6 Mar

Becoming Dutch

1) You’ve unintentionally freak out your non-European friends by automatically kissing them on the cheek three times when saying hello.

2) You’ve also experienced that confusing moment that happens when you give your European, non-Dutch friends the incorrect number of cheek kisses.

3) You’ve realized that when queuing in Holland there are no rules, only survivors.

4) The locks on your bicycle are more valuable than your bicycle itself.

5) But you’ve had your bicycle stolen.

6) You’ve finally accepted that the word ‘gezellig’ will never be translated into your own language.

7) You have become brave enough to try the extra sour Dutch drop and are able to do so without pulling a face.

8) You own a pair of fluffy clog slippers purely to be ironic.

9) You’ve used a bakfiets to transport beer.

10) You know what a bakfiets is.

11) You’ve muttered the word ‘tourists’ under your breath in annoyance when walking around Amsterdam.

12) You know the difference between a Dutch coffee shop and ‘a Dutch coffee shop’.

13) You’ve started using Dutch-isms when speaking your own language.

14) The Dutch have told you that you’ve been around too long to still be considered an expat but don’t have a suggestion of an alternative designation for you.

26 Feb

Fake Sun Tan

As a man with ginger hair I have had to accept that I will never be capable of having a proper sun tan. It is scientifically impossible. My light hair and pale sensitive skin means that I get third degree burns even when just thinking about spending five minutes exposed to sun light. Most vampires are capable of achieving a healthier sun tan than I ever will be.

Maybe that is why, during my mid 20s, I decided to do something about it. Something that quickly became an addition to the list of stupid things I did in my mid 20s. I decided to get a fake sun tan.

First I had to figure out how someone went about getting a fake sun tan so, one Saturday afternoon, I walked into the local Body Shop in Haarlem and started asking questions. This resulted in a few strange looks from the people who ran the shop, mostly because I don’t look like the kind of person who would normally walk into a Body Shop and start asking questions about fake sun tan products.

It didn’t help that I had to ask them to explain everything in tiny, step by step detail because I could not read the Dutch instructions of the products they recommended.

I then confused them even farther with my reaction after they informed me that I would need two different kinds of fake sun tan dye; one for my body and one for my face.

“But I can just use one for both right? It’s all just skin.” I asked.

“I would not recommend it.” Replied the shop attendant, looking worried in a way that suggested she ‘really’ would not recommended it.

“It’s ok. I’ll just take the body dye, thanks.” I replied, not picking up on the rather obvious hint at the time.

I returned home, happy that I would soon have a sexy tan. I entered the bathroom, stripped naked and started applying my fake sun tan body dye… everywhere. Soon I would have an amazing tan… or so I thought.

When I looked in the mirror a short while later I discovered that things had gone horribly wrong. I’d left the dye on for too long, far too long. It had had almost half an hour to soak into my skin. I had turned completely brown. Not a healthy sun tan brown but a ‘I just had an accident with a tin of brown paint’ kind of brown. I looked like an out of season Zwarte Piet.

To make matters even worse it seemed that I had not distributed the dye evenly. My new sun tan was rather more ‘patchy’ than you would expect from the real thing. Between my fingers, for example, the dye had been able to accumulate and had turned the sides of each digit extremely dark in comparison to the rest of my hand. I won’t mention the other bodily crevices where this had happened but there were a few, some easily visible, some more private.

There is a serious problem when it comes to using fake sun tan dye. If you mess it up (as I had done quite spectacularly) you can’t simply remove it. You have to wait it out until it fades away a few weeks later. This meant that I had to return to work on the Monday looking like I had fallen into an entire vat of industrial strength sun tan dye when I had left on the Friday as the palest and whitest guy in the office. Obviously, no one was fooled by my fake sun tan. In hindsight, it probably didn’t help that it was already October.

For the next few weeks everyone was asking if what I had done had been by choice or if I had somehow been forced into it. I had to reply, “neither.”

By the end of November my skin had finally returned to a more normal colour for someone of my complexion (just in time for the real Zwarte Pieten to show up).

I told myself that I would never do anything as stupid ever again as long as I lived… That was until a few months later when someone convinced me that I would look good with blond hair with brown patches. Hair dye also takes a few weeks to wash out.

11 Feb
3 Feb


I’ve never considered myself to be a violent man. Like most English people I am stereotypically polite, calm and spend a lot of my time apologizing for things I have not even done. In fact, like most English people the closest I have probably come to an act of violence is writing a strong letter of complaint after being the recipient of poor customer service. To put it another way; I have always considered myself to be a civilised person.

