24 May

This is a completely improvised blog post, written live during the euro vision song contest semi final (Now Updated with links):

“Wow. I really believe these presenters are improvising everything they are saying. It sounds so spontaneous and not painfully rehearsed at all.”

“I think Jamiroquai had a sex change and is singing for Holland.”

“I would have loved to have been at the meeting were that one Malta singer pitched yellow trousers as a good idea.”

“I think the Belarus entry is having an identity crisis. Death metal? Pop? Boy Band? Christian rock? What are you aiming for????”

“Euro Vision, this is starting to physically hurts. Stop trying so hard.”

“Is this the Croatia entry or the Scottish entry. I’m not sure because of the two Scottish goth dancers in the black kilts.”

“Oh my god! The female Swedish entry just broke out the MC Hammer dance moves. That was the funniest thing I have ever seen in my life (I actually could not stop laughing for a full minute).”

“Hey! Lady Gaga just made a cameo in the Georgia entry. I think she helped out with the costumes too.”

“I’m feeling pretty ashamed to be European right about now.”

“Hey, Eurovison Song Contest organisers here is an idea; hire some presenters who can actually present and don’t act like terrified blocks of wood.”

“There seems to be a bunch of super hero pirates singing for Turkey. It’s the only explanation for the capes and the nautical theme.”

“Oh my god! The boat! The boat! Look at them rocking out in the boat!”

Slovakia has either taken us back to the 80s or 90s. I’m not sure which yet.”

“The Norway entry looks like it’s being sung by the cast of the hair wax commercial.”

“Is the Lithuania entry wearing a blind fold because he was kidnapped by the mafia and forced to sing in euro vision song contest?”

“Did he just sing; I can’t believe it’s shoe?”

“The Bosina & Herzergovian entry is going to have someone’s eyes out with those shoulder Pads.”

”My God!The male presenter just won’t stop grinning. It’s starting to get scary.”

“95% of the camera shots in this year’s Eurovsion song contest involved the varouse bands pointing into the camera.”

“The presenters have finally realized no one actually listens to anything they say and just started babbling. Agh! They’ve seen the glitch in the Matrix.”

“The male presenter seems to have been gone for a while now. I think his grin finally ruptured and he had to be rushed off to hospital.”

“Oh god no! He’s on stage and he is singing an Abba song with the previous winners… I say singing an Abba song. I mean murdering an Abba song.”

“Wow. This presenter is as good at building suspense.”

“No Holland but; Yessss!!! Sweden made it through. We get to see more sweet McHammer moves.”

18 May

Becoming Dutch

Spend any amount of time in Holland and you are bound to pick up a few habits from the locals. It’s good to become integrated but here are a few warning signs to look out for that might mean you are becoming Dutch.

You Might Be Becoming Dutch If…

(Part 1)

1) You no longer freak out when someone reminds you that the entire country is below sea level.

2) You’ve forgotten what hills and mountains look like.

3) You’ve discovered a way of using the friendly greeting ‘hello’ as a sarcastic insult.

4) You’ve developed a natural instinct to sit in a circle at any party or social gathering that you are invited to.

5) You’ve continued to ride the same bike for the past two years despite the rather unhealthy and painful squeaking sound it has developed (which courses nearby pedestrians to bleed from their ears).

6) You’ve shouted at tourists while cycling passed on a bike.

7) You’ve ‘pimped’ your bike with fake flowers.

8) You own either; a large pair of novelty orange glasses, a large novelty orange inflatable crown, a orange feather bower and/or a pair of orange dungarees that you wear at any other event that requires a display of Dutch pride (Queens Day, Football matches, etc).

9) You’ve developed an unhealthy obsession with mixing random vegetables with mashed potato.

10) You actually understood the above joke.

11) You now consider mayonnaise its own food group.

12) You think standing on the fragile ice over the city’s polluted (and often peed in) canals in large numbers is a good idea

13) You get excited about ‘Pepernoten Season’.

