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])).

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