Thursday, February 28, 2013

"I CAN'T GET LEFT!"

Bike with two rolls of toilet paper strapped safely aboard.
Today, I got to experience life as a member of the upper echelon of the Dutch transportation hierarchy.   That's right folks, I took my first bike ride. There she is to the left, kick stand and all.  Alright yes, I know it's a ladies bike, don't judge me.  It came with the apartment.

"But Dan, why have you waited so long to ride a bike?"  Well Internet, let me tell you....I was waiting for the snow to melt before I embarked on a cycling adventure.  Today was a gorgeous day, in Oss.  The sun was shining and I think temps got into the 5s (°C), a virtual heat wave!  Oh, and we also needed toliet paper. So, I thought the quickest way to the City Hotel, our toliet paper supplier/owner operator of our apartment was by bike.

I think it was a good first attempt.  However, I still have NO IDEA how to make left turns.  As a result, I took a reaaaaalllly long way home to the apartment since it was composed of all right hand turns.

I may have disobeyed some ordinances on my joyride around town. A minute into my ride, I blew a  red bicycle traffic light (they have them here).  However, the bus that was about to turn right as I was proceeding just stayed put and yielded to me.  That's power, my friends.  Apparently the cyclist always has the right of way.  My next challenge can be seen here:




Here's more from my journey around Oss.


SORRY FOR THE VERTICAL VIDEOS.  I'LL DO BETTER NEXT TIME.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Wordless Wednesday: My Dog My Guinness

 July 13, 2012
Two things I miss most about Ireland: walks with Bandit to Malahide Castle and the Guinness.


Monday, February 25, 2013

Windmills, Tulips & a Night in Prison: A Weekend in North Holland

Our cell.
This weekend Vicki and I spent a night in a Dutch prison.  You ever see that  Nat Geo Show "Locked Up Abroad?" It documents the stories of vacationers and/or expats that are hired as drug mules and end up in Thai prisions. Well, our experience was nothing like that but I'll pretended it was.

Before we get to our cell block story, lets take a few steps back. Vicki let me, "Mr. Logistically Challenged" plan our past weekend excursion in the Netherlands.  Vicki was trusting her weekend to someone who still has not mastered telling time on a 24 hour clock yet.  (Yes, Dad, I know you just subtract 12.) What was she thinking?



Moments after this picture the entire canal & my nose froze.
I decided we would tour the Province of North Holland. But I really should have consulted with the Weather Channel first before going north, it was COLD up there, temps in the high 20s(F) with a wind that stung you in the face.  But hey, we were hunting windmills, so we wanted wind right, right? WRONG.

We journeyed to "one of Holland's top tourist destinations," Zaanse Schans.  It's a charming village situated on the Zaans River with traditional Dutch green, wooden houses and historic functioning windmills.  This is all within walking distance of the Koog-Zaankijk rail station.  



Zaanse Schans in Nine Pictures
Besides the windmills & the clogs, my favorite part was the machine that dispensed free maps for pulling the lever (pictured).

So how did I end up getting us locked up? Did I try to ride on a blade of a restored windmill?  Did I try to put on some colorful clogs and quietly exit the gift shop?  Did I become a drug mule?  Well, I'd be lying if I didn't consider at least one of these scenarios, but alas, none of them landed us in the big house.

You can really find anything on the internet, even an old prison that has been converted into a hotel.  I booked us one night at the Gevangenis Hotel, Oostereiland Hoorn; translation 'Prison Island Hotel, Eastern Hoorn.' The old prision was now the home to a hotel, where guests can stay in actual "cells", updated of course.  There is also a movie theatre and a brasserie on site.  Despite, my temptation to see Ben Affleck's Argo, we checked into our "cell" then braved the cold and explored the town of Hoorn.



