24 Sep

If I told you that I spent the weekend following a fire breathing mechanical horse through a bizarre realm of steam powered music and flaming serpents you might think that I have been taking advantage of Holland’s soft law on recreational narcotics and spent the last few days in a drug fueled fantasy land of hallucinations. However, before anyone decides to organize an intervention I should explain that I was in fact at the Robodock festival in Amsterdam.

What is Robodock you might ask?

Robodock is a unique international festival with technology, art, spectacle theatre, multimedia and industrial installations at its core. In co-operation with artists, technology students, architects, designers and theatre makers the festival is spectacularly designed by recycling scrap metal and other industrial waste products. This is an important part of the Robodock way of working and creating.

The festival’s pulse is an unpredictable combination of disciplines and bizarre theatrical applications in which fire, steel and this year’s theme ‘Rhythm and Time / Ten Years Transformation’ are important elements. None of the arts is excluded: theatre, music, dance, film, multimedia, visual arts, acrobatics, technical experiments and deejays.”

Stepping into Robodock is like stepping into a Mad Max movie. Every thing is made from salvaged and recycled materials which creates a post apocalyptic survivors market atmosphere.

I drank beer at a bar made out of slowly revolving pianos and attempted to play ‘Twinkle twinkle little star’ as I sipped my drink. I listened to an artillery cannon band perform music by firing flames from huge gas pipes. I watched a man demonstrate his flying platform. I danced to the music provided by a robotic band and I put a bet on a power sander at the power tools drag race but lost to an electric drill (only pride, not money).

A Cylon fallen on hard times joins a local band as a drummer

A giant fifty meter serpent mother that breathes fire protects her egg

Only one person made the mistake of suggesting scrambled eggs

Lots of drunk people trying to play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star

I think they need a bigger scarecrow

These ladies are obviously carrying a torch for someone

My ride home

The only things that were missing were Tina Turner and the Thunder Dome

Photos by: Aaron Butler

17 Sep

I have recently noticed a strange phenomenon that accurse during the early stages of an expat’s attempt to learn the language of their host country. I have decided to call this phenomenon, ‘The Unintentional Question Effect’ since it happens when an expat unintentionally adds a rising inflection to the end of a sentence, thus making everything they say sound like a question.

The rising inflection is often added simply because we are questioning if we have said what ever we were trying to say correctly with out committing first degree language murder.

I will use a normal every day activity to better demonstrate this phenomenon:

Imagine that you enter a small café in Amsterdam with a desire to purchase a simple beverage, a coffee for example. You find a suitable seat, maybe one by the window over looking a pleasant view. The waiter approaches you with his order pad and a smile. He greets you in Dutch and you return he’s greeting. This establishes a simple relationship between you, that of customer and beverage supplier. He then asks you what you would like to drink.

“Wat wil je drinken?”

You wish to practise the Dutch you have learnt so you reply that you would like a coffee:

“Ik wil enn koffie?”

The rising inflection you unintentionally add to the end of the statement is simply displaying your unfamiliarity with the language and asking the un-spoken question:

“Did I say that right? Is that how you say that in Dutch?”

However, the waiter does not hear the unspoken question since it is unspoken. He hears a different question that does not make you sound like someone attempting to speak an unfamiliar language. Instead, it makes you sound like someone who has forgotten to take their medication:

“Do you think I would like coffee? Do I look like the kind of person who would like coffee? Do you think I would like tea instead of coffee?”

Shortly after you add that you would like milk? and sugar? the waiter starts to back away to call the local hospital and ask if they are missing any patients.

The same thing can happen in many other situations. Telling a cab driver that you would like to go to the train station might suddenly take on another meaning:

“I’d like to go to the train station? Do you think I will enjoy myself at the train station? Are there many fun activities for a thrill seeker such as myself to take part in at the train station?”

Even a simple statement like, “my name is Stuart,” said in another language by a confused expat can suddenly sound like a puzzled conundrum of confusion posed by a two year old suffering from concussion.

I’ve confused and (probably) scared a lot of Dutch people by introducing myself in such a way but at least all the waiters in Amsterdam seem to agree that I look like more of a tea person then a coffee person.

10 Sep

Today I learnt a new Dutch word. The word I have learnt is Schuimbad, which in English means bubble bath.

I can not really claim that it is a word that will greatly expand my Dutch communication skills. It is not really a word that gets much use in normal everyday banter. There is not an easy way to start a conversation with a stranger about bubble bath with out getting a few worried looks in return. A sentence like, “Ik vind schuimbad mooi,” (“I think bubble bath is beautiful”) is more likely to course everyone to give me more room on the tram then it is to impress them with the way I am attempting to master their language.

Despite any odd reactions I might receive, it is still a new Dutch word I now understand. I am able to take some pride in this small language victory. However, I am still aware of the slight taint on this triumph when I recall how I learnt this new word; my flat mate told me.

There is no shame in this itself since he is much better at talking Dutch then I am (something about having a Dutch girlfriend and no choice) but he taught me this new word by asking the question, “Do you realize you have been buying bubble bath instead of shower gel?” and then pointing out what the big bright letters on the front of the bottle meant.

I had to reply that I did not realize this and I had not for the past year, during which I had been buying the same stuff. We don’t even have a bath. We only have a shower and now I know why I was always filling ours with so many suds.

Mistaking bubble bath for shower gel is not really a big problem but it makes me wonder if there are other areas where my Dutch language skills might have let me down while visiting my local super market.

Could it explain the reason why my shaving cream tastes like it would go well with strawberries and ice cream or why my spray on deodorant tends to sting and kills all insects in the vicinity dead in mid air or why my favourite brand of biscuits keeps my hair silky and smooth and my digestive system worm free?

It might be a good thing that I’ve just signed up for a new Dutch course.

4 Sep

After two weeks of visiting friends and family in England I have returned to Holland. During my visit I:

Took part in the English tradition of self inflicted liver damage coursed by the consumption of vast quantities of alcoholic based beverages.

Confused a waiter by accidentally speaking Dutch.

Got very sunburnt.

Danced to a lot of 80s music.

Willingly ate vegemite, liked it and lost a two year long running argument with an Australian friend that it was the most horrible thing on the planet. In my defence I was drunk. She took advantage of my taste buds.

Told a group of girls in a London bar that it was my birthday so my friends and I could have our photo taken with them. I was very drunk. My birthday is not until December.

Rescued a toy Koloa from an evil tyrant who had kept it trapped in a wrapping paper prison since December under the pretence that it was a late Christmas present.

Had a meal with a group of girls that I had not seen since primary school and wondered if suggesting a game of kiss chase would get the same response as an adult that it did as a child.

Fixed my dad’s GPS car navigation system that was speaking German and giving wrong directions.

Had a conversation with a female friend which means I will never be able to think of Hello Kitty in the same way again.

Spent an afternoon in Hyde Park drinking with friends and luckily managed to avoid knocking out any innocent bystanders with our Frisbee.

Randomly bumped into three friends on the streets of London on three separate occasions. Then, when I returned to Holland I found an email from another friend telling me that they saw someone who looked just like me. It turned out it was me. I now wonder if I was ever actually in London. Maybe the plane landed in the Twilight Zone instead.