On Nov. 23, 2005 I moved to The Hague from Washington, DC. This is my new Dutch life.


That's What I Call Bucolic

Many thanks to Doc Paradox for this hit:

Today's NY Times reports: Advertiser Counts on Sheep to Pull Eyes Over the Wool.
"Early this month, Hotels.nl, a Dutch online reservations company, began displaying its corporate logo on royal blue waterproof blankets worn by sheep."




Dental Update

Many thanks to everyone who's emailed me about my tooth. Happily, it didn't end in me yanking my own tooth out with pliers. Sure that's a stupid idea now, but I did ponder the necessity of that particular tooth. It sits way in the back anyway.

On Thursday afternoon I popped in on Dr. A- again. I told him about the pain and that it especially hurt b/c the filling seemed to be a bit too tall. Every time my bottom tooth would even tap it, lightening bolts of pain would explode into my face. I realized the tooth was too tall as soon as the novocaine wore off, but I thought I'd wait to complain about that after the pain went away. The mere thought of an electric file buzzing that tooth was enough to almost make me pass out.

Wily Dr. A- immediately set about filing it down, and then sent me on my way. I asked about pain killers and he said to just take 600mg of ibuprofen.

Me: "Uhm, but Doc, that hasn't been helping."

Dr. A-: "I think it will be better now that we fixed the height of that filling."

Me, thinking that sounded like BS: "Uh, okay...."

By golly, Dr. A- is a genius. I haven't loved a doctor this much since Dr. W- back home quickly diagnosed a nasty case of strep throat couple years ago. The tooth pain started subsiding within hours.



I'm Dumbfounded

A root canal treatment involves the removal of the nerves and "stuff" that have been contaminated by bacteria in the roots of the tooth. From my vantage point in the chair, it looked like the dentist was cleaning the canal out with little, metal pipe cleaners. Since the nerves are removed, the post-procedure pain should be minimal. My pain seems to be getting worse and over-the-counter pain killers aren't helping.

About 4:30am this morning, I woke to excruciating pain shooting up into my cheek and spreading around the side of my face. It actually feels much, much worse than the original tooth pain. So, we decided to call the dentist office in the hopes of getting some kind of on-call number for a dentist who might prescribe me some pain meds. It's doubtful that there's even such a thing as a 24-hour pharmacy in this country, but I felt like I needed to try.

The emergency dentist apparently quits taking calls after 11pm. After begging the answering service woman for some kind of help, she gave me the number of the only doctor available in The Hague at night (her description). I'm not sure if I talked to an assistant or an actual doctor, but we were completely appalled by his (her? I honestly couldn't tell) "medical" advice.

At first, s/he tried to refer me back to the emergency dentist, apparently not believing my story that they were the ones who gave me the doctor's number in the first place. Then s/he tried to shirk any responsibility for my pain by claiming over and over that it wasn't their field. Duh, I knew that, but I called a doctor who should be able to treat pain at the very least.

S/he just kept saying over and over that there was nothing that they could do (would do?). At this point I'm crying from frustration and helplessness and B- is getting mad at this cold-hearted, completely unsympathetic voice on the other end of the phone. After begging this second person for any advice on what I could do, s/he suggested I drink "a lot of strong alcohol." Liquor. WTF? What medical professional in his/her right mind tells a patient that she should drink?

My heart sunk, and I started to bawl. Drink alcohol. That's medieval. In one instant, I lost all confidence in the medical profession in this country.

B- started protesting, "I can't believe you're telling her to drink!"

To which s/he said, "I'm not joking. You're laughing and you think I'm joking, but I'm not."

B-: "We're not laughing. She's crying. We can't believe that you just suggested that."

I just told him to hang up.

At this point, we start contemplating just going to the ER to beg for pain killers. I feel like a junky, but it really hurts. So, I call my (US) insurance company to see if they'll cover the charge. This lovely woman, bless her heart, was my life line. Say what you will about American insurance companies not wanting to cover anything, this woman was more supportive than the supposed medical professional I spoke to here in The Hague. Her response to this predicament was to wholeheartedly agree that I should go to the ER. Then she wished me good luck and said that she hoped I feel better soon. People here didn't even want to talk to me. That's just wrong. I guess they don't take the Hippocratic Oath*.

Let's see, I speak to two Dutch operators/medical professionals whose first reaction is to try to pawn me off on someone else and then offer completely unsympathetic and harmful advice. On the other hand, I speak to an insurance claims agent in America who has every interest in me not seeking medical attention, and she's the most supportive of the lot. What the hell?

Since it was almost 5:30 by time we spoke to all these people and I'd be able to call my dentist at 8am, we decided that it probably wasn't worth our while to go to the hospital after all. We could imagine waiting ages and ages only to have to wait even longer for a pharmacy to open. I go back to my dentist in a few hours.