Hoorn is a quaint harbor town, that apparently would be a great place to visit say, in the SUMMER.  Although it makes for some pretty unique scenery when the canals freeze over.




d' Oude Waegh, Hoorn, Netherlands
We found ourselves wandering through the town square before deciding on dinner at d' Oude Waegh. Beautiful restaurant set in a building dating back to 1609.  Here, we again conquered a Dutch only menu (read about our first all Dutch menu here). I had the "Beefburger ‘d’Oude Waegh’ Man's Size."  Vicki went with the "Gegrilde entrecote met rode port saus."  Both were delicious, and came with fries and a salad, the national side dishes of the Netherlands.



Perhaps, the highlight of our visit to Hoorn was, Cafe 't Schipperhuis. This nautical themed cafe featured a functioning bar fashioned out of the hull of an old wooden boat.  Upon entering the fairly empty cafe, we were greeted by a friendly Jack Russell Terrier.  We immediately knew we would love this place.  The bartender took a break from her game of pool to serve us a round.  We went with the local Amstel and "chatted" with the owners of the Jack Russell. By "chatted" I mean, smiled and nodded to Dutch phrases and showed them iPhone pics of our Jack Russell.

The red pin marks the Little Cafe by the Harbour.  Englebert Humperkink Not Pictured.

Learning Dutch #'s at the bar
At one point during the night the bartender decided to play a round of "Name that Tune" with us.  But the song she played left both Vicki and I stumped, it was in English that's all we knew. She informed us it was called "The Little Cafe By The Harbour" sung by Englebert Humperdink.  Then she went and played the Dutch version, the song blasted across the empty bar.  Vicki and I wondered what exactly was going on here, should we be asking for the check.  The bartender then explained that the original song was written by Pierre Kartner at the table directly behind us.  She exhibited a certain pride telling us the story, and we got wrapped up in the nostaglia of it too.  Sitting in this famous harbour bar with a Jack Russell, eating delicious fried cheese, sipping Amstels, Cineys & Jenever all while learning how to count to ten in Dutch from our bartender, was one of those nights we'll remember for a long time.  It was perfect.  But all good things had to come to an end, we excused ourselves and returned to our cell.

The next day's adventure included a trip to the Holland Flower & Food Festival in Bovenkarspel.  I found out about this festival through the website, iamexpat; great site for events around the Netherlands.  It was only a 30 minute train ride from Hoorn.  I thought a little taste of spring was exactly what we both needed.  It was a nice manageable event, no where near the magnitude of the Philly Flower Show.  The tulips were amazing and they were EVERYWHERE in every color imaginable!  I also had one of the best red peppers I have EVER tasted from the free sample vegetable booth.  Yes, there were free samples of vegetables.  Awesome!

The Holland Flower and Food Festival  in Nine Pictures
Vicki took so many great pics; it was really tough choosing just nine for my collage.

Oh look, a bike.
From the Flower Show our initial plan was to trek back to our home in Oss. However, since our train was scheduled to go right through Amsterdam Central station, we decided to make a slight detour to see the city during a lite snowfall.  We figured since we were there, we'd scout out some pancakes along the way too.  Our destination was the Pancake Bakery on Prinsengracht.  We went with a bacon, cheese, & mushroom pancake (savory) and a pancake with banana, pineapple and ice cream (sweet).   Yes, they were as delicious as they sound.



Wine bottle art on a houseboat in Amsterdam

Our weekend getaway in North Holland was pretty successful.  Well, if you take out the fact that at the end I fowled up the timing of our train from Amsterdam to Oss because I thought 14:00 was 4 o'clock.  Don't ask, it was a long weekend.

I hope you enjoyed the adventures of this "Sissy-Boy" and his wife.  Cheers!

Sadly Sissy-Boy Homeland was closed.




















Friday, February 22, 2013

Friday Fails

Since it's just the two of us during the evenings; my wife and I spend the time talking about each other's day.  You know, like this Seinfeld clip....




There have been a few conversations where we'll describe a certain day as a "Fail Day."  Not sure how it started, but we just started using that term to describe a crappy day. Now, we all have bad days,  it's just life. But I got to thinking about how a "Fail Day(s)" might be different for an expat.  

