9 Oct

Dutch Love Seat

I am notorious for forgetting or losing my bike whenever I meet up with friends in Amsterdam. By now they all know that if we are going anywhere one of them will end up having to give me a lift on the back of their own bicycle.

This means two things:
1) One of them is going to get a flat back tire.
2) One of them is going to look like they are in a loving relationship with me.

This is because the rack on the back of a bicycle is often called the love seat in The Netherlands. It’s where your girlfriend or boyfriend sits (side saddle) when you are giving them a lift. It’s something you see a lot of young teenagers doing. That’s why it looks very strange when you see two British middle age guys sharing a bicycle, one of them struggling to make it over every bridge due to the extra weight and the extra weight trying not to look terrified as his knee caps pass dangerously close to every road side bollard and parked car. At least it looks like a relationship that has lasted I guess.

Sitting On The Dutch Love Seat

Sitting side saddle is most common because sitting astride the metal rack is (I’ve discovered) not something that you can really call comfortable. I have once tried sitting on a child seat (on the back of a friend’s bike) which might sound like it should be slightly more comfortable than the metal rack but was not. In fact I think it was more painful and potentially limited my chances of having children myself. To put it lightly; my man parts felt every speed bump, pebble and hidden fault line deep beneath Amsterdam that we passed over.

The Hop On

Another challenge of using the love seat is mastering the jump on. The easiest way to maintain balance is for the bike to already be in motion when the loved one (quite literally) hops on. This manoeuvre requires a strange sort of reverse/sideways jog followed by a light jump/hop/twist into the sitting position. It is important to do this manoeuvre with as little motion as possible otherwise you risk throwing the cyclist off balance, coursing them to veer off into the nearest canal. As a result, many of my ‘hop ons’ have required more than one attempt.

The Hop Off

The hop off can be equally dangerous. It is important not to get your feet caught in the back wheel during the dismount or jump into the path of another cyclist. Don’t kick off with too much force either otherwise you’ll turn around to discover that your cyclist has gone off somewhere unexpected.

This makes ever traffic light stop an exciting game of risk that could end in injury (to you or others). Especially since the ‘hop back on’ that follows now has to be done surrounded by moving cyclists while crossing a road. More experienced passenger/cyclist teams might not need to dismount for every brief stop but when you are an uncoordinated Englishman (such as myself) it is impossible to do so without gravity taking the opportunity to remind you who is in charge.

Maybe that’s another reason why they call it the love seat; because if you survive the experience together it brings you closer to each other. It’s a kind of trust exercise.

2 Oct

Speculoos Biscuits

A few days ago my wife and I were in a show room arranging what the new kitchen for our yet-to-be-built house will look like. We had to get up pretty early and the process took most of the morning but luckily there was a steady supply of tea to keep us going. Each cup of tea also came with one of those individually wrapped biscuits that you usually get in a cafe. In this case they just happened to be Speculoos biscuits.

This led to my wife casually mentioning my fondness for Speculoos to the lady drawing up the plans for our kitchen, which then led to a conversation about my obsession/addiction with the flavour and the many strange Speculoos products I have tried.

The conversation was soon over and I thought nothing more of it but the news obviously spread quickly around the show room office. The next time the secretary brought us our drinks (I had switched to cola) she announced, “I heard you like Speculoos,” and placed this gift on the table in front of me:

Lots of Speculoos Biscuits

Speculoos Biscuits Surprise

I’m now half expecting/fearing them to pre-stock our kitchen full of Speculoos biscuits when they have finished building it.

25 Sep

Dutch Land

I think I might be an adult… Yesterday we signed some papers and now I own a house, a whole house with a roof, walls, doors and other house like bits. As far as responsible adult like actions go this is quite a big one.

The only problem is that the house does not actually exist yet. It will exist but at the moment it is very much in a state of none existence (which makes living in it very difficult). This is because it is not actually built yet. It is going to be built in a few months (which is why we are currently living with my family-in-law). At the moment I mainly own the concept that one day later a house will be built and then I am allowed to live in it.

However, it is not all completely theoretical. We do own the land on which the house is going to be built. This means I actually own a small piece of The Netherlands. Part of this country is mine and there are even important documents to prove it. We own land!

Our land is currently a slightly over grown weed covered field but those are our weeds. Any person or cat who walks through that field is ‘on my land’ and under country side rules I think that gives me the right to chase them off with a shotgun (although I’m English so it is more likely that I’ll chase them off with polite insistence).

This also means we don’t really have to wait for the house to be built. My wife and I can just go to our small patch of field and hang out. No one would be able to tell us to leave. We could have barbeques in our field if we wanted. We can even have field parties. Technically we could set up a tent and start living there already… It just means the builders would probably have to build the house around us when they start.

Either way; I own land! A small part of Holland belongs to me!

18 Sep

Een Beetje Moeilijk

A few days ago I was sitting on the sofa with my (almost) three year old daughter Sophie as we watched one of her favourite children’s shows. It’s called ‘Chuggington – Medaille Race’ and features talking trains who try to do good deeds every day to earn badges. I’m not quite sure if it’s teaching her how to be a well adjusted adult or a train but time will tell.

As the theme song started she became very excited. She was suddenly on her feet, dancing on the sofa and singing along with all the words she could manage.

“Medaille Race,” she cheered with her arms in the air as the song reached its end.

“Medaille Race,” I cheered, also throwing my arms up in the air as I got caught up in all the excitement.

But then something I had not expected happened. Sophie suddenly lost all interest in the screen and turned her attention on to me. Something in my pronunciation had not satisfied her.

“Nee Papa. Medaille Race,” she corrected.

“Medaille Race,” I cheered again, thinking that was the end of it.

“Nee Papa,” she said with a little shake of her head. It seemed she was not going to let me off so easy. Making mistakes in the rest of the Dutch language might be forgivable but messing up the name of her favourite children’s show seemed to be a step too far. The line had to be drawn somewhere. “Medaille Race,” she insisted.

“Medaille Race,” I repeated, not quite sure what I was getting wrong.

“MEDdaille Race,” she tried again, emphasizing the word ‘medaille’ with a small head bob and hand wave as if trying to point out where I was going wrong.

“MEDaille Race,” I replied, trying to copy her pronunciation exactly but still not really hearing what the difference was.

“Nee Papa. Mmmedaille Race.”

“Mmmedaille Race?”

Sophie seemed to decide that I was not going to be getting it right any time soon. After a slight pause she put her hand on my shoulder, looked me in the eyes and simply said, “Het is een beetje moeilijk, Papa.”

I couldn’t help it. I cracked up laughing. My almost (but not quite) three year old daughter had just put a reassuring hand on my shoulder and tried to make me feel better about my ‘failed’ attempts to say a Dutch word by telling me it was ok because, “It is a bit difficult, Papa.”

“Yes,” I replied with a smile, “Papa finds Dutch a little difficult.”

Sophie seemed to decide that that was the end of it for now, absentmindedly nodded and returned her attention to the screen.

I still had no idea what in my pronunciation had not satisfied her (or if I had been getting anything wrong at all) until a few days later when I was telling the story to a Dutch friend. It turns out I had been saying it wrong. I thought I had been saying ‘Medaille Race’ but my pronunciation was closer to ‘Madaille Race’. It was so subtle that I had not noticed. Sophie had though. I think she is going to be correcting me a lot in the future.

4 Sep
The Five Emotional Stages of trying to understand a Dutch conversation
Becoming Dutch
This cartoon first appeared in the September/October edition of DUTCH:The Magazine