As an English expat it is impossible to win any argument with the Dutch about which country drives on the correct side of the road. It simply can’t be done. It’s not because as a country that drives on the left the English are outnumbered by those that don’t. It’s simply because the Dutch have a very unfair advantage; The dictionary definition and usage of the word ‘right’ as both a directional indication (the opposite to left) and a suggestion that something is correct (the opposite of wrong). In any such conversation our own language is used against us.
Dutchman: “The English drive on the wrong side of the road but we drive on the right side.”
Englishman: “No you don’t.”
Dutchman: “Yes we do. We drive on the right and you drive on the left.”
Englishman: “Well, ok. If you put it like that; you drive on the right side…”
Dutchman: “Thank you.”
Englishman: “…BUT the English drive on the correct side! ”
Dutchman: “No you don’t. You drive on the left side. We drive on the right side.”
Englishman: “Fine! But only in a directional sense.”
Englishman: “Thank you.”
Dutchman: “We drive in the right direction. You drive in the wrong direction.”
It’s enough to make you want to commit road rage.
Once you’ve admitted defeat the conversation inevitably continues with the question, “Do you find it easy to drive on the right hand side of the road?”
This is a very valid question. Learning to drive on the other side of the road can be tricky. It involves having to break your old driving habits. Everything changes. You have to use your mirrors differently. You have to drive the other way around roundabouts. Even the gear stick is on the wrong side. I was quite lucky though. I found learning to drive on the right (directional) side of the road to be quite easy. In fact, I discovered rather quickly that accidentally pulling out toward oncoming traffic once is all it takes to learn which side of the road you should be on and stay.
“Is it different driving here then it is in England?” When this question is asked I’m always tempted to start making stuff up to get revenge for the start of the conversation.
“Yes.” I sometimes imagine saying. “We all drive Victorian automobiles that only go five miles an hour and we still use our arms to indicate. Of course it’s the same!”
In reality it’s not though. There is a difference. The English have hills and there is a very real danger of rolling backwards during traffic jams. The biggest slope the Dutch ever have to deal with on the roads is a speed bump. Plus Dutch roads are straighter despite it being the English who were invaded by the Romans.
Then comes the question that you realize the whole conversation has been leading up to. “Who are the better drivers? The English or The Dutch?”
Answering this question always fills my heart with sadness because I simply have to say, “The Dutch”. I know this will have some of my fellow English expats shouting betrayal and calling the Queen to tell her what I have said but you all know it is true. Sure, neither country seems to know what an indicator is and they both like to drive so close to each other that they can hold a conversation through the back window but at least the Dutch don’t hog the fast lane like they might never find it again if they leave it.
Invading Holland will be back soon but for now here is a story from January 2008 that proves why I should not be allowed to talk to tourists.
In the long and well documented history of human beings ‘putting their foot in it’ there have been many amazing examples of things going very wrong. Simple misunderstandings have been known to escalate into blunders of epic embarrassing proportions.
I myself have been responsible for a few minor examples of this. However, the mix-up that I was a part of this weekend might be the next winner of the annual ‘putting your foot in it’ awards ceremony.
It all started on a day like any other as I was walking through the streets of Amsterdam on my way to the train station. As I made my way through one of the smaller streets I was stopped by two very attractive girls who appeared to be waiting on a street corner.
They both smiled at me happily. I smiled back with out a clue of what was about to happen.
One of the two attractive girls asked me something that I did not quite understand. Using my powers of deduction I was quickly able to deduce that English was not her first language and that she was possibly East European. My main clue in working this out was the way she spoke broken English with an East European accent. Being the polite Englishman that I am I made it clear that I had not understood and she should try repeating herself. I did this by using the universal confused look and the phrase, “Sorry. I don’t understand. Could you please repeat that?”
“Prostitute? Female prostitute?” She repeated with a happy smile in her Eastern European accent while standing on the street corner where she had stopped me.
I suddenly had a realization. She was asking me if I was looking for a female prostitute. This resulted in me doing an involuntary impression of an embarrassed Hugh Grant as I shook my head, stuttered, “No thank you,” and walked away.
I have lived in Amsterdam for a few years now and seen a lot of strange things but until that very moment I had never been approached by a prostitute.
I had only taken a few paces when I suddenly heard the girl running after me. It seemed like I was being pursued by the most persistent lady of the night ever.
“Not me, not me,” she insisted nervously. “Please, where is prostitutes?”