It seems when you're living abroad the smallest stumbles can really break you down.  When something goes wrong, it just hits an expat harder. I think there are a number of reasons behind this:

1.) LIMITED SUPPORT SYSTEM.  My wife and I haven't been here long, so we really don't have a support network to share and compare our frustrations. It's just us. Blogging, expat websites (see below) and twitter, has allowed me to compile a small network, which has been useful for venting, sharing and learning. Thanks to @Momofthreeunder , @escapebrussels & @gjamh ! Give their blogs a read here & here.  

2.) EXPERIENCE.  You've done a task like the one before you hundreds of times back in your home country. So why is it so hard to do now?  Examples like: paying for groceries, making  bank transactions and doing the laundry are all routine things.  But for an expat these activities and others must be relearned all over again with the little nuances that come with your host country.

3.) FAST FORWARDING  While we were in Ireland, a co-worker presented a unique observation about the life of an expat.  When you are growing up, everything happens in stages. You learn to walk,  you learn to talk, you learn how to interact with others. Then you learn more complex tasks, like shopping, eating, banking, driving etc. All of these activities span the course of some 15-16 years.  However, for an expat all of these events occur again, only this time, they are in fast forward and you have to do them all in the course of a day or a week.

So I'm going to play around with the idea of a weekly post, called "Friday Fails."  But this post and future posts are not meant to be "whoa is me" like stories.  I'm not into that.  More like, here's where we screwed up and here's how we tried to correct it.  Hopefully there's something here that future expats can learn from.  Sound good?  Alright, here I go.  Hope you enjoy. 



This Week In Fail Days
  • Learning that our Dutch bank charges €7 Euro for direct deposits.  I thought I was pretty clear in my question when we opened the account about any associated charges. And the Dutch banker was very clear in his response that there were no charges with the account.    LESSON: Always read the fine print, even if it's in Dutch
  • Having your debit card denied at the Albert Heijn (grocery store) This has the be the worst, especially when the line behind you continues to grow and the stares feel like lasers on the back of your neck.                                                                                                                   LESSON: Make sure you have cash on hand at all times.
  • Spending days and days researching; translating, and tweeting to figure out how to apply for a discount train pass.  Only to find out after purchasing your subscription that it's not valid until weeks later.                                                                                                                           LESSON: The National Rail Company of the Netherlands, NS (Nederlandse Spoorwegen) is extremely responsive and loving via twitter, .  Just read their profile:  "This is the official NS Twitter account. We love you 24/7 at the height of the current situation. Monday / Friday from 8h to 18h we live for you."  For international rail travel questions try tweeting @NSHispeed, equally as responsive.  The funny part was I tweeted them both in Dutch with the help of Google Translate.  I never thought about writing them in English. 
    Another great reference for figuring out public transport is AmsterdamTiPS.com .  These guys run an up to date and well maintained site with helpful information for visitors and expats.  They were also very responsive through email to my questions.  
    To the denied credit card user goes the whiskey.
  • Watching powerless as your VISA card does not work at a restaurant that advertises they accept credit cards. LESSON:  This has happend twice and both situations really ticked me off.  When it happend the first time I begrudgingly accepted the machine failure and forked over all my cash. Even though I had used my card successful two days before at this very restaurant!  But I wasn't going down so easily when it happened again at another restaurant.  I noticed that a customer ahead of me paid with credit and it worked fine.  But when I confidently put my card in next, the machine decides to go on the fritz.  I was going to wait this one out and demand that they take the card.  Looking back, I felt bad for the young waitress, she did her best and was on the phone for 20 minutes trying to rectify the situation.  Seeing her struggle, my black heart softened and I told her I had enough cash to cover.  BUT!  "How about a glass of Jameson on the house?"  She obliged and proceeded to give me the largest pour of whiskey I'd ever had.  Moral of the story: If your card doesn't work, see if you can get something on the house!
  • Thinking train tickets for a trip to Cologne, Germany would be cheaper if you buy them a day before the trip?                                                                                                                      LESSON:  Buy early and save.  This is sort of a universal truth right?   

