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


The Continuing Saga of Ahmed's Mother

We started getting wrong-number calls for Ahmed's mother again this week. They seem to be calling from his school, which begs the question: why don't they ask him what his phone number is?

The third call was particularly annoying:

Me: Hello?

Woman on phone(in Dutch): blah blah blah moeder van Ahmed blah blah blah

Me: Spreekt u engels?

Woman on phone (with a big sigh and major attitude): Oooh, I see. You want me to talk in English.

Me (pissed that someone would call my house and cop attitude about me not speaking Dutch): Yeah, I guess so if you want to talk to me.

Woman on phone (a bit taken back that I'd challenge her): Oh ok. blah blah blah Ahmed's mother...

As soon as I got off the phone, what-I-should-have-said immediately raced through my mind. Had I had a split second more to think about it, she would have gotten an earful about calling my house and acting like a beotch. A couple of more seconds to think about it and I might have gone way off.

It's one thing to be annoyed with me when I'm out and about in the tightly-cramped Dutch world. It's another thing to come into my space and act all superior. Except for Soo, who teaches himself obscure languages for fun, there's no real reason for me to learn Dutch except to be polite while I'm living here. But as I pointed out recently, no one believes Americans when they're polite anyway.



Lesson 2: The Dutch Mentality

The second lesson in my intermediate Dutch class covered Dutch mentality. From news articles reprinted in my book, I learned that the Dutch admit to being: stingy, penny-pinching, know-it-alls, conceited, not very nice, rude behind the wheel of a car, really blunt, and they can't stand in lines. I've only really experienced the last two, but the rest are very common complaints from expats.

On a day-to-day bases, my interaction Dutch people is limited to retail workers. As with any place, if it's a cheapy shop, the staff usually could care less about helping you. If it's an exclusive shop, they're snotty. Generally, in between people are friendly and helpful.

They are still obsessed with their rules and policies however. I recently ordered paper products that were supposed to arrive within a week. After two weeks and a trip the the US had gone by, I called to see where they were. The first thing out of the clerk's mouth was, "Did you receive a call that they are in?" "I don't know. I was out of the country for a week and we don't have an answering machine." "Well they would try to call you several times." "Can you just check?" "Fine." Brief silence. "No, they're not here yet." "Do you know when they'll come in?" "No. You must wait for the call." I also got an incredible lecture from my dental hygienist on the proper way to brush my teeth. She kept saying over and over, "you must do it this way."

I will say that the Dutch are at least introspective about their society. Whereas we Americans are largely oblivious to our attitudes, especially when they're not positive. For instance, Americans are widely considered to be insincere when we're polite, and people are never sure if we mean what we say. B- received a handout about American culture when he first arrived for his Master's degree a couple years back. The paper warned newcomers not to believe us when we say things like, "we should get together sometime" as we're probably only being polite. This begs the question, how polite are we being if we say things that we don't mean all the time?

Anyway, I leave you with the following sentences from my latest Dutch lesson:

1) She often pays attention to her money.
2) When it's 5:55pm at a store, they are not going to ask if they can help you.
3) The Netherlands isn't very spacious.
4) They often leave the country for vacation.
5) Dutch people are well organized.
6) Foreigners are impressed that the Dutch can speak many languages.
7) Foreigners don't always laugh at Dutch humor.
8) A sexy Dutch woman doesn't shave.
9) Americans sometimes mock Dutch tolerance.
10) Dutch people are fairly stingy.
11) It stinks of dog poop here.
12) Some Dutch people lie about their salary.



Studio Hair Gel

The other day we came upon a present on my bicycle seat. Of course we were running late to an appointment.

At first I didn't know what it was, but eventually saw the tub of hair gel in the street. I'd take it personally except that someone else's seat got it too.

On related subject, one TV network has been running a Tom Cruise movie marathon for the past few weekends. The other night they showed "Vanilla Sky" which, although not an especially good movie, does feature a nice little shout out. Two things cool about it: B- got to see that particular scene, and also the reference was subtitled.



Verdonk Back In The News

The Dutch seem born to follow rules. Nevermind that the rules change all the time, and often people aren't always up on the latest regulations, Dutch people will vehemently cite rules when making decisions.

The latest round in the the battle to control Dutch borders again involves Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk, who really seems to lack a soul. After a series of high-profile deportations in recent months, the revocation of MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali's Dutch citizenship seems to have tipped the scale. Even the NY Times picked up this story.

For those of you who haven't bothered to register for the Times, here's the story in a nutshell.

A few years back Hirsi Ali, a 36 year old Somali woman, sought refugee status during a lay over in Schiphol, en route to Canada for an arranged marriage. It seems that the Dutch recognize Somalis as refugees, so she was able to stay here, integrate and was even elected to parliament.