Expat resources are rife with cautionary advice to people seeking medical attention in The Netherlands. The prevailing sentiment is that the Dutch approach is to 'wait and see,' and they are especially proud of not prescribing pain relievers. Message boards are brimming with barbaric tales of Dutch doctors refusing to even run tests, sending patients home with extreme symptoms sometimes resulting in permanent damage that could have been prevented by a quick, initial response.

Contrary to what everyone thinks, healthcare is NOT free to everyone here. I'm not even sure if it's free to anyone here. B- pays the equivalent of a US monthly rate for his coverage. After our experience last night, it's doubtful that we'll receive remotely equivalent care.

The word on the street is that Belgian doctors are a million times more modern in their approach, so what's up with doctors here?

* I did a cursory search online for "Hippocratic Oath, Netherlands," and up came hundreds of references to a Dutch euthanasia report in which nearly half of all Dutch doctors admitted to giving lethal injections to patients who hadn't asked to die. Medieval. Shocking figures are revealed in a Daily Princetonian article from 2002. I won't get into my personal views on physician-assisted suicide, but the slippery slope that people fear in the US definitely seems to have emerged here. This combined with an already apparent tendency of Dutch doctors not to bother treating their patients, one can't help but worry that they might not bother to save your life at all.



How do you say, "tand gracht?*"

I regret to inform you that today's original post will be rescheduled until tomorrow. I'm long on pain and short on time today. Saturday I suddenly remembered that my root canal was scheduled for today. The pre-canal treatment a month ago was a mere swabbing compared to the scraping and drilling I endured this morning.

So stay tuned...

* That doesn't actually mean 'root canal' - it's my made up phrase: tooth canal, but probably the wrong kind of canal in this instance. Hey, at least I'm trying to communicate.



Pasen the Dutchie

So we rented a car this morning. Even in a Ford Ka, I like to drive. I like the open road. I like the "I can stop this moving vehicle if I damn well please" - freedom - of driving myself around. B- doesn't drive. Its scary and anyway his license just expired.

Get your motor running... If Are Seven were here, he'd send me a kick-ass driving play list for my iPod... head out on the highway.

"So, where ya going?" you ask.

Well, you see in Holland we get Good Friday off as well as what I like to call Good Monday, making for a Damn Good Four-Day Weekend. And actually we don't know where we're going. We tried to book a few places in Belgium, down near Luxembourg, but everything seems to cost more than we want to pay or is booked on Saturday. So we'll wing it. See where our travel bugs lead us. Love it.

After even my limited exposure to the Dutch language, I'm becoming fascinated with its affect on the English language, particularly American English. I'm convinced that bad American English grammar is a direct result of Dutch influence. See, what sounds like bad English is actually good Dutch.

Take for instance the phrase: "You were rich." In Dutch you'd say, "Je was rijk." If you've ever been to any 'back woods' then you might have heard something along the lines of, "well yew was rich, but now yer just 's po' 's may.

To tie this all back to pasen, or Easter as we English-speakers say, our beloved Easter egg-dye, Paas, was specifically marketed to Pennsylvania Dutch. Well, I'll be.

Happy Ees-tuh! Bock! Bock!



24 Dutch Classes and I Can Read a Menu

Ok technically I only attended 21 Dutch classes as I missed three for work. Considering that the class started with seven and ended today with two (one of them me), I think I did pretty well. I got a certificate and everything. :)

So the big question is, of course, "Can you speak Dutch now?"

On Day 1, our teacher taught us a little phrase and we all laughed and laughed b/c it was just so nonsensical. "Ik spreekt een beetje Nederlands." Translation: I speak a little bit of Dutch. I feel pretty confident in saying that ik spreekt een beetje Nederlands now. Considering that I had never heard a Dutch word in my whole life before coming here, I think that's pretty good. Heel goede in fact.

I have enough confidence to try to order food at a restaurant. I try and that generally seems appreciated. The Dutch aren't morons, they know they speak a difficult language. They also like to show off their English, so getting any of them to have a conversation in Dutch isn't easy.

But overall I try to read things, picking out the words I know and then guessing the rest. I can pick out parts of speech, which makes looking up words in the dictionary a lot easier. I managed to translate about a third of the Dutch subtitles during Syriana. I'd say that's heel goede too.

At this point I'm trying to decide if I should stick with it and go for the intermediate class. What say ye? Yay or Nay?



Welcome to the 21st 20th Century

Our local grocery store has discovered that people might like to buy food on Sundays. Until about a month ago, they closed at 8pm. This Sunday thing is nothing short of a miracle.

We are continually astonished by how everything just shuts down here (even in Amsterdam). On Mondays, retail establishments and restaurants (restaurants with breakfast menus!) are closed until noon, ostensibly for book keeping. I have yet to walk by a shop that wasn't completely boarded up until about 11:50, sometimes noon on the dot.

