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


Today's Episode: At the Consulate

My New Dutch life has a few subplots. No, not subplots per se, especially as the 'getting married' plot is why I'm here in the first place, but maybe I should say... more private plots.

In less than two months! I'm getting married. While ticking off some of the remaining items on my to-do list, I realized that I needed to renew my passport. Our VISAs for Tanzania (honeymoon safari!!) require that we have at least 6 months left on our passports.

It was time, once again, for a visit to the US Consulate in Amsterdam. The experience is three parts exhilarating and two parts total let down.

Exhilarating: American citizens get to jump the line (by "line" I mean disorganized jumble of people). Take that, you queue-jumping Dutch people.

Exhilarating: "Technically" you're on American soil and you belong there. It's my consulate.

Exhilarating: Americans get quick service while all the VISA-seekers mill around for hours waiting for their number to be called.

Total Let Down: The Consulate (not to be confused with the Embassy, which is in The Hague and is very swanky) is kind of a dump.

Total Let Down: The person at my window was a Dutch local hire, without the warm welcome that I'd otherwise receive from a fellow American. This also shattered the feeling of being on American soil, even if it is still technically true.

I also overheard a really stupid and stereotypically American conversation at another window. I could only hear the woman on my side of the window, but it went something like this:

Woman: Hi. I have a question. See, I just married this Dutch man. It's OK, we've known each other for 32 years. We're newlyweds - just married in May.

[Pause - Presumably waiting for the woman on the other side to congratulate her.]

Woman Well, I was wondering what it means.

[Pause - I'm sure the clerk was trying to work out how to say "huh?" in a nice way.]

Woman: I mean, we don't know if he wants to be a US citizen, or maybe if I want to be a Dutch one.

[Pause - By now, the clerk probably realized that this woman had no real reason for being there.]

Woman: Well, I guess I wondered if there were any advantages.

Unfortunately, I had to leave at this point. I was dying to stick around to see what other inanity would come from her lips. Granted, it's normal to wonder what the impact of marrying a foreign national is on your citizenship and ability to live together in your home country, but I couldn't help wonder if she is trying to get this Dutchman US citizenship and not doing a very good job trying to hide it. The Dutchman was probably thinking, "geeze I guess this is what you get from someone willing to fake marry you."



Battle for Cute: Netherlands vs. Japan

In the battle for societal obsession with cuteness, the Japanese have an unlikely contender: the Dutch.

Huh? Whatchoo talkin' 'bout, J-?

Ok here me out. Some languages have what linguists call 'diminutives' - words or add-ons to words that roughly mean 'little.' In English, we don't have diminutives per se, but we do use the word 'little' in the same way that the French might use the diminutive 'ette' as in Smurfette. Only she wasn't French, but anyway... you see what I'm saying. We also use diminutives mainly when talking to or about children.

"Well aren't you quite the little gentleman?" One might say that to a 10 year old that holds the door open for you. This probably wouldn't actually happen in an era without boyscouts, but maybe you catch my meaning. I call my dog "little guy." B-, ever the Australian, called Nigel "Nige" from day one. You see Aussie diminutives appear in the form of nicknames. Worry if an Aussie in your life doesn't have a nickname for you. Conversely, don't assume he's in love with you just because he gave you a nickname.


The Dutch, although the tallest people in the world, and probably the most stoic, have two letters that they add to words that turn their language into a ditzy exchange between animé characters. So prevalent is the presence of je (pronounced chuh) at the end of nouns, verbs and adjectives that Dutch grammar accounts for its usage.

So, in the Netherlands, we don't eat bread, or brood (pronounced: brode). We eat broodjes pronouncedd: brodechuhs). In the five minute break during my Dutch class, I dash across the street and ask for a chocolade broodje, basically a chocolate croissant. Sometimes broodjes are sandwiches. We drink kopje koffie, and I speak beetje, or a little bit, of Dutch.