Last week Hirsi Ali made headlines in the Netherlands for her decision not seek another term in parliament. Instead, she's managed to parlay her experience into a top position at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think-tank in Washington. I admit that once I learned she was going over to a conservative group, I quit following the story. According to the Times, however, one of the reasons she decided to leave the Netherlands is because she lost a lawsuit filed against her by the neighbors in her apartment building. The other residents felt her presence made the entire building unsafe.

To that I ask, who in their right mind files lawsuits over apartments? Just move. Seriously, apartments here are especially not worth fighting over.

Last week some Dutch TV channel ran a show highlighting lies that Hirsi Ali told while seeking political asylum. Skirting any notion of due process, Verdonk promptly revoked her citizenship! Just like that!

I'll give you a moment to let your head stop spinning.

Now that you're back with me, let's take a look at this again. In response to information broadcast on TV, a high-ranking government official yanks someone's passport. I don't even need to comment.

In an unusual situation where Dutch people broke rules, Hirsi Ali says that Dutch social workers told her to say she came from Somalia even though she had been living with relatives in Kenya just prior to arriving in the Netherlands, facts she says were made known to her party's leadership. Interesting, Verdonk is a member of the same party, and is angling to be the next party chair. Surely she knew about Hirsi Ali's little white lies.

Verdonk says she needs to apply the rules equally. Hmmmm, something smells fishy... tv show, criticism about other unpopular deportations, political aspirations of her own... It seems that it is more important to uphold the notion of 'following rules' than acknowledging that the Dutch have, quite effectively, pushed their most famous and well-integrated immigrant out the door. Hell, Hirsi Ali even sides with Verdonk on immigration policy.

Rebuffed, Hirsi Ali now says she'll leave her post in parliament early and head to The New World sooner than anticipated. Even though I'm not there at the moment, I say to Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Welcome sistah! At one time or another, we all fled the hand of a stupid government.



In The Land of Giants, This Lilliputian Walks Tall

So I'm back from good ole U-S-of-A. As always, I mightily enjoyed the supreme weather in DC. I love sunny, 80-something days. I didn't have a huge shopping list this time but I was on a mission: to buy shoes.

I have tiny feet. I mean really tiny feet. Yah, I know your sister wears size 6 and you think that's small. But since the fattening of America (and the unacknowledged update of sizing charts) my usual size five is now a size four. Not even Nordstrom - famous for its shoe selection - carries much in my size. A salesman at Neiman Marcus informed that all their small sizes go to their store in Hawaii. A lot of good that does me.

Suffice to say, my quest to find summer and wedding shoes in DC went unfulfilled. I returned to Holland empty handed.

Few people really grasp the challenge I face. Now that I live in the Netherlands, home to the tallest people in the world (and still growing apparently), it would seem that I have no hope. Last Winter, I managed to find a pair of boots at a kids' shop, but the spring line (pink sandals butterflies affixed to the ankle-straps) isn't exactly appropriate for me, the old and decrepit thing that I am. Store clerks suggest I go to Italy where ostensibly they only stock small sizes.

Oddly, my shoe shopping spirit was not quite quashed in the States. It seemed that my determination had grown even stronger -- or I'm a masochist. This week, I quietly trolled shops in The Hague. As I wandered in and out of store after store I started to wonder, "at what point do you cease being tenacious and start being pathetic?"

Yesterday everything changed. En route to yet another kids' shop, I shuffled into a store I hadn't been to. Behold! A sign in the back of the store sparkled like a diamond, "34". Thirty-four! THIRTY-FOUR! They had an entire THREE shelves of shoes in my size (European sizing obviously). I turned to a saleswoman and said, "Oh! You have small sizes as I shyly looked down at my feet." "Yes," she said as she smiled back at me. She knew what this moment meant to me.

I bought two stylish pairs and I was on cloud nine! I could barely refrain from skipping down the red-brick road to the kids' shop. There, I found a kindred spirit. The owner of the shop prefers styles with wider appeal than the Buster Brown looks in the other kids' shoe stores. In the middle of admitting that I was actually shopping for shoes for myself, I came to realize her motivation. I looked down and saw that her feet were as small as mine. I struck gold. Not only did I find another pair of shoes in her shop, but she also tipped me off to two more stores in The Hague that carry small sizes - one that might even stock something I could wear with my wedding dress. I was elated.

This morning, Nigel accompanied me to Kijkduin. Tucked away in an unassuming mall was a store chock full of shoes starting at size 35. Some designers run small, so I gave 35 a shot.

I am going on record with the following statement: "The Netherlands has better shoe diversity than the US" -- with little incentive! Happy Happy! Joy Joy! I will not be attending my wedding in sneakers.