Feel free to describe your own fail days in the comments below.  

Ending on a depressed note is NOT something I want to do on a Friday. So, to use another Seinfeld reference,  I'll try to "Always leave on a high."  So here's a picture of me and a giant Lindt Truffle.  

Cheers to the weekend!





Some Great Expat Websites:











Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Wordless Wednesday: King Bandit


Bandit & Malahide Castle; Malahide, Co Dublin.  July 5, 2012

Unfortunately, Bandit could not accompany Vicki and I on our latest expat journey to the Netherlands. He's still back in the States.  We certainly had a blast with him in Ireland.   Miss you Bandito.  


Monday, February 18, 2013

I Go To Germany For the Spas. Wait, What?


Cologne, Germany in 9 Pictures (and one big picture)

Destination:  Cologne, Germany
Dates: February 16-17, 2013


We went for the schnitzel, the suds, and the spa?   Wait, what was that last one, German spas? Unbeknown to me, Germany has some world renown spas.  Thanks to TripAdvisor, we discovered this fact and penciled in a visit to a one during our Cologne "City Break" vacation.

Our journey to Cologne, was luckily uneventful; considering this cheapskate/logistically challenged individual booked us on a train that had 3 transfers and a total journey time of 3 hours.  Just for some perspective you could have driven that distance in under 2 hours.  But who wants to drive, it's bad for the environment, right?

We arrived in Cologne, around 10:30am, exhausted given our early morning start and the vigorous cardio workout of  trying to catch train connections with just minutes in between. Forget P90X try running from platform 1b at the Nijmegen Station to platform 4b in less than 3minutes with luggage.  (I realize that for folks not in the Netherlands, these details probably mean nothing to you; so just trust me, it's tough)

As we exited the Cologne train station, we marveled at the grandeur of the Cathedral (German: Kolner Dom)  welcoming us to the city. Then the rain started. So, we made the decision to go right to the spa.  Along the way, we crossed the Rhine River and discovered Cologne's "love locks".  If you're unfamiliar with this "art," lovers buy a lock, attach it to a fence together, usually located on a bridge, then the two star-crossed lovers turn a key to lock their love. This loving gesture continues as the couple tosses the key into the flowing water below the bridge. Awe, how romantic.  But what about the padlocks on this bridge? I'd be a little uneasy locking my love with someone who could come back the next day and reuse it.  Wouldn't you?


Can you spot the padlock?

After a 40 minute walk we finally arrived at Claudius Therme Beauty & Wellness Spa.  The place was huge.  Luckily, they equipped us with an English map of the facility (see picture below.)  The first thing we had to navigate was the complicated maze of lockers and dressing rooms. But once we figured out how to get out of the changing rooms which had this crazy locking system, we had our robes and were ready to relax, or so we thought. Our next vital task was interpreting the German signage marking various locations, directions and RULES of the facility.

Why was this task so vital and why did I capitalize RULES?  Well, I'll give you one guess.  Still stumped?  Let's just say, that Europeans and especially Germans are very comfortable with the art of the human body.  Yeah, you guessed it, necked people.  The main area of the spa housed a very large network of pools. I was wondering why it said swimsuits were REQUIRED in this area.  Oh, that's because in the other areas, swimsuits were PROHIBITED. So depending on your comfort level you may have wanted to avoid those other areas.  I'll leave it up to you, the reader, to guess what areas we spent our time.


Don't I look relaxed?
Relaxed and refreshed we said goodbye to Claudius Therme and headed back to across the Rhine.  But we decided we should have a quick drink from the Trinkbrunnen, why not right? 

