Friday, December 17, 2004

Week 30 – Kerstmis Krackers

So, the round of Christmas (Kerstmis) parties and meals has started, one last Donderdag (literally, Thunder day – Thor’s day – Thursday), with the office; and one this Zaterdag (Saturday – I guess every dag has his day) with Faber Maunsell, the company I’ve never worked with and am here to represent; and, curiously, they are both traditional Indo-Chinees meals (do they even do Christmas in China? I don’t think so. Go figure.)

Life in the Nederlands feels increasingly like serving a sentence in a velvet prison (a reference from some film: A Clockwork Orange or Catch 22, perhaps, I don’t recall): ostensibly free, yet still a virtual prisoner because of the barriers placed upon me by language, culture, and everything being closed for half the weekend. I even have a serial number to identify myself by (P602815) on the computer system (I’m more than just a number, dammit). At weekends I sit in my cell (as a safety feature, there are actually bars on the windows of my digs) or walk around the parade ground (it’s only just been driven home to me the implications of living in a town called (Mine) Kampen).

The next project we’re working on is further up the line from Schiphol and is called Wormerveer. Now, biblically, worm is a term of reference for the serpent, dragon, Satan, whatever you will; and Wormerveer is actually pronounced Worm of Fear. Do you think that might be a clue as to how the job is going to run? I’m working with two other designers on this, and so far they haven’t been in the office on the same days. Late last Thursday Ronald gives me his designs to start working on, but Vrijdag (Free day, Friday) is hangover day from the party, so very little gets done. Maandag (Moon day, Monday) there is no Ronald, but Alfons looks over the work and disagrees with the principals, so he amends the design and I change my work accordingly. Dinsdag (Noise day? Tuesday) Ronald is in but Alfons is away (you can see it coming, can’t you?) and he sees what’s been changed and insists that he was right so I change the design back again. [This must be the origin of the expression Double Dutch.] I seem to spend my days digging holes and then filling them in again (another prison reference: hard labour). Woensdag (from Wodin, or Odin, the Norse god of half-day closing: Wednesday) and Alfons and Martin are all, “why isn’t Wormerveer ready?” (Ronald is, of course, not in the office) and I’m with, “well, leave me alone with it and stop changing the fundamentals of the design all the time and interrupting me with other ‘little’ jobs (Maastricht, Leeuwarden, Lichten) and with continuous annoying questions, and maybe I’ll be a little quicker.” Friday and the job has to go out, so obviously Ronald isn’t in and I’m once again having to try to reconcile two conflicting designs with an aspect sequence chart (don’t ask) at the wrong version and I’m told to use design A and refer to design B where A isn’t clear, so I point out that the two designs aren’t even the same and this leads to another round of checking and changing and if there’s one thing I find quite seriously scary it’s when two designers are altering each others’ designs without taking the trouble to find out what the intention was behind any alteration that one or the other was trying to make in the first place and we’re sending this design out to the client after lunch and frankly I don’t have a great deal of faith in it being right. Update: 13:30 – “Oh, yeah, can you redraw that layout upside down.” Aaarrrgghh!

Of course, technique for production is a variable thing depending on who I’m working with, but at least I know I can always rely on them to tell me any special requirements four days after I start work on something. Yeah, thanks for that.

Another cause for consternation is that there never seems to be enough time to do things right (“We’ll do it this way to save time”) but there’s always enough time to argue with me about why there isn’t enough time to do things properly and there’s always enough time to lament how much time would have been saved if things had been done properly the first time. Deep breaths, keep taking deep breaths.

Q. How many Dutch signalling engineers does it take to wire up a set of Xmas tree lights?
A. Dunno. So far eight over five days, but no lights yet.

Beyond that, it has become increasingly evident that the reason for the fall of the Dutch empire was the invention of cake. Cake appears anywhere and everything stops for about half an hour while people eat and converse about, well, I don’t know, but it seems to be how nice it is to have cake again. This happens on a regular basis, and nobody ever seems to ask where the cake came from or what it’s for; they just accept that there is cake and that it is their destiny to eat it. Good cake, mind. Cakes and coffee…..

Anyway, I am now able to speak perfect Nederese, to all intents and purposes, since all the swear words are English, sorry is sorry, and excuse me is pardón, which pretty much takes care of the bulk of my conversational requirements, certainly in the workplace; and beyond that all I really need is ‘Goeden morgen/midden/avent, en bier/fles/amsterdammer austebleift. Dank u wel. Tot straks/ziens’ and I’m sorted. In truth, of course, there’s a little more to it than that, but the fact is that there have been no new words in Nederish since at least the mid-sixties, they just use the English words for everything invented since then. German tends to be resisted as a lingual alternative, since they’re still more than a little bitter about the occupation during WWII. From what I can gather, every time Nederers meet Germans, the conversation always ends when the Ned asks, “can I have back the bicycle of my father?”, which shows wonderful humour and a superb ability to offend people without actually being offensive.

Anyway, in case I don’t manage another post next week, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. I’m afraid that cards just ain’t gonna happen from me this year, due in no small part to the fact that it’s prohibitively expensive to send any volume of mail from here, but perhaps more largely down to the fact that I’ve left it much too late. I’m off now for a weekend of promised rain and snow: almost like being at home. Till 2005, live from Zwolle.

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