Friday, November 05, 2004

Week 24 - Communication Difficulties

So I don’t know, maybe it’s just that a lot of sentences don’t survive translation, but I keep getting requests that don’t rest easy with me, or get given tasks with the accompanying words “you can do this” (d’ya think? I’ve only been working this system for fourteen years), or “I don’t think it’s much work” (no, you never do, do you), or being told it’s not my fault when other people lose the only hard copy of design work that I’ve produced for them (gotta be honest, wasn’t really sweating about that one, anyway).

Then there are the variations in working technique. In the UK we have a simple system for marking up designs with colour, where red is new, green is recovered and blue represents notes which do not form part of the actual documentation. Here, red is red (simple), blue (almost indistinguishable from black and tending to obscure anything beneath it) is green, and green is blue; EXCEPT for some people here, to whom blue is red, red is green and green is blue. Oh, and then there’s the insane yellow scribbling, which apparently merely indicates some spasmodic twitching. And Tipp-Ex: you can’t see through Tipp-Ex. I’ve stopped even trying to make sense of it. I have also had to become familiar with the technique of going through people’s bins for information which they have forgotten was required and have filed carelessly under trash.

Oh yeah, and we’re working on uncontrolled copies. This was brought home to me on Tuesday, when I came across two near identical circuits with identical drawing numbers but at different versions and with DIFFERENT BARCODES. So, from this we can surmise that there are definitely at least two versions of this circuit floating around out there because, oh and get this, we don’t even have the originals to work on – and they don’t correlate the drawings before design work starts (to keep costs down, I’m told). Tick, tick, tick…..

In the interests of seeing a bit more of the country before it’s destroyed by a train crash, I went to Groningen on Saturday, which the locals here describe as being the Amsterdam of the north, but without the tourists. Well, I can understand why it’s called the Amsterdam of the north, and I can also see why there are no tourists. Not bad for shopping, though; and, as I was promised, it has a good fish market (but everywhere over here has a good fish market). Also, although I didn’t sample them, the pubs are supposed to be pretty good, and there are certainly a fair number of them. Of course, UK Health and Safety would close both the fish stalls and the pubs in a heartbeat, and it certainly takes some getting used to the relaxed attitude to hygiene out here: washrooms don’t have hot taps (although they do always have soap, which trumps Blighty), food to be served is left exposed, and beer glasses are rinsed at the bar and then re-used for the next person’s drink. All this is just accepted as normal. Surely, only those for whom death holds no fear would tolerate such conditions…

Weather is tolerable. Not cold, but not warm. There is a constant layer of low cloud hanging like a thick fog over everything. I haven’t seen direct sunlight for over a week…

Anyway, I’m in the gym on Wednesday evening, and over some ‘artists’ recording of a car alarm going off (dance music in gyms, why is it always dance music?) I can hear a church bell chiming one note over and over again. I ask Bas, the fitness instructor, what it’s about and whether it’s a town alarm (trust me, if you’d seen Kampen, you’d know why I thought that) and he tells me that it’s ringing to commiserate the re-election of Bush. And, embarrassingly, I believed him. Sucker. In truth, it transpires, the ringing is a monthly occurrence to give thanks for something (presumably the quiet between rings), and I just hadn’t heard it before. Meanwhile, of course, there is something of a mood of national mourning for Theo van Gogh, a film-maker and newspaper columnist regarded as the Nederese Michael Moore, who was killed earlier this week for his opinions about religion.

A note for anyone thinking of doing all their shopping by bicycle: if you have a week’s shopping hanging from the left side of your handlebars, and you indicate left and turn left, then you won’t be able to stop turning left. Trust me, I have learnt this.

Curious language observations:
The scourge of text spelling leaves Nederland largely unaffected, since the appalling abbreviations used are actually words here. For example, ‘lol’ (textese for ‘laugh out loud’) means ‘laugh’; and ‘u’ (textese for ‘you’) means ‘you’. Would anyone be surprised if the origins of texting began here?

EURO WARNING: Anyone concerned about the Euro affecting prices if the UK introduces it will be further unsettled by this observation. Because of the relative worthlessness of a cent, shops over here don’t take 1c or 2c pieces and the coins are falling out of circulation. Effectively, therefore, the smallest coin is now 5c. At the moment, prices are still being rounded down. At the moment. Beyond that, everyone complains that everything costs twice as much now as it did before the transition – anyone who remembers the switch to decimalisation knows what I’m talking about.

Thankfully, it seems that no-one over here watched ‘Whistleblower’ on BBC1 last night, which saved me from embarrassment in the office. For anyone who didn’t see it, the programme was about how fabulously safe UK railways are and heaped praise on all the track guys and raved about the professionalism of Network Rail and the care and attention of all the maintenance contractors. Honestly.

Anyway, John Caddick is back in Holland for the weekend collecting evidence for his Principle Design Licence application, so now we’re off for a fish supper and a brace of bevvies. Many thanks to everyone who’s been staying in touch, it helps to take the edge off the feeling of being an alien (♫”an illegal alien, I’m an Englishman in Zwolle”♫) in a strange land. More updates soon.

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