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Sunday, May 23, 2010

A Bit of This and That

Returning to the Netherlands has been quite the cultural experience. As I stepped into the airport and familiar sounds and sights greeted me, I felt at home and yet not at home. It is a difficult experience to express, unless you too are a TCK (or third-culture kid). My sister is often more vocal about her wish to feel like she fits in, searching for a country and culture that she can claim as her own, while I try my best to blend into my host culture and revel in friends' jaws dropping as I hear for the hundredth time, "What do you mean you're not American? You mean you're a foreigner?" Unfortunately my skin tone and hair colour allow me to blend in nicely into a variety of cultures, which, while a blessing in some ways, also means that I'm not "exotic" enough to be considered a proper foreigner. Plus I don't have an accent. Not a real one, anyhow, except for the one time I spent a weekend around some of my sister's American friends and suddenly found myself lapsing into a very awkward British accent. They seemed to find it amusing to make fun of me and try to copy my strange ways of pronouncing common words.

I'm an observer of peoples and cultures and have found my time here very rewarding so far. First there are the bicycles. While in the US, pedestrians have right of way and then cars, here it is the opposite. There is an established pecking order, busses first, then bicycles, and finally pedestrians. There are very few overweight or obese people here. It's probably because they all ride bicycles. Everywhere! There are lanes specifically designated for bicycles and even little traffic lights with little red and green bicycles! The cutest thing is to see a mother flying by with a child securely strapped into a bicycle seat either in front or behind her or in a little wagon in front of the bicycle. Businessmen all dressed up for a day at the office also fly by on bicycles and students take collapsible bicycles on the train.

Speaking of trains, and busses, they are all on a very tight schedule around here. While ironically, the average everyday person will stand in their garden and chat with a passerby about the lovely weather, the person who is going somewhere must be in a desperate rush or they won't reach their destination. Trains pull into the station a minute ahead of schedule and you have about 30 seconds to get on before they pull out again. Bus drivers impatiently wait for you to hand over your 1.5 euro so they can stamp your dagretour (round-trip day ticket). Everyone is in a rush, rush, rush and if you don't keep up with the rush you'll get left behind.

Little towns, like the one I'm currently staying in, are very neat and clean. Large cities, like Amsterdam, look just like downtown San Francisco with garbage and graffiti obscuring the beauty. Everyone takes pride in their front window display, however. If you pass by someone's house and stop and look at their front window, you will invariably see an arrangement of flowers, or candles, or some other fancy decoration that is carefully placed in the window. Sometimes I stop to take a closer look as I walk past, but then worry they will think I'm peering into their house. But why have such a beautiful window display, then?

I think I enjoy the order of service at church. The Dutch are no-nonsense people and this comes through in their service that eliminates all the frills and fluff that other cultures find necessary. Church starts with a hymn, there are several Scripture readings and hymns, a children's story, an offering, the sermon, and two more hymns. All the necessary announcements are printed in the bulletin so people can read them at their leisure and are not announced up front, in triplicate, as people are instructed to "follow along in your bulletin" as if they can't read! The sermon is about 30 minutes long. Long enough to make a point and short enough that you can remember it.

And finally, I'll end with a humorous observation on the toilet-paper. Yes, you knew I had to address it. While Americans are proud of their recycled toilet-paper, you haven't seen toilet-paper until you've seen this! It's gray and could probably stand up on its own if necessary. Oddly enough, it isn't as rough as it looks. Of course it isn't the only kind of toilet-paper available and it may not even be recycled, but it sure makes for a good laugh!

1 comment:

  1. I like hearing about church service and toilet paper ;)

    I hate announcements that are read from the bulletin. Um... WE CAN ALL READ!



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