have had. I was thinking about how long I have been working for the company compared to most of the others. As I looked around the room I realized I didn’t really know quite a few of the people I was drinking the company’s money with. There seems to be new fresh faces in the office almost every day.
When I joined it was a small company. Since then I’ve watched people come and go. The company has changed names, changed owners and changed buildings. In fact last Wednesday was five years to the day I had my interview.
In a strange way I like being one of the old timers of the company. It makes me feel like part of a select group. Like someone who knows what these new members will go through and can laugh at the way they think because its how I used to think. As if I now know secrets they will have to learn over time just as I did.
Who knows, maybe one day I’ll be in a rocking chair surrounded by young hopeful game designers, “Oh yes. I worked on a computer game once before you had your new fangled holograms.”
It was a cold winters night in Amsterdam just a few weeks ago. She looked at me and smiled. I returned her smile and looked away shyly, not sure what to say or do. The first flakes of white snow started to fall as we walked side by side. I had only just met her 15 minutes before but I already felt like I knew so much about her. She looked into my eyes, told me she would like to see me again and offered me her phone number. With the blizzard of snow falling around us it was all quite magical….
At least it would have been if she had not been older than my mother, had an accent that was hard to understand, far too open and trusting with details about her personal life and making me feel very, very awkward indeed. However she had asked me to help her carry her heavy shopping on and off the tram and I was trying to be polite. She almost forcefully tried to make me memorize her phone number before leaving. I politely made an excuse and quickly left for the train when she tried to get me to take the bus with her.
However this is not the strangest situation of someone trying to pick me up. The strangest was another night in Amsterdam before Christmas. I was waiting for a train home with my flat mate but he had quickly gone to another platform to find a toilet.
“Is dit het spoor voor Haarlem ?” Asked the elderly gentleman who had just approached me.
“Yes it is.” I replied in English.
He looked a little strange with his bushy gray beard, white woolen coat and the set of gold window blinds he was carrying. He was surprised to realize I was English and started chatting to me because he said he liked to practice his language skills.
He was on his way to a friends birthday party. The blinds were a present which he had painted himself. According to his stories he was an artist of some fame. then at one point he took out what looked like a snuff tin, started to tip its contents onto his hand and then licked it off. He asked me if I wanted some but I turned down the strange offer. It was at this point it suddenly dawned on me. This eccentric dutch artist was a gay eccentric dutch artist and he was trying to pick me up.
Finally my flat mate returned and seemed to catch on quicker then I had. I think he enjoyed watching me trying to deal with the embarrassing situation. When the train arrived the eccentric artist got on with us and started to excitedly tell us stories about himself. He became more animated as he did so.
Eventually we parted ways. Some of the stories he told us seemed true, others may have been exaggerations and the rest I’m not sure were true at all. However, some of his stories made it sounded like his life had be hard. This made me feel bad that my first reaction to him (when I realized what was going on) was to panic a little (I don’t think of myself as homophobe). He was eccentric, maybe a little crazy but in the end he was a harmless, friendly old man. However I think it goes with out saying that it remains the strangest story of someone flirting with me.
It just occurred to me that it might not have been such a smart idea to give the name ‘Invading Holland’ to my blog about my life in The Netherlands. Since the country was once invaded by the Germans some Dutch people might take this the wrong way.
However, since most of the Dutch people at the office jokingly shout, “The Germans are back,” when ever they hear any kind of alarm go off I don’t think I really have much to worry about. Too late now anyway I guess.
“Will you stop talking about the war.”
“Well you started it.”
“No we didn’t”
“Yes you did. You invaded Poland.”