I suddenly had another realization. This time it was the correct one. I felt my face reach a new, much brighter shade of red as my embarrassment increased. She was trying to ask me where Amsterdam’s famous red light district was. I had just accidentally accused an innocent tourist of being a lady of questionable morals who likes to entertain gentleman with out any clothes on as her primary source of income. This coursed me to do another impression of Hugh Grant, this time stuttering out an embarrassed apology. We both laughed awkwardly about the confusion as I gave them the directions they sought. They seemed to understand why I thought what I had and were just as embarrassed as me but I still walked away with my head in my hands.
However embarrassing the blunder was for the both of us I can’t help but wonder how much more embarrassing it could have become if as a reply to the first misunderstood question I had been so inclined to ask, “How much?”
Invading Holland is still on hiatus for a short while. In the mean time please enjoy this post taken from May 2007 about one of the most confusing things that ever happened to me in this country.
When I first moved to Holland I quickly realized that being an expat in a foreign country meant any simple task had the potential to become confusing and baffling.
This was mainly because I was unfamiliar with the countries customs, traditions and its language. Normally these occurrences were small and easily sorted out.
However, every once in a while something so bizarre happened that I had to question weather it had really occurred. There is one such event which still puzzles me to this day. It was so strange that I had not even imagined that it might happen.
Try to imagine that you are strolling along a street one day, enjoying the weather when an enthusiastically happy looking girl catches your eye. She returns your gaze and approaches with a smile. When she is close enough for you to hear she starts to talk to you in Dutch. You smile back a little nervously and wonder what she is saying.
The language barrier might course a small amount of confusion but this does not really count as a bizarre situation yet. Imagine the scenario again but this time with a little more detail:
You are strolling along a shopping street one day, enjoying the weather when you notice a strangely enthusiastic girl being followed around by a camera crew. She notices you and suddenly runs towards you while grinning. When she is close enough to point her microphone at you she starts to say something in Dutch. You smile nervously into the camera and wonder what it is all about.
This would be more confusing but a camera crew on the street is still not a truly surreal event yet. Imagine the scenario once more, this time with all the details:
You are strolling along a busy shopping street one day, enjoying the weather when you suddenly see a strange girl being followed around by a camera crew while wearing a large fake rubber strap-on erect penis. Despite your best attempts to avoid being seen she notices you and suddenly runs at you while her counterfeit member bounces up and down disturbingly on her crouch. When she is too close for comfort she suddenly thrusts the microphone into your face and shouts something in Dutch. You look nervously at her prosthetic manhood and wonder if you should run.
I explained I did not understand Dutch to which she replied, “Oh. Ok. Sorry to have bothered you,” and skipped off in search of another victim. What would you have done in the same situation?
Invading Holland is still on a short break and will return later. Today’s archive post is from November 2007 and is about the emergency alarm test that happens every month in Holland.
On the first Monday of every month the Dutch government likes to test the emergency alarm system in Amsterdam. Wailing sirens can be heard every where through out the famous European city. I’m not sure what kind of disasters these alarms are supposed to warn the citizens of Amsterdam about but it occurred to me that if such a tragedy was to actually happen on the first Monday of the month no one would realize something was really wrong until the flood drowned us, the meteor struck us or the rampaging dinosaur ate us.
That’s the other strange thing; no one seems to know what kind of impending doom the alarm is supposed to alert us for. Most of my Dutch co-workers enjoy shouting, “the Germans are back,” when ever they hear the loud sirens. However, I have come up with a few of my own explanations that I like to confuse tourists and freshly arrived expats with when ever they ask me the question, “what is that noise?”
“That’s to remind me to take my medication.”
“Dam, I left the oven on.”
“Somewhere, (insert name of bad Dutch sing here) is performing.”
“That’s the chav alarm. An Easy Jet flight must have just landed at Schiphol airport.”
“That happens every time Febo sells 100 kip burgers.”
“Time to put on your clogs… it’s the law.”
“What, that? No, that’s nothing… Incidentally, if anyone asks, I was with you all night.”
“Dam it. They just finished cleaning up the last Zombie apocalypse. I hope the road cleaners don’t go on strike this time.”
“It’s the expat-man signal. Someone needs my help. Up, up and away.”
“Quick, hide me! They’re hunting expats again! Please, I don’t want to be a frikandel!”
“Oh dear… The Dutch supply of cheese just ran out.”
“Oh no, it’s the Sinterklaas alarm! If we don’t make an offering of our naughty children quickly he will take his rage out on all of us!”