Friday, October 26, 2007

Continuing Misadventures in Holland

Just when you thought it was all settling down and you could relax - two new things in Holland happen:

1. I received an email from my former landlady/colleague - the one I had originally rented my first ill-fated apartment from - it turns out that the one utility bill that was in my name, the internet bill, was never completely turned off. Even though I sent a letter to them and tried to cancel it through their Dutch internet site - it's been on since August when I moved. And since they didn't hear from me, they just kept debiting it out of her bank account. She signed a years contract for the internet access starting in March, I will now have to pay for August - March internet access at an apartment I don't live in costing me about 200€. No way around it. Doesn't matter that I don't live there according to the sales company/accounting department at said internet company.

2. I got the light on my bike fixed about three weeks ago - its the type that has a little generator that rubs against your front tire and it powers the front and back light. I hit a big bump coming home one night and it just stopped working. Until I can get it fixed (when I have money and time to go to a bicycle shop in the middle of the day since they all close at 6pm), I wear my backpack with a little red light on the back and carry a detachable light inside it that I can stick on the handlebars. But sometimes, I don't bother snce most of the Amsterdammers are going light free and the streets are pretty brightly lit. Yesterday, I decided not to bring my heavy backpack since I was going out to dinner and just carry my purse.

Sure enough, I got caught in a traffic stop. The very cute Blonde police woman and men were standing near the Weteringschans traffic circle and pulling over bicyclists without lights on their bike. They listened politely as I apologized and tried to explain that the bike light had just stopped working and since all the bike shops close at 6pm, I hadn't been able to fix it. They smiled and said "Well, I just gave that man a ticket so it wouldn't really be fair to him if I let you go." and gave me a 20€ ticket and made me walk my bike to the restaurant.

Sigh...they have to be the nicest traffic cops I've ever met but I wonder when my "Foolish Foreigners Tax" will end?

Monday, October 22, 2007

The ant and the grasshopper

Are you familiar with the story of the ant and the grasshopper? How the ant spent all summer working to prepare for the winter and the grasshopper did nothing and eventually had to depend on the ant for help?

My best friend from college and I were always known as two grasshoppers - jumping around all summer singing and playing the fiddle thinking "fiddle dee dee - tomorrow is another day". (we were the Scarlett O'Hara of grasshoppers). I spent much of my life like that - not paying bills on time, jumping from job to job, house to house, boyfriend to boyfriend and pursuing happiness.

I got serious after my mother died. I decided to get a job with health insurance and develop a career. So I've spent the last ten years in love with the idea of the ant within me. I focused hard on my work and I spent a lot of time sacrificing things for my career. Now a grasshopper's habits die hard so I still struggled with my bills, I still struggled with committing, but not with my job. To my job I was faithful and true.

I saw my fellow grasshopper this week. She's married with two kids and happy and full of energy. She's not the grasshopper she was in the past either. But we drank our way around Amsterdam and laughed and gossiped like the good ole days. I went back to work reluctantly but still in love with the idea of trying to make it happen.

On Friday, I received news that a new colleague had died. I had met him several times. I'm new to this organization but it didn't take long to know about K. He was a loud, funny, smart Greek man who had gone from shipping engineer to Greenpeace organizer to Operational manager at MSF. He always had a cigarette in his hand, a big smile, and hug for everyone, and was always the life of the party. I saw him about two weeks ago in Berlin where I went for the annual planning session. He seemed tired, the sparkle faded. He seemed anxious, his hands were shaking, and he didn't look well. He confided to my colleague and I that he just wasn't himself. Another colleague told me that he though K needed to take a vacation - a long vacation to go home and see his wife and child.

On Friday, we heard that he died alone in the apartment he was living in Berlin. He had stayed home sick and when no one could get in touch with him, they had the police break the door down and found him. When the news was delivered on Friday afternoon, the entire office was shocked. Some of the most macho people there wept openly. No one could believe it was true. All I could think of was how stressed out he looked in Berlin and how sad it was that he died alone in a strange city far away from his loved ones.

I moved to Amsterdam, in a way, to get away from the very "Ant" friendly city of Washington DC. I had hoped that a move away would make it easier to go home early, pursue hobbies, meet a boyfriend, maybe start a family. But old habits die hard. The past six months have been amongst the most stressful months of my life. Rather than using that time to really break all the old modes, I've replicated them here. I don't want to die alone in five years (for K. was only five years older than me) in my apartment from work-induced stress. I think I need to make a change - retain some of the good of the ant but find some of the grasshopper from my twenties.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Broek in Waterland

I just found this post from my trip in October up to broek in Waterland - a lovely little village about a 40 minute cycle north of Holland... enjoy!

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Another side of Holland

Because I live in Amsterdam, famed licentious city of prostitutes and marijuana, its easy to forget as an outsider that there is a whole other side of Holland... one where strictly religious people frown on "sinning" and where Calvinism reigns supreme. I was just looking at the International Herald Tribune and there was an interesting article there called Small Town of Urk exemplifies pious heart of the Dutch Christian Right. It was quite enlightening to see that there was also a Christian right here.

I was talking to two new friends of mine, she's American and he's Dutch. He's from the South and we were talking about visiting family. He mentioned that where he grew up, you