The most common thing I hear is, "oooh hondje" referring to Nigel, who, in fact, does deserve lots of this sort of attention because he is incredibly cute. Even the most staid Dutch people are reduced to high-pitched voices and excessive je-ing in the presence of my faithful pooch. On several occasions Dutch people have proclaimed him a "kleintje hondje" or little, little, little dog. Nevermind that Jack Russels are prevalent here, and they're much smaller than Nigel. The fact remains that Nigel has the power to melt Dutch hearts.

I bring this all up because I took Nigel to Amsterdam today. We rode the tram and the train, and like the late, great Elvis, he left people swooning in his wake. Adult people, that is. Amsterdamers are as no-nonsense as any city dwellers, and yet I saw many a smile and a sigh today. Even on the sweaty train, where irritation and impatience should have reigned, women were nudging their friends to catch a glimpse of Nigel curled up under my seat. Some even showed faint signs of jealousy when Nigel would gaze up and me and not them. One guy made continual efforts to get Nigel to sniff his hand, and appeared crestfallen when the little guy was too tired to get up. Who was this guy, a rebuffed celebrity stalker?

It seems that the Dutch, after you get passed their famous concensus building and shrewd business tactics, seem to be a bit like kids. It's an unexpected paradox adding to their "I-can't-quite-put-my-finger-on-it" mystique. They were noticeably less impressed with Nigel in Belgium.



We're Having a Heat Wave

Now, I'm no stranger to hot weather. I grew up in the deep South and sweated it out in DC for ten years, I'm pretty used to high temperatures and it's nasty companion, humidity. Generally it doesn't bother me.

However. In the U.S. you can escape it. We have, and use copiously, our A/C (AirCo as the Europeans call it). They have no such luxury here. Not in stores, not in homes. If you're lucky, your office has A/C. Thankfully big grocery stores do.

AccuWeather says it peaked at 96F (35.5C) here in The Hague. It was still 90F (32C) at 9PM this evening. The warm weather rolled in on Sunday and is expected to stick around for at least another day. Maaaaybe, not so bad you say?

Let's put these numbers in perspective. Typical summer days rarely crack 80F (27F). In fact, the forecasted high for Friday is 71F (22C). Also, keep in mind that as recently as the last week of June, it was downright cold at night. B- and I were complaining that we live in Narnia. This is highly irregular weather. Reports of heat-related deaths here and throughout Europe are already rolling in.

To make matters a bit worse, the mosquito population seems to be taking full advantage of the high temps. Our nearly 10ft windows don't have screens, so every night this week has been a veritable smorgasbord, with me as the main course. On Tuesday, I awoke to a swollen eye - not the first time I've been bitten on my eyelid. Last night, I was up all night swatting and scratching.

I've got heat, bad sleep, and a too much coffee to compensate. I'm feeling more than a bit tired and strung out. The pets seem to be holding up OK, though. B-'s still in China, missing the whole spectacle.

On the plus side, it's only rained once this entire month.



Winged Guitar Man

Indeed, YouTube seriously rules.

My pal Hotrod produced quite a find while trolling YouTube. I was immediately reminded of a music video they play at my gym, you know as a motivational tool. This guy is huge!

You have to hold out for the second part of the song when he's starts to really get into it, complete with painted dancing girls and an orchestra.

The chorus goes something like: Today is red, the color of your love. (Editors Note: Barf)

You can also check out the remake, featuring highlights of the Holland-Portugal match. That day really was rood.

P.S. This post is double dedicated to Hotrod as I know he's been dying to sway his hips to the sweet sounds of the Dutch language. Have at it, Hotrod!


Yukky Dutch Word of the Day: Puber

I'm a bit low on time today as I catch up on my Dutch homework and some freelance work. Nigel and I hung out with B-'s boss and some of his family at their cottage on the lake. B-'s in China at the moment, and truth be told, I think his boss felt a little sorry for me being by myself for two weeks. Needless to say, a day of sailing and lounging in the sun has left me a bit behind...

So, I give you a new segment of My New Dutch Life: Yukky Dutch Word of the Day. Be forewarned, I probably won't post one daily.