Bottoms up

 Vicki's expressions says it all here:




We stayed at the Dom Hotel, right next to the Cathedral.  INCREDIBLE location and spectacular views of the Dom.  Editor's Note, if your name is "Dom" get used to seeing your name everywhere and at night in lights!   A TripAdvisor review on the Dom is in the works.           
I wanted to wash that awful tasting mineral water out of my mouth. So, I ordered Cologne's famous drink, Kolsch.  However, I was puzzled when the waitress brought me over a glass of Dom Kolsch.  I examined my libation meticulously   Funny, I remember the beers in Germany being a bit larger? No?  

Left: Me and 4 Maß at Oktoberfest 2012.  Right: Me and a tiny Kolsch February 2013.

I'm just messing.  I know that glass is the proper method to enjoy this easy drinking and deliciously refreshing brew. My favorite had to be the Päffgen Kölsch on tap (right out of the barrel) at Bierhaus en d'r Salzgass.  If you're ever in Cologne, check this place out, great beer, great service and English.  

Let's see, I covered the Spa (did they, didn't they?), the Suds, (delicious), and now onto the schnitzel.  Sadly, I do not have any pictures to share with you, from our dinner at Brauerei zur Malzmuhle.  So you'll need to go there for yourself and experience the revolving door, the friendliness of the staff, the delicious Kolsch (they even had a walnut flavored brew, Vicki's personal favorite), and great food.  Plus they had a menu translated into English, French, Spanish, and even Russian.  I know this turns some folks off, and classifies a restaurant as a "tourist trap," but hey, I was a tourist and Bill Clinton ate here too.  See there website.




On Sunday morning, we woke up and grabbed breakfast from the McDonald's across the street.  Don't judge, the MickeyD's over here are on a whole different level than the ones back in the States.  Besides, I needed an sausage egg & cheese McMuffin after eleventy of those tiny beers from the previous night.  After breakfast we did what every good, upstanding Catholic does on a Sunday morning; visit a Chocolate Museum.

The walk from the Dom Hotel to the SCHOKOLADENMUSEUM KÖLN was about a 15 minute walk along the Rhine.  It was nice and sunny on Sunday, so it made for a nice trip.  Here's the deal, for €8.50 you get access and a self guided tour of the museum and a free Lindt chocolate (plus one more chocolate snack inside).  Do I recommend it?  I guess, but only on a rainy day.  To be honest the first few exhibits (in both German & English) were really sad, both in presentation and in content.  The overall theme seemed to focus on the poor conditions of the cocoa farmers and how we all need to buy fair trade chocolate.  NEAT!  Just what I was hoping to experience from a chocolate museum.  The tour did improve and get less depressing as we entered the sample production facility.  The machines were all operating and you could following the chocolate throughout the entire process from the ingredients to the foiled finished free sample you get with your ticket.

Our last stop, was the majestic Cathedral.  I highly recommend a guided tour.  English tours are offered on Sundays at 2:30pm for €7.00pp. (Click here for tour information.).  This was a much better deal than the Chocolate Museum if you ask me.  The tour lasted approximately an hour and you get to learn about aspects of the cathedral that you might have over looked if you went in on your own.  I had no idea that this Cathedral held the relics of the Three Kings, well supposedly held these relics.  A little Faith goes along way when you hear these types of stories. The tour concludes back in the Cathedral visitor center with a  movie.  You could skip that part, not worth the 20 minutes in my opinion.

Highlights from the Cathedral

After the tour we wandered around the outside of the Cathedral and waited for the Sunday evening service to begin at 5pm.  Okay, I have to rant again on the topic of the Catholic Church being "Universal"(See this post)  During the Mass, people seemed to be doing their own thing. Sit? Sure whenever you want. Stand right in the middle of a reading, why not? Bless yourself, leave, then come back to your pew a little later, of course you should!  Then it was time for Communion.  I've always read and heard about German efficiency.  Well, apparently that does not apply to this sacrament.  In a mad rush the entire congregation surrounded the entire altar, some even flanking the sides.  Vicki and I didn't know what to do, no line down the center aisle?  So we just went with the flow and stood in the massive Communion mosh pit.  But, I will say, it was a unique feeling of community as we all stood around the altar waiting to receive the host.  
  