In the evenings, better make your purchases quick because the shops promptly close at 5 or 6pm. They'll start rounding you up (ie: closing down the registers) about a quarter till. Nevermind that you've amassed a stash worth several hundred bucks, they simply don't care if they get your money. It's shocking!

I heard a story about a guy who spent an hour testing out guitar amps worth 1000EUR and about 10 minutes to closing he'd made his decision. Even after helping him, the store manager said he wouldn't take his money b/c he was closing. WTF?

On a Saturday this is nothing short of ridiculously stupid. Downtown shopping districts will be packed with people, and all you see are shop clerks pushing them out of their stores. With the sun shining until nearly 10pm these days, that's at least a good 3-4 hours of money they're losing.

I can do without evening shopping, but what really gets us is that most restaurants close their kitchens at 9pm. If you're lucky, 10. This means they often won't seat you after 8:15-8:30. Huh? I can see business being slow during the week, but we are continually turned away on Friday nights trying to catch a bite before a movie. Naturally, this isn't the case with all restaurants, but we've taken to phoning ahead or checking Web sites before we bother to leave the house.

I realize that I sound like a typical consumerist American just looking for something to buy in an attempt to fill the void of my meaningless life. Mainly I think I'm still on East Coast time (figuratively and literally) in that I don't even start planning my evenings until the Dutch are well through their first dinner course. On weekends, we just have to quit sitting around the house in the mornings enjoying brunch. We have to get cracking - get out into the Dutch world or it will just shut down on us. Maybe we just need a routine or something.



Little Red Caboose, Chug Chug Chug

My dad recently sent over a stack of Samantha Brown's Passport to Europe episodes, and nothing feeds a travel bug more than travel shows. Now that the weather is getting a bit nicer, B- and I are keen to get out and see Europe.

We'd especially like to take ole Nigel boy with us, especially since Europe is incredibly dog friendly. But, we suspect that after his trans-Atlantic flight, Nigel won't stand for air travel (nor will my wallet). So, I've been researching trains and specifically how far we can go on weekend trips.

Though Amsterdam's Schipol airport may be one of the biggest hubs in Europe, the train situation is not as convenient. Where you can fly direct to almost anywhere in the world from Schipol, you are almost guaranteed at least one, if not two, transfers while traveling by train from the Netherlands.

Regional high-speed trains serve The Netherlands, Belgium, Luxemburg, Germany and Paris making those destinations the most convenient. We could get all the way to Munich or Prague on an overnight train and have a decent couple of days of sight seeing, as long as we are able to sleep on the train. Paris, on the other hand, is a mere four hours away. Our only challenge is finding decent (and cheap) accommodation so we can spend most of our summer weekends there. Bien sur!

What's more than a little annoying is that technically most French cities are within easy reach for weekend trips EXCEPT that it is necessary to change trains, often change stations, AND wait around for six hours or more in the middle of the night — wasting precious time. As far as I can tell, we can't travel overnight to Marseille or Avignon or wherever in Southern France. Forget about Spain. The lesson is that we can't take weekend trips south of Paris with Nigel on the train. Zut alors, I need more vacation days.

Here's the rub: the train is not cheaper and can be more expensive than flying. I also haven't figured out the ticketing system, and you can't order tickets online. It's even difficult to get price quotes without going to the ticket agent at the train station. So forget about that impulse trip to Berlin — you've got to plan especially if you want to reserve a seat or a sleeper.

Nevertheless, until I can sort out a kennel situation, the train it shall be. So, all you European vacationers where should we go?



Eskimo Winter

The forecasted high this week is a whopping 47F, with lows dipping below freezing.

Of course, there I was yesterday doing a little spring shopping downtown. Tried on a few skirts, eyed some cute sandals. 2004 was the "Summer of Jen," and I was gearing up for Part 2.

There is nothing worse than shopping for clothes when you can't wear them yet. Bah! Grrrr!

In the US, "Indian Summer" is when we get a patch of warm weather in the middle of Autumn. What do you call it when Winter comes back?



Utrecht, oo yeah!

B- and I took a trip to Utrecht yesterday. We went to check out a couple of museums to get some mileage out of our Museumkaart. Oddly enough they have a museum dedicated to aboriginal art from Australia, which I'll say is only worth it if you have a museumkaart.

What Utrecht lacked in Australiana, it made up for in quaint Dutchness that blew us away. With 1,000 year old canals and cute shops, Utrecht was everything that Den Haag is not. It's a college town and in some respects reminded me of Cambridge (Boston), which has always been a dream location for me. We enjoyed a coffee overlooking the old canal, and spent a lovely, sunny day wandering the streets pretending we lived there.

I uploaded a bunch of photos of Utrecht here.

So, the new plan is to ditch The Hague and try to find an apartment in Utrecht. Everything is accessible by train, so it's only a matter of how much commute you can tolerate - in that case it's up to B-.