Puber (pyoo-ber): adolescent, teenager

The etymology of this word seems obvious, if not unfortunate. I never liked the word 'teen' when I was one. I'll take 'teen' over 'puber' any day!



Relax, I Just Ate a Tic-Tac

More on the Kisses toilets.

In yesterday's comments, a Dutch reader noted that the owner of the McDonald's with the mouth-shaped urinals is named Pijper* - apparently slang for blow job (Sorry Mom and W-! It's for the pursuit of the truth that I post such foul language).

Ok that is really too HI-larious. It brings tears to my eyes. However base this whole topic is, this is truly one of the most beautiful coincidences in life. Dutch Reader rightly suggests that maybe the whole thing is a joke. I agree that it's almost too perfect.

I'm happy to report that this is all true! The Dutch newspaper, De Telegraf has the story and a video of the actual toilets. What's exceptionally disturbing are those deoderizing cake thingies floating in the bottom, kind of a tic-tac if you will.



Speaking of Pissoirs...

I'm not the only American around here questioning Dutch urinal design. Seems a MacDonalds in southeast Netherlands thought it clever to install mouth-shaped urinals, which are unabashedly feminine despite what the woman who designed them claims.

I'm sorry, lady, but if you don't know that's a female mouth you're seriously out to lunch.

Expatica has the story in English. For more information on the 'Kisses" line of urinals, check out Bathroom Mania!.

I don't even know where to begin on this one... Feminist rant? Stupid move by a particularly 'wholesome' American franchise? Freudian analysis? Perhaps the designer is expressing her frustrations as a failed boy? Anatomy is destiny after all. Hmph.

I think I'd rather Dutch people spend less time on clever urinals and more time on public health campaigns to halt public urination.

And speaking of public health it seems that Amsterdam is suffering an outbreak of Legionnaires' Disease. Guess I'll quit wishing for A/C in public buildings now.



Love, Exciting and New

Eat your heart out, dawgs!

B-, Nigel and I ate a picnic dinner on the beach the other night to celebrate the day we met*. Sans naked people. With guy peeing in public nearby. What would a romantic dinner on the beach be without sea spray? OK, I've grossed myself out now...

*Technically, Nigel was not there the day we met. I adopted him about a month later. He was there in spirit, I'm sure. Awe Nigey boy.


Mon Dieu!

It's official. Any team that I want to win a world cup game loses. Imagine the havoc that I'll wreak when I'm actually at a game... you think you saw a lot of red cards this year... Watch out South Africa!

My brothers and sisters in Australia, Ukraine, Germany and France... I feel your pain! We were all robbed. ROBBED!

This world cup is an out and out travesty. Not only did a team win who doesn't deserve it, but the game play, sportsmanship and refing for nearly all of the matches this year was abysmal. What up with Rooney and Zidane! Terrible. Shameful.

Stoopid boyz.


Oh Yeah, I Forgot to Mention That the Dutch Government Collapsed Last Week

Proving that the Dutch can land themselves a high-profile spot in international media every now and then, they opted this time for governmental collapse - you know instead of marrying two women.

In a nutshell, a small faction (3 people) of the ruling party's governing coalition resigned, leaving the PM without the necessary votes to enact legislation. See, in parliamentary systems the parties actually have to work together to get anything done. So, instead of sitting on their bums doing nothing until next May, the Prime Minister decided to dissolve the government and call early elections. It's all a little smoke-in-mirrors on a practical level b/c they still get to keep their jobs until November, though agreeing not to push anything controversial... or something. Also, the PM has to tender the government's resignation to the queen who technically decides the fate of the land. Of course the people advising her were the ones who couldn't keep it together. Makes sense. Sure.

For further reading, I found CNN's coverage to be the most thorough. That is to say, they actually mention that Rita Verdonk, the crazy immigration minister who refused to step down after revoking a member of parliament's passport, was the cause of the collapse. The passport disaster was the penultimate move in a long string of ass backwards policies designed to harass immigrants rather than just not invite them over in the first place.

Sorry I didn't mention this sooner. It's hard to care too much as can't do anything about it even though it nominally affects me as a tax-paying resident of this country. I'm in a political limbo land cultivating apathy at its finest.


