Friday, February 18, 2005

Week 39 – The Televised Revolution – Nine Months

Last week was carnival in the Netherlands. It’s actually a religious festival here, Catholic apparently, rather than just the sporadic procession and float thing we have in the UK. Everybody dresses up in silly costumes and goes on parade for four days, but instead of raising money for charities in the manner of the smaller UK events, they just party and get drunk for four days. Really good costumes, too – very colourful and weird. Now that’s a church tradition I can really believe in.

Mary seemed to enjoy her time out here. She was certainly impressed by the Dutch restaurants (I was, of course, very selective about where I took her). I impressed upon her that D’Olde Vismark and the Belgian Kaiser were quite classy places, and that the lifestyle I was showing her was not one which I could afford to live normally (indeed, I won’t be able to afford to eat anything decent for a couple of weeks now). She was also flabbergasted by the way people cycle and drive out here – apparently, she thought I was exaggerating, poor innocent.

Anyway, she returned to the UK on Sunday, so I’m back to a strict diet of microwaved mulch and television. One thing you really notice watching TV in English with subtitles is how appallingly lazy the people who write subtitles are; they just don’t bother:
“Hey, what happened to you? You look a mess – my God, you’ve been shot, are you okay?” “Alles goed?”
And people are actually paid to do this. Having said which, they do make enough effort to translate 15th floor in an American movie into 13th floor in Dutch (because Europeans, like us, don’t call the ground floor the first floor, and only Yanks are stupid and superstitious enough to not have a 13th floor in a building). The thing with trying to learn a language by reading its subtitles, is that it becomes clear just how similar our languages are (vis[6](fish[10]), archiven[16] (archive[15]), lijst[12](list[4]), veel[7](feel[7])), how odd prejudices are perpetuated (slim[6](clever[11])), and how sometimes it just gets silly because they start bolting words together or adding extra letters to make their dictionaries bigger than the A4 pamphlets they would be otherwise (rioolwaterzuiveringssinrichting[51](sewage[9] plant[7]), zorgvuldigheid[33](care[6]), onroerendgoedbelasting[28](property[15] tax[10]), krachtsinspanning[25](effort[12]), herstelwerkzaamheden[45](repairs[9])). I tell you, words that long can’t be good for mental gezondheid[25](health[12]).

Then there are the commercials. It has been a major bugbear of mine for some years that most advertisements now seem to be mimed (and most records, come too think of it), but once you see that the same commercials are dubbed in all countries, it kinda makes more sense. Still hate it though.

Beyond that, we have some additional channels. TV5 shows French television with subtitles in French, for reasons that I can’t even begin to fathom; and then there are ARD and ZDF, German channels with no subtitles at all – you simply haven’t experienced a James Bond film unless you’ve seen Sean Connery speaking fluent Kraut with a thick accent.

It has come to my attention that there is a certain amount of confusion amongst the Nederese regarding the wearing of wedding and engagement rings, in relation to which finger they should be placed upon – indeed, they’re all over the place with them: wrong fingers, wrong hands….. I have repeatedly told them that rings should be worn on the second finger of the left hand (and have suggested that, perhaps, the name ‘ring finger’ might have been a give away in this regard) but, apparently, it isn’t observed in the Nederlands. I have been asked why that finger was chosen, and a little research produced the information that, in chiromancy, that finger corresponds to the heart because, historically, the vein from that finger was believed to go straight to the heart. Now, what sort of people would the relevance of that be lost upon…..? Beyond that, there is the whole confusion caused by the usage of the word friend: the Nederians don’t use the terms boyfriend or girlfriend, just friend, with intimacy implied by possession; so ‘a friend’ is just a friend, but ‘my friend’ is a romantic partner and walking into a bar with a group of people and introducing them with ‘these are my friends’ makes you out to be some kind of a slut.

More frustration at work, as I notice that prints of drawings[13] (tekeningen[15]) which are stored digitally are stamped Digitaal, and prints of drawings for which no digital file exists are stamped Analoog. Ah, such a simple people. [If you also think that analogue is the opposite of digital, stop reading this now and go out and buy a dictionary].

Another strange habit which has become evident in the office is the removal of shoes whilst working, which is quite common. In answer to my queries about this, I am told that it’s because of warm feet – but aren’t warm feet normal amongst warm-blooded mammals?