That about finishes up our whirlwind tour of Cologne.  Beautiful city, plenty to do, see, eat and drink. Definitely recommend a visit and a tour of the Cathedral.  Cheers!

Oh, and since you read to the very end.  Here's a picture of me riding a giant rabbit.  Have a great week!























Thursday, February 14, 2013

One Month, Ten Lessons: Netherlands

It's been a hell of a month. Dammit, I gave up cursing for Lent. DOH! Okay, let's try this again...

On January 15, 2013, Vicki and I touched town in the Netherlands to begin another expat adventure.  We've learned so much in just a short time about the Netherlands and Dutch culture; partly due to our Intercultural Training course and our day-day experiences, that I felt we should share a little.  

So with out further ado I bring you:
"One Month, 10 Lessons: Netherlands."  



1. Cash Only Country
As the saying goes, "In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash."  In our town, credit cards are not as widely accepted as we thought they would be.  AMEX, is sparse and VISA is mostly limited to restaurants. For all other purchases such as groceries and train tickets,  cash and debit cards (MAESTRO) are the ways to go.  The Dutch just want your cold hard cash.  Smart folks.  



2.  It's Not Rude To Say "Sorry, I Don't Speak Dutch"  
It makes sense; you visit/live in a country, you attempt to speak the language to show respect.  In an attempt to be polite with our new hosts, Vicki and I tried to learn a few simple phrases in Dutch, namely, "Spreek je Engels?" (Do you speak English?)  Turns out this was the WRONG phrase to learn for a number of reasons.  First and foremost, folks we've met, speak and have a good grasp of English. Also, this phrase can sound a bit obnoxious and can also be the perfect setup for a joke when someone answers you in perfect English "No, I don't speak any English at all."

So we've learned that it's perfectly acceptable and polite to say, "Sorry I don't speak Dutch." But make sure you say it in your most awkward, broken English voice.  Vicki and I joke about which one of us says that phrase the funniest.  I'm currently winning.  

We've also found that when the English-Dutch and/or Other Language barrier is too great.  Just use hand gestures like the one pictured.  This particular gesture will get you a carafe of wine.  It works! See here.

3.  Paperwork, Paperwork & More Paperwork
You know, for a liberal country you sure have to muddle through a ton of paperwork to live here.  There's a great book called the "UnDutchables."  I think it's great required reading for anyone making the move to the Netherlands.  There's a chapter that discusses the trials and tribulations of the Immigration and Naturalization Department (IND).  The process of immigration is described as  frustrating, including multiple trips to a number of different government offices.  At first we thought that this was bunk.  We had a successful visit with the IND and it only took us one trip.  But the next task was to register at the town hall in Oss.  I now understood what the book was talking about.  Today marked my third trip to this building pictured below.  But it's official, Vicki and I are married and residents in the eyes of the the Dutch Government.



The Oss Town Hall

4.  Horse Meat--It's Apparently What's For Dinner.
http://professormungleton.blogspot.nl/2013/01/burgers-for-supper-neigh-thanks.html
Okay, no disrespect, but Vicki and I have noticed something.  All the food here seems to have this strange after taste, especially the meat.  Not sure if it's the oil or the type of mystery "meat" being used, but there is definitely some distinct after taste.  One late night after a few delicious Belgian Beers, we wondered to our local snack bar.  The menu, of course was all in Dutch, but with the help of a local, we ended up ordering fries with horse meat, based on his recommendation, "It's really nice!" he said. Horse meat? Really?  Talk about a distinct taste.  Well a few nights later, I swear I was eating it again in my spaghetti and meat sauce at the Italian place down the street.  It wasn't bad, but yet, it wasn't good either.  I might stick to chicken from here on out.    