However, recent events have forced me to re-examine this assumption. It is entirely possible that I am not as peaceful as I once thought. In fact, looking at the evidence, I have come to the conclusion that behind this calm English exterior there lurks a violent animal, looking for any opportunity or slip up to get out. This would explain both the waitress that I accidentally attacked a few weeks ago and the most recent incident:

I had been calmly cycling from work to the train station, enjoying the ride and very carefully observing all the rules of the road. When I arrived at my destination I pulled up at the bicycle racks so that I could dismount my bike and lock it up for the night.

As I swung my leg backwards over the rear wheel of my bicycle I was unaware of the man walking directly behind me until suddenly…


It was difficult to tell which one of us looked more shocked at what had just happened. He certainly looked like he was in more pain but mainly because I had just kicked him quite hard in the stomach.

It is hard to know what to say to a man that you have just accidentally reverse roundhouse kicked in the stomach like a scene from a 1980’s Jean-Claude Van Damme action movie. Somehow, “sorry I just accidentally reverse roundhouse kicked you in the stomach,” doesn’t seem like enough of an apology.

It had been a very impressive move, one that I’m sure the karate teacher I had when I was eight would have been very proud of. However, that didn’t seem like something that would give much comfort to the man standing in front of me clutching his stomach.

Instead I apologised for accidentally reverse round house kicking him in the stomach. As I had expected it didn’t really sound like much of an apology. He nervously smiled, nodded and accepted anyway. He seemed more concerned with putting as much distance between us as possible before I could anymore unleash more Kung-Fu Bicycle Fury upon him.

It was probably a wise decision. Who knows what I might have accidently done next.

24 Jan

Bald Stu

If you spend any amount of time living in the Netherlands people will tell you that there are several very good reasons why you should learn the Dutch language. For example; they might suggest that it will make it easier to meet people and make friends, or that it will help you fit in and understand what is going on around you.

But they are wrong. These are not the reasons why you should be learning the Dutch language. There is only one reason that really matters and it is very, very important one… It is so that you receive the haircut you were intending to get when visiting the hairdressers.

“Oh my god! What happened to your hair?” my wife asked while trying to hold back her laughter. Something she had been unable to do when I had first walked through the door a few seconds earlier.

“There was a communications mishap,” I replied.

“What did you do?” She asked, because in these situations she knows it is usually caused by something I did… she was right.

“I tried to talk Dutch,” I replied, defeated.

When I had arrived at the hairdressers half an hour earlier I had been determined to speak Dutch. My hair had been getting quite long but I only wanted it trimmed a little. So I sat down in the chair, looked at my hairdresser in the mirror and confidently told her in Dutch how I would like my hair cut… Unfortunately there is a big difference between saying, “Ik wil het een beetje korter,” and what I had accidentally said; “Ik wil het kort.”

For the English speakers amongst you that is the difference between saying, “I’d like it a little bit shorter please,” and, “I’d like it short.”

Unfortunately I did not realize that I had made a mistake straight away. When the hairdresser reached for the electric hair trimmer I had been slightly puzzled but I had not really thought to ask what she was planning to do with them. Out of English politeness I thought it best not to bother the nice lady and point out that this light trimming only required scissors. I assumed that she probably knew what she was doing… But then one side of my head had suddenly been shaved off and I found myself rapidly reassessing the situation.

As my hair fell to the ground in great big clumps my English politeness took control of the situation and told me to keep on smiling and act like everything was going to plan (It’s an English survival instinct). Meanwhile, my inner English panic was doing what it does best and discovering several new swear words to describe the situation. Before my sense of politeness and my sense of panic could reach a consensus on how best to handle the situation it was too late. My hair was gone. I suddenly realized my earlier mistake.

To fully grasp what this looked like it is important to remember that in real life I have a beard. This meant that I now had more hair on my face then I had on my head. I think if you take a moment to visualize that we can all agree that that is a very strange look. My hair was now short enough that I could easily enroll in the army or be mistaken for a mob bosses henchmen.

And that was why my wife had been unable to control her laughter when I had first returned to our apartment (and for the several hour that followed that).

“Why didn’t you say anything?” She asked after I finished my story.

“I… don’t… know,” I replied.

“Didn’t you learn from last time?”

Oh… yeah. I should probably mention this was not the first time something like this had happened. I really should improve my Dutch.