I’m also still a little disturbed by the Nederish perception of colour co-ordination (and no, Tim, I’m not talking collars and cuffs). It’s all, as I’ve mentioned before, a little bright and clashing, almost like seventies psychedelia. You would almost think they couldn’t see their reflections in the mirror…..

Anyway, I’m glad to say that, despite the relatively low price of beer in the Nederlands, and its high availability in terms of outlets and opening hours, I can’t remember the last time I went out drinking. In fact, now that I come to think of it, most of the evenings and weekends I’ve spent here are a bit of a blur…..

Well, it’s Vrijdag[19] (Friday[13]) afternoon, and the bars of Zwolle and Kampen are beckoning enticingly, so I’m off for a quick dip in the EEC lager lake. More news as it pours.

(Figures in [brackets] are scrabble scores, for comparative purposes: Nederland are world scrabble champions. Nonetheless, seks[8] still scores better in Britain (sex[10])).

Friday, February 04, 2005

Week 37 – Festina Lente

Well, last week, just after I posted, Dewi dropped by the office on her way back from the hospital in Groningen to her folks’ place in Haarlem. It was great to see her again, and she’s looking really well and keeping quite chipper, despite the still present swelling in her cheek from the second operation. Hopefully she’ll be her old self in no time.

The Feestavond (Party Evening) that night in Apeldoorn turned out to be superb. I got a lift out there with Arjen and his girlfriend Paulien, and we were greeted by waitresses in the traditional Dutch garb of green skirts with white aprons, white blouses with a red panel, and bunches (see for details and images). We kicked off with a continuous stream of coffee and cake that kept coming for about half an hour before we were assembled randomly into teams (which gave everyone an opportunity to meet people from different offices and departments) and the games began. This was a fabulous and apparently typically Neder experience, where we were taken into the games hall and competed in various events. There was pugel stick fighting, Gladiators style (tried, lost - well, slaughtered to be honest); curling (tried, won one game); sliding beers along a bar to the highest scoring zone; arm wrestling; milking artificial cows (tried, with Frank, won but humiliated); hammering nails into a log; and dressing in a Velcro suit and throwing yourself at an inflatable Velcro covered wall to see how high you can stick to it (tried, no idea how I did, too dizzy and shaken to tell). Despite how odd this might sound, it was actually tremendous fun and helped build up our appetites. We then returned to the main hall and the free beers started coming (oh, so many beers) while the results of the games were announced. Fortunately for me, this part was all in Nederish, so when they told us we were to get our food in order of how our teams were placed (ours was sixth) I didn’t understand and so just got my food anyway. There was an enormous indoor barbecue, so we loaded our plates with steak, sausage, beef stew, egg salad, potato salad, chips, pork chops, rice, pasta – I’m sure there was more, but I didn’t manage to eat everything, despite making two trips to the servery stack. It was, however, all really very good, and then we continued to drink until the staff switched off the music, turned on the lights and started looking at us threateningly, at which point we made our excuses and left.

Schiphol 24 has actually, finally, once and for all, at long last been sent away into the cavernous abyss of ProRail’s jobs-not-to-be-done archive, hopefully never to be seen again.

Presumably to prevent the economy overheating, all cashpoints here work very slowly, I mean really slowly, to the extent that it would often be quicker to go into the bank and queue.
From what I’ve seen, people in Nederland drink coffee in coffee shops through straws. Go figure.
Despite the prodigious number of bicycles here, train passengers still haven’t got the hang of collapsing their bicycles before getting on the train, or of waiting till they’ve got off before opening them out again. I’m still undecided whether this says something about train commuters or something about people who ride collapsible bicycles, but I’m fairly confident of what it says about them.
Over here morning (morgen) lasts till noon, afternoon (middag) lasts till six o’clock on the dot, then it’s evening (avent). Spring starts on the 21st of March, Summer begins on the 21st of June, Autumn on the 23rd of September and Winter on the 22nd of December. Now, is that a regimented system or what?
Festina Lente: this was spoken to me by our Project Engineer, and it appears to be the country’s motto: Make haste slowly – how chilled is that?

Not much other news for the moment. I’m back to Blighty this weekend to celebrate getting my first thirty-five years out of the way on Saturday, then Mary comes back out here with me to check out life with the night-stalkers for a week. Vile from Zwolle.