5. My Washer and Dryer Are Smarter Than Me
In case you haven't caught my Adventures in Expat Laundry post, let me explain.  My appliances are multilingual, they speak French and Finnish.  Not only am I faced with the challenge of doing the wash, interpreting the instructions on the machine I have to determine which machine is speaking which language.  


My new multilingual BFFs
6. It Takes An Advanced Degree & A Tweet To Figure Out the Train Discount Card Programs
When you look up train times and tickets, they list the full fare price then the discounted prices.  Discount tickets? Don't mind if I do! Who doesn't like to save a euro or two.  After multiple search attempts and with the help of AmsterdamTips.com I finally figured out the discount scheme. But there was still the challenge of how to purchase said discount subscription. (I'll leave that for a future post.)  

I then learned there was another discount program good for international train travel across a number of European countries.  It's called the Rail Pass Plus.  But my searching attempts kept coming up empty.  Every site I found told me of the existence of this pass, but NO WAY to purchase it.  I finally found out, from a Belgium rail site, that you could buy them in the train stations.....in Belgian train stations.  Great.

As I continued scrutinizing the NS Highspeed site, I saw a link to their twitter account.  I thought, what the hell, let me try the power of Dutch Social Media.  Then this happened, in Dutch:


Actual Twitter Dialogue  
Well I got my question answered thanks to Twitter (and google translate). Apparently you can purchase them on their website at the link they provided. Ok, in my defense, since you're probably saying, why did you have so much trouble then? Well,  I tried to backtrack using their link to see if I could find the page on my own.  For the record, I still can't find it, so for now, at least I got the ow.ly.  


7. Carnaval In The Netherlands Is A Big Deal & My Landlord Has Great Stuff In The Attic
Move over Mardi Gras, there's a new Carnaval king in town and it's the Dutch.  Just think, 5 days of family friendly parades and parties under big tents with lots and lots of Heineken; that's Carnaval in the Netherlands.  What an experience and I am so glad we were here for it.  More on Carnaval in the Netherlands here.










Sweet Jacket Courtesy of the Owner of our Apartment.  Our Apartment ON THE PARADE ROUTE!

8. You Only Get 3 Chances To Talk To Your Waiter/Waitress In Restaurants; Make It Count
I had read that service in Dutch restaurants leaves a bit to be desired.  This was good preparation going into our first dining experiences here.  For example, you can be sitting with an empty drink for what seems like hours while you watch the bartender or server standing at the bar cleaning glass ware.  Or you can make direct eye contact with your server and signal that you are in need of say a napkin or water;  they then look at you (almost through you) and keep on walking.  

So that brings me to my learnings.  I've noticed the only times you get to talk to your server is when you are seated, when they bring your drink and when they bring your food.  Then you are own your own.  Yes, I'm familiar with the European dining culture vs American and understand that they do not work for tips and they do not want to rush you.  But come on, what's a guy gotta do to get another beer?  We now know, to treat each interaction with our server as a special moment, one not to be taken for granted.  

9. Make Sure to Bring Your Elbows to the Grocery Store
HAMSTERS MEAN SAVINGS!!!!
The Dutch are very direct, in words and in the grocery store. For example, you're in front of the refrigerators where they keep bagged lettuce and other prepared vegetables trying to find out what exactly a "wortel" is (it's a carrot BTW) and 2 or 3 fellow shoppers almost collide into you AND each other as they reach for a bag of Japanese Salad Mix. I thought, not big deal I was clogging up the aisle, shame on me.  I then walked a bit further down to look at some more veggies, and DAM, it happens again. Some dude flies right into me for a bag of peas.  Alright.  I've learned my lesson.  My next trip to the grocery I have to be prepared to throw some elbows if someone gets in front of my bag of wortels.  

10.  Outdoor Urinals Are Popular and Plentiful
This might be one of my favorite things about the Netherlands. Yes, I realize I have the sense of humor of a 5 year old. But hey, when you gotta go; say right after Mass lets out at St. John's Cathedral in Den Bosch, you're in good shape because there's a urinal just a stone's throw away.  I like the way the Dutch think.


