“You’ve got something stuck between your teeth.” My wife informs me as we finish dinner.
“Thanks,” I reply after successfully removing the offending food fragment.
“Do I have anything stuck in my teeth?” She asks in return.
I quickly check as she grins at me but find nothing.
“No. You are more…”
I suddenly stop mid-sentence as my brain jumps into the conversation like a bodyguard diving in front of a bullet.
Me: “What?! What is it?!”
Brain: “You can’t say that to a woman. Do you have any idea how that sounds?”
Me: “What? How what sounds?”
Brain: “You were about to say; You are more practised at eating then me.”
Me: “I was only… Oh… Oh god… You’re right. That sounds terrible. ”
Brain: “Quick! You’ve got to come up with something else!”
Me: “I… Err… Umm..”
Me: “Err… experienced at eating?”
Brain: “Don’t be stupid! That sounds worse.”
Me: “Oh no! She’s looking at me funny. I’ve been paused for too long. What do I do?!”
Brain: “Say something. Anything… Anything not stupid.”
“…better at eating then me.” I finish aloud.
Brain: “Oh you idiot! That’s not even correct grammar.”
Me: “I panicked. You made me panic.”
Brain: “Keep me out of this. You’re on your own.”
My brain suddenly falls silent. I am left alone. I brace myself for the reaction of my wife who is simply looking at me with an unreadable look on her face. There is a moment of silence and then… she bursts out laughing at the look of absolute fear on my face.
In other news: Invading Holland has been nominated in the Expatica ‘I am not a tourist’ Expat Blog competition along with some other very talented writers. You can check it out here and vote if you like.
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.”
“That’s the fourth bathroom visit this morning. What are they doing? There is only two of them.” I say to my wife sounding perplexed.
We are staying in a small two bedroom B&B in Maastricht, one of those ones where you have to share the bathroom with the other guests and for the last hour and a half that bathroom has been occupied by the couple staying in the room above us. Every time we think they have finished and returned to their room they sneak back down the creaky stairs and lock themselves inside again before we can make a move despite it being directly opposite our bedroom.
But they will not get away with the same trick again. Oh no. Not this time. Because we have just formed a plan. A plan that cannot fail.
We wait silently and listen. When we hear them leave the bathroom, creep back up the stairs and close their door we spring into action. My wife quickly opens our door and I dash out of the bedroom, across the hall, into the empty bathroom, slam the door behind me and lock myself inside. Stage one of the plan is complete.
A short while later, once I have finished showering and brushing my teeth I get ready to execute the second part of the plan. I know that cannot give them an opportunity to sneak back into the bathroom when they hear me exit. I unwrap my phone from the towel in which it had been concealed and began to text my wife.
“Are you ready?”
I hear her phone bleep from our bedroom across the hall as she receives ‘the signal’.
“Yes!” My phone beeped back in reply.
“On three,” I reply. There is another bleep from across the hall.
This is the moment. I take a breath, slowly put my hand around the handle of the closed door and begin the countdown.
With the precision of a highly trained SWAT team both doors are flung open at the same time. We begin to dash forward, ready to pass each other and dive through the opposite doors, my wife clutching her hair care products and me clutching a towel that doesn’t fully cover myself.
But this does not happen. I stop dead as soon as I have taken the first step, frozen mid sprint. Something has gone horribly wrong. Something very wrong indeed. Standing there, in the middle of the hallway between us is a very startled looking Dutchman, clutching his towel to his chest for dear life as if it is the only defence against the semi-naked Englishman (me) now standing in the open door way in front of him, looking like he is about to attack. The man is terrified. It does not seem to relax him either when he slowly looks back and notices the mad, bed hair woman (my wife) in the opposite doorway about to flank him with a bottle of shampoo and conditioner.
We simply stand there looking at each other, frozen in place for what feels like an eternity in a very bizarre Mexican stand-off, waiting for someone to make the first move. Eventually I nervously mumble an apology and slide aside to let him into the bathroom while trying to keep the towel in place and not inadvertently show which part of my body the just too small towel is not successfully covering.
As he enters the bath room and closes the door behind himself I quickly cross the hall and shoo my wife back through the bedroom doorway so that we can hide. Just before I close the door I hear the shower start up again.
We both look at each other. How were we ever going to live this down? Had he heard the exchange of text beeps across the hall before ‘the attack’? What must he have thought the moment both doors suddenly flew open and two people lunged forward? Had we just traumatise a man for life? Could we ever visit Maastricht again?
But then I realized something.
“What the hell.” I mouth to my wife. “That’s their fifth shower visit.”
Later it was followed by a sixth.
In other news; I would like to say a big thank you to everyone who nominated Invading Holland for Best European Blog in the 2012 Bloggies. Thanks to your help this blog is through to the final round. If you would like to vote please visit the 2012 Bloggies website and click on your favourite blogs.
I’d been on the treadmill for nearly 20 minutes and was in need of a shower. Re-joining a gym had made me very happy. Not only was I already feeling the benefits of daily exercise but it also had the extra benefit of addressing some of the ‘compliments’ recently given to me by my wife. They were nice compliments. Everyone loves compliments but when they are about your growing laundry folding or ironing skills you can’t help but feel the need to do something a little manly to re-address the balance.