14) You now say “half a year” instead of “six months”.

15) You’ve eaten raw herring without it being part of a bet you lost.

16) You’ve stuck up for Sinterklaas in the annual Sinterklaas vs. Santa argument (and Zwarte Piet has started to seem less offensive).

17) You’ve considered red trousers a ‘fashionable option’.

For more warning signs that you might be becoming Dutch check out part 2.

8 May

Dutch is a very difficult language to understand but I was determined to master it this time. Since our arrival I had only spoken in Dutch. I had not spoken a word of English (or any other non Dutch language for that matter). I was deeply proud of this achievement even if it meant that I had not actually said much of anything yet. It still counts.

We (my wife and I) were visiting a friend for a cup of tea and a chat (or in my case a cup of tea and the mumble of the occasional Dutch word). Also present was a young Dutch girl that neither my wife or I had met before. She had arrived shortly before us.

The three of them were now engaged in a conversation in Dutch about… something. It was going too fast for me to understand but I listened carefully none the less. I was not going to give up so easily. I was determined to understand. I was determined to stay focused. I was determined to follow their Dutch banter.

Two minutes later I had zoned out again and was studying the wall paper pattern on the opposite wall (the pattern was slightly miss aligned) while occasionally nodding and smiling at the points in the conversation when it seemed right to do so (this is an automatic coping mechanism of mine when it comes to Dutch).

I was eventually distracted from my wall paper assessment when I noticed that the young girl was looking directly at me. I looked over shyly. I had been caught. She had noticed that I was not even attempting to listen to the conversation any more. I felt embarrassed and foolish… But the look on her face said that she did not judge me for it. She smiled at me with understanding. I smiled back and felt relief. It was nice to know that someone understood how difficult it can be at times.

The conversation continued.

A short while later my wife also noticed that I was struggling and started to repeat the story that had just been discussed. She does this sometimes to help me with my Dutch. She will re-tell the story directly to me in summery form, still in Dutch but with all the difficult words filtered out and replaced with much simpler ones. To make things even easier she will talk very slowly and pronounce each word very carefully. Sometimes this works. Sometimes I just nod and smile some more.

My wife’s friend also started to join in by asking very simple questions in Dutch, carefully pronouncing each word and repeating the question even slower when I looked back in blank confusion. It was all starting to get a little bit embarrassing really.

The young girl gave me another sympathetic smile as I struggled to understand a question which had just been asked for the third time. It was the kind of smile that said, “I understand. It must be tough being an Englishman in Holland, surrounded by all these strange Dutch people constantly speaking Dutch at you.”

I returned her smile. I suddenly felt closer to this girl I had never met before. She was my ally now. She was someone who understood my daily struggle. She was someone who understood that it can be difficult to not understand what is going on the majority of the time. She was…

She was still smiling at me. Her smile was starting to look a little too sympathetic actually. My daily life is not ‘that’ much of a struggle. Her smile now looked like the kind that said, “Aaawwww. You poor little bunny. You brave little soldier.” It was starting to become a bit of a patronising smile in all honesty.

This continued for some time as I was addressed in very basic Dutch. I became more and more confused by her reaction to all of this. Why was she starting to look slightly uncomfortable?

And then I suddenly had a horrible thought. Could it be? Oh no! I decided it was time to break my vow of no English. I needed to test something.

“That’s nice.” I responded the next time my wife repeated a comment at half speed so that I could understand it.

The reaction was immediate. A look of shock and confusion passed over the young girls face. There was a sudden silence. Sensing that something had just happened my wife looked between the two of us.

“My husband is English.” My wife informed the young girl having seen the look of confusion on her face.

I too had just realized that the young girl had not known that I was English. She had not even realized I was not Dutch.

“Oh,” the young girl suddenly exclaimed in embarrassment, putting her hands up to her mouth.

She had spent the last half hour under a very different impression.

“I thought he was mentally disabled.”