Urinal in foreground, Cathedral in the background


They even set up portable ones for celebrations.

Honorable Mentions

These weren't exactly Top 10 material but they deserved recognition as well:

-Banking.  Don't expect to cash a check here in the Netherlands.  We had a check from our Irish Gas Company that we brought and tried to cash it here.  Turns out it would have taken 4-6 weeks, and the fees to cash it would have cost us about 16% of the check's value.  Not worth it.

-Dutch Websites.  Google Chrome is your best friend

-Learning Dutch. Need help with learning dutch numbers?  Stay up late, there's plenty of scantly clad ladies eager to help you by giving out their phone numbers.  Got this piece of advice from one of my favorite #expat blogs, "Invading Holland."  If you're an expat in the Netherlands, check out Stu, he's the man. 

When another month passes, I'll bring you another segment of "One Month, Ten Lessons."  

Cheers to the weekend everyone!









"Dutch or Polish, NO ENGLISH!"

It's Valentine's Day in the Netherlands!  Wait, do they celebrate that here?  Yes they do.  Although, it's just starting to become a "thing."  You can tell that this "holiday" is  infiltrating the culture by the displays of heart shaped candy at the HEMA and the gigantic red and white balloon arch over the entrance to Bakker Bart.  

Now Vicki and I usually spend Valentine's Day at home, cooking a fun dinner or indulging in some Chick Fil A sandwiches, that was last year's V-Day.  Not to break from tradition, I volunteered to plan something for tonight.  So here's today's adventure.

Translation: Polish Shop in Eve?
A few weeks ago I found a Polish grocery store in our town.  It had all your staples: pierogi, kielbasa, goomkie, Żywiec, and even Polish sparking wine!  What better way to treat my Polish Princess on Valentine's day than with some Polish delicacies.  Nothing says I love you like (some one else's) home made pierogis right?

Well, snow was predicted today from about noon until early evening.  So I figured I'd try to do the food shopping early. I got to the store about 11:00; I was so excited to practice one of the three Polish phrases I knew, "Dzień Dobry." But my heart sank when I saw no lights and drawn shades.  However, all was not lost, turns out the store opens at 1:00pm.  I returned home dejected so I did some laundry to help ease the pain.  Then at 1:15pm my search for pieorgi and kielbasa continued.  

Things were going well, grabbed a bottle of Polish bubbly, had a pack of kapusta & mushroom pierogis under my arm, now all I needed was the kielbasa, this was the fun part. I stood patiently waiting to be noticed by the lady behind the counter, but she was heavily engrossed in a conversation another lady.  There was NO WAY I was breaking up a conversation between two Polish ladies.  Finally their stories concluded and all eyes were on the American in the Phillies hat with a pack of pieorgis.  

It was go time, but my mind went blank and all I could utter was, "Sorry, I don't speak Dutch." Then the woman behind the counter, said something in Polish, to which I responded, "Sorry I don't speak Polish either."  I could see a scowl beginning to form on her face.  "Okay, be cool Dan, you got this, just say 'kielbasa'."  So I tried to ask if any of the kielbasa were smoked, she then rattled off something else in Polish that ended with no English. I was stunned, like a deer in headlights.  I was starting to sweat.  I then said, to her with a smile, "Which one is your favorite?"  She replied, even louder this time, "Dutch or Polish, NO ENGLISH!"  "Uhhhhhhhh, that one," I pointed at two indiscernible links and raised two fingers, "Two of that one."  

She then bagged up the meats and rang up my other purchases. At this point, I figured let me drop some of my limited Polish on her, "Dzien Dobry?" I said, she looks, smiles and says, "Dzien Dobry." Feeling confident now, as she handed me my items, I exclaim "dziękuję!"I get another smile and a nod.  I think I'm allowed back!

Here are the fruits of my labor today. Szczęśliwych Walentynek! (Happy Valentine's Day!)

I tried to make it look like a heart.  


Photo Credit @VickiZ19