I returned to the changing room and had a quick shower. I had just enough time to get dressed and cycle back to the office before I had to give a presentation. I quickly dried myself and got a fresh set of clothes out of my locker. I had almost finished getting dressed and was just about to put on my socks when suddenly…
I stopped mid movement. Something was wrong. I slowly lifted the sock I had been about to put on my foot and held it up to get a better look. I was extremely puzzled, frozen in position as my brain tried to process what it was seeing and come up with an explanation. At first glance it had looked like a normal sock; black and distinctly sock shaped. However, upon closer examination there was something very odd about the sock. It was a very long sock. Extremely long in fact and ever so slightly feminine looking.
Behind me I heard someone snigger.
Slowly the realization started to dawn on me. This sock was not a normal sock at all. In fact this sock didn’t even belong to me. This sock belonged to my wife. I was sitting in the middle of the men’s changing room at my local gym holding a pair of my wife’s sexy knee high socks.
I’d been helping my wife put away the laundry the night before. I must have mixed up the socks and then not even noticed when I grabbed a pair in the morning to change into after the gym. As I sat their holding a ladies foot under garment not only was my manliness suddenly in question but my sock organising skills too.
This situation presented me with a very difficult dilemma. It was not a dilemma about ‘if’ I should wear my wife’s sexy knee high socks (the socks I had be wearing were very smelly from my run) but ‘how’ I should wear my wife’s sexy knee high socks.
Should I wear them as they are intended to be warn and pull them up all the way past the knee? Should I attempt to fold them over neatly at the top and attempt make them a more regular length? Or should I simply bunched them up around my lower leg like 1980’s ankle warmer?
I chose for the latter thinking it would draw less attention. It didn’t. I heard another snigger. Somehow I don’t feel as manly at the gym any more.
I was very excited about having my first visitor in Holland. Since I had only been in the country for a short while myself I had not had much of a chance to do a lot of the more touristy things yet. Showing someone else around seemed like a great opportunity to do so. It was also great because the visitor was Neil, my best friend from College who was also very excited about visiting Holland.
Museums, art galleries, canal trips; There were so many cultural things that we could experience. Neil even suggested that we see a show which I thought was a brilliant idea. However, when I suggested that I knew where we could get our hands on a couple of discount tickets for a wonderful Dutch production of The Sound of Music… he seemed slightly disappointed. Neil had something else in mind.
And so one summer evening, after only three months of living in Holland, I found myself standing in front of a box office window asking a man who was wearing more fake gold then seemed advisable for two tickets to a show where the main cast had a much more ‘limited’ wardrobe.
As we entered the slightly seedy looking auditorium and took our seats on the edge of the centre aisle I continued to wonder how I had let myself be talked into this situation. Apparently it’s one of those things you, “have to do when visiting/living in Amsterdam.”
The first act we witnessed involved a young lady inviting various audience members up on to the stage to eat a banana. This in itself might sound quite innocent. In fact, it probably sounds very considerate of the young lady to take a personal interest in the audience’s daily vitamin A intake. Sort of like when they used to have milk breaks in British primary schools to insure that the children grew up with healthy bones. It was an invaluable service.
However, I had to question the way in which she chose to feed said banana to her group of male volunteers. It was very questionable from a nutritionist point of view. For starters she was lacking in any clothes and was ‘holding’ the banana in such a way that I believe any qualified gynaecologist would highlight as ‘medically ill advised’ despite any healthy properties the food item claimed to have. Most of the volunteer men on stage didn’t seem to mind though. I took it upon myself to feel embarrassed for them and sank deeper into my seat.
This was followed by several other acts I will never be able to remove from my brain no matter how hard I try and after a while it was time for the young ‘nutritionist’ to do her act once again.
She’d obviously not had much luck locating her clothes yet because she was still naked as she stepped off the stage, started to walk down the centre aisle and began her search for a new group of volunteers. It was just as I was starting to wonder which poor souls would be embarrassed on stage this time that she suddenly locked eyes with me. Oh no! Then she was not only looking at me but she was walking towards me too… and smiling. Oh no! Oh no! I tried to sink even lower into my seat hoping that I would suddenly become hidden from view but it didn’t work. She was still coming towards me. I started to panic. I didn’t want to go on stage and I didn’t think she would accept, “No thank you. I just ate,” as a good excuse. As if in slow motion I saw her hand reaching out towards mine (in a way that did not seem to give me much room for choice) as she stepped closer and closer.
I had no idea what to do. I was gripped with fear. I was nervous about talking to girls at the best of time. What the hell was I supposed to do when a naked one approached me with a suggestive fruit? My only hope was that Neil knew what to do. He always knew what to do in these kind of situations. Anyway, he got me into this bloody mess. It was really up to him to get me out of it. He should be the one being dragged up on stage. Not me.
A quick look at Neil told me he didn’t have a clue what to do either. The same look of fear was looking back at me as I looked into his eyes. More and more people were starting to look at us. Then suddenly, through our shared fear, it became clear what Neil and I had to do. There was only one thing we could do really. We ran like hell!
Unfortunately we couldn’t simply run out via the central aisle. That route of escape was already blocked to us by the naked woman holding the banana who was now standing right next to us. No. We were forced to run in the opposite direction, through the audience. We tripped and stumbled our way passed the other people sitting in our row as we scrambled over them with wild determination for escape. I can’t remember at what point we stopped running but I’m sure we were outside and across several canals before we did.
I don’t care how bloody important fruit is as part of a balanced diet.