If You Gotta Go, You Gotta Go

Europeans have a different perspective on public toilets than the US. Whereas we don't really have them, Europeans push the the limits of modernism with innovations in lavatory design*.

Paris features self-cleaning pay toilets. When you're done with your business and exit the WC, high-powered jets hose it down, disinfecting it for the next customer. The Swiss have a public toilet enclosed in two-way mirrors.

I guess the Dutch can't be bothered with such trivialities as doors. This toilet is in The Hague's city center, right outside a church.


Though I haven't seen anyone use that toilet, I have seen two grown men urinate in the middle of the day in front of everyone. One guy (thankfully he was drunk and a little nutty so he has an excuse) answered the call of nature on the square right out front of our apartment. The second guy took leave right next to a tram stop. That's high class.

Sure sure, I'm most definitely an uptight American, and I have a particular thing against dirty, public places (is a reason I can never truly enjoy NYC). B-'s brother laughed at me for bemoaning the garbage that litters my neighborhood's streets casting off my criticism as, "Yeah, but Americans are like that."

My response to that is this: What's wrong with a little pride of place? How about a little consideration for the rest of us who live here? Why can't you Dutchie's pick up your dog poop, put your garbage in the trash bins and pee in private? Yeah sure, the Randstad is a cramped place, but if billions of Japanese can do it, you can too. Europeans may have a deep-rooted history of living in squalor, but that doesn't mean it has to be that way.

Perhaps I should do as Are Seven and the Washington Post suggest and shame them.

* Real props go to the Japanese who have heated toilet seats.



Two Days of Unemployment

So unemployment is so far treating me well. The house is clean. The laundry is put away. I ate a proper lunch. I finished my Dutch homework. Best of all, I get to hang out with our pal, F-, who drove over from Germany. F-'s been on this side of the pond enjoying World Cup festivities for the past two weeks. He heads to Budapest after the final. Our first DC visitor - woo hoo!

F- and I took the tram down to Scheveningen to take in the sights and sounds of the beach. Several parts Ocean City, MD, several more parts New Jersey and .000001 part Miami (wishful thinking), Scheveningen is THE vacation destination of the Netherlands. Though it wasn't all that crowded when we were down there today, on weekends there are more people than grains of sand.

The Dutch are sun worshippers. They seem to like nothing more than to cook themselves. Combine sunbathing with a society oblivious to the dangers of smoking, and you've got an awful lot of permanently pursed and leathery faces. Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam predicts an 80% increase in skin cancer patients in the Netherlands by 2015. Based on the abstract, that study seems to only look at environmental factors. But tanning beds are popular home appliances too.

What amazes me, however, is how much Europeans want to be naked. I know. I know. Classic. The American is shocked by topless beaches, but that's not quite it. I don't care if people want to bare all in public. What's surprising is how fried they let their sensitive bits get. Just thinking about a sunburn.... ugh!

Even more astonishing was the fully naked person lounging in a restaurant. I have to close my mind on that one - please, woman, not while I'm eating. Nudists are never seem to be the ones you want to see naked.



World Cup in Review

Yeah yeah, I know it isn't over, but there comes a time with any major sporting event that runs over several weeks (Olympics, tennis, World Cup soccer) when you can barely muster any interest. When your first, second, and third choice teams have been knocked out, what do you do? With soccer, you're meant to enjoy the sheer beauty of the game, but I'll contend that this year's world cup finals certainly didn't earn any new fans with all around bad refereeing, sportsmanship, and game play.

Let's review...

1) The US did not live up to expectations. Whoever is in charge, please fire Bruce Arena. For starters, the guy couldn't even get his tubby ass off the bench and get into it. What the hell kinda arm-chair coaching was that? Shameful.

2) Italy and Ghana are cheaters.

3) Australia was robbed.

4) Bummer way to go England!

5) Adieu, Le Brésil.

6) Portugal are thugs.

7) What happened to the Golden Goal?

8) Whoever I go for, loses.