5 Sep

Hema in London

I should have seen this coming. It was obvious really. I could only claim to be ‘Invading Holland’ for so long before Holland decided to retaliate. I guess declaring myself the new king of Holland was the final straw. Now Holland has invaded England.

The Dutch store Hema has opened its doors in London and things will never be the same again!

This might sound like an overreaction at first but anyone who has visited one of their stores in Holland will know how dangerous shopping in one of them can be. They sell everything and at low prices too. You might go in only intending to buy some printer ink but before you know what is happening you’ve exited the store again having just bought; some new oven gloves, a usb stick, a packet of Stroopwafels, an orange t-shirt (for next King’s Day), some storage boxes, an inflatable rookworst (that can not be eaten), super glue, a Jip and Janneke story book and a new bicycle bell. You didn’t even by the printer ink you went in to buy because why would you need to when you were just able to by a new Hema printer so cheaply. Hema is a very dangerous store.

And who knows what affect the influence of Hema will have upon the English culture.

1) Will Queen Elizabeth start having Stroopwafels with her afternoon tea?

2) Will the British public start whistling the famous Hema whistle everywhere they go, unable to get it out of their heads?

3) Will the iconic British red buses, telephone boxes and letter boxes all be repainted orange?

4) Will Hyde Park and Regents Park be closed to the public and converted into tulip fields?

5) Will Jip and Janneke start making appearances on Children’s BBC? Will Miffy suddenly change her name to Nijntje?

6) Will Big Ben be converted into a windmill?

7) Will London be taken over by bicycles?

8) Will the Themes river be reclassified as a canal and will people start skating on it if it ever freezes over?

9) Will England expand its landmass by flattening all of its hills and using them to reclaim the sea around it?

Only time will tell.

21 Nov

Over the years I’ve written a lot about the Dutch and their funny little habits and traditions but I’ve never really written about my equally weird fellow Englishman. This seems somehow unfair since (as I will admit myself) we all know the English can be fairly strange and peculiar themselves (even if we are more prim and proper and know the correct layout for cutlery at a tea party). To rectify this injustice I have decided to turn the focus onto my fellow tea drinkers and expose just what it is that makes us tick.

Whenever you are discussing the habits of the English it is important to know that the English really like to apologise. It does not matter what it is for, if there is something that requires an apology the English are more than happy to provide it. Even when it seems like something might need apologising for in the future we will pre-emptively apologise to minimise any inconvenience. This is because the English hate inconvenience. In fact, if an official 1 to 10 scale of things English people like and dislike was ever created (1 being the least liked and 10 being the most liked) inconvenience would be at number 1 and apologizing would be at number 10.

Even in rare situations when an Englishman cannot find anything to apologise about they will apologise anyway… just in case. And then they will most likely apologise again for the inconvenience of having apologised when they are told there was nothing to apologise about in the first place. It is a vicious circle.

When in the comfort of his fellow countrymen the Englishman’s second favourite thing to do is complain. Again, it does not matter what it is about. It could be something trivial like a slow waiter at a restaurant or something important like the tea not being the correct temperature, the English are simply happy to have something to complain about.

However, the English cannot be ‘seen’ to be complaining because doing so would lead to another need to apologise for being an inconvenience. This is why the Englishman can only complain in the comfort and safety of those who share his opinions and views and will not actually challenge or asked him to make a more valid argument beyond; “Because it’s simply not cricket.”

The kind of complaining the Englishman likes to do the most is comparing things to how they used to be better. This is most noticeably noticed in conversations that start with the phrase, “Well in my day…” followed about some statement about the youth of today, their habits or choice in music (or as it is more commonly known in such conversations; ‘noise’).

This usually leads to a kind of one-up-mans-ship about the way things used to be better with the oldest in the group always winning because as all English people know the older things are the better they were (including the time when we were all having bombs dropped on us). Such conversations usually end with apologies to the oldest member of the conversation for the inconvenience of having to prove he was right and listening to people who were wrong.

19 Oct

England. Home of cricket, good showmanship, afternoon tea, the Queen, Winston Churchill, the British stiff upper lip and now; the classy foil top plastic wine glass (the funniest thing I saw during my recent visit).

On offer at most London train stations the decadent foil top plastic wine glass is available in white, red and rosé. It is perfect for the sophisticated young Englishman on the go who likes to enjoy their train journey in style (and is not too worried about spilling wine all over themselves as the train lurches about). It is also perfect for dinner parties or a quite romantic night in with that special someone since (as the foil top tells us) the plastic glass can be reused.

Anyone can instantly look like a sophisticated Englishman while drinking from the foil top plastic wine glass. It can be enjoyed with a straw for the intellectual look (the foil can be tough so make sure to use strong stabbing motions)…

…or for added sophistication open and leave the foil attached while drinking.

The foil top plastic wine glass has a full bodied, fun and fruity taste with hints of metallic foil and a twang of glue and recyclable plastic (or to put it in a more English way; bloody awful).

8 Jun

Once you have become familiar with the sounds of the Dutch language in any way it becomes a very easy language to recognize and once you can recognize it you will realize it is impossible to escape the Dutch. They are everywhere. No matter which far away country you run to you will find them or they will find you.

This was something I was reminded of during my holiday to Scotland last summer. Everywhere I went the Dutch were there and I don’t just mean this because I was traveling with my Dutch girlfriend.

At first it did not come as a surprise when we heard Dutch amongst the other multitude of languages being spoken in our Edinburgh and Glasgow hostels. We did not go a single day without hearing the familiar throat clearing sound of the Dutch language from unknown Dutch people.

However, when we went even higher north into the highlands of Fort Williams and we were still hearing Dutch I started to wonder if I should get a restraining order.

One evening while we were enjoying a quite meal in an Indian restaurant I spotted a couple approaching the menu in the window for a read. From the way the man was dressed I got the strong impression that he was Dutch. I quickly dismissed this theory since it was possible that fashion had simply gotten that colorful and that bad in the rest of the world.

However, I quickly discovered I was right the first time when a short while later they entered the restaurant and spoke to the waiter in an accent so thick that I thought they were about to order a tandoori stamppot (I breathed a sigh of relief for the fashion sense of the rest of the world).

The following day we visited Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in Scotland. I felt pretty confident that it would be just us, some sheep and the odd Scotsman. We had not been at the summit for five minutes before I heard a child shouting, “Mama, kijk,” several times as he expressed his absolute surprise (and maybe fear) at being (a) above sea level and (b) on a vertically inclining surface steeper and higher than a speed bump (more commonly known as a hill).

Maybe that was it. Maybe we had never actually arrived in Scotland. Maybe we were actually in some rare part of Holland that had hills.

During the train trip from Scotland to London (which was starting to feel more and more like it was for the purposes of escaping the Dutch) we were still surrounded by Dutch couples speaking their native tongue.

By the time we arrived in London to stay with my parents I had heard so much Dutch that I would not have battered an eye lash if they had greeted us with, “Dag. Hoe gaat het?”

21 May

“What street is that on love?” Our cab driver asked when we gave him the name of the restaurant we were going to. I should point out that he was talking to one of my female colleagues and was not referring to me as love.

We were on a business trip in Liverpool (five of us in total) and had been invited out to a fancy new restaurant which (we had been informed) every cab driver in the city knew. We had successfully busted that myth the moment we stepped into the cab but we did not hold it against him. It seemed that as a cab driver he was probably more familiar with the names of streets than the name of the properties upon them. So we gave him the name of the street was Brunswick.

“Right… Is that off Queens Street?” He asked us with a hint of confusion in his voice. Second theory busted.

We were not able to give him an answer to this question since we did not know. After all we did not have an intimate knowledge of the city’s layout that someone like… oh I don’t know… a cab driver might have for example.

“Ah… it’s ok. I know where it is.” He stated confidently as he began to drive. It seemed like he only needed a moment to think it through and that we were indeed in safe hands. We relaxed back into our seats, happy with the knowledge that we would soon reach our destination.

A grand total of 20 meters later…

“Excuse me mate. Do you know where Brunswick Street is?”

He had suddenly pulled up alongside another black cab and shouted across to its driver, asking for directions. The other driver didn’t seem to know but during the short exchange our driver seemed to have a small epiphany and assured us he remembered where it was. He started driving again. We relaxed again.

Ten minutes of driving around abandoned industrial estates and car junk yards later…

“Excuse me. Is Brunswick Street around here?”

This time he was asking a cyclist that we had just encountered (who was also the only person we had seen for the last 5 minutes). Considering the area I don’t think any of us except the driver was expecting him to reply with yes. Not unless the restaurant was located between an abounded campervan site and Honest Dave’s Scrap Iron Emporium but then again I’m not a restaurant expert. Unfortunately for us neither was the cyclist so we set off with the cab driver once again trying to assure us that he now knew the way for real this time.

Eight minutes of driving long the harbors edge later…

“Is there anyone you could phone for directions?”

We had seen it coming. He’d spent five of the last ten minutes nervously glancing at street signs and muttering under his breath as we got farther and farther away from the city center.

So we phoned the people we were supposed to be meeting at the restaurant and started to relay directions to our navigationally challenged driver. However, this proved to be a little too challenging for him so we just gave him the phone. After what sounded like a very confusing phone call (with all the confusion coming from his end of the conversation) he handed the phone back.

“Sorry about that. It’s not far now.” He assured us. Given his track record and the fact that he was turning the cab around as he said this it was not very convincing.

An awkward silence descended upon our cab as we drove back towards the city center where we had come from, an awkward silence which our driver decided to fill by playing Frank Sinatra… very loudly. I only wished it had been “I Did It My Way.” It seemed like it would have been a fitting metaphor as I imagined old Blue Eyes singing, “And I drove us… the wrong wayyyyyyyy!”

One and a half Frank Sinatra songs later…

“You see that building over there. That’s where passengers for the titanic picked up their tickets.”

This random fact came out of nowhere as he turned the music off. I was not sure if he was just trying to prove that he did know something about the layout of the city in which he worked or if he was just trying to tell us our journey could have been worse. Either way it was comforting to know that if we had told him we wanted to sail on the titanic he would have known where to have taken us.

And there our tale ends. We turned another corner and finally arrived at the restaurant which we quickly realized was only a 10 minute walk from our hotel where we had begun. We said goodbye to our easily lost cab driver and he set off on his way. The only tip he received was to buy a satellite navigational system. I wonder if he was able to find his way back. Maybe he is still driving around Liverpool at this very moment, lost and listening to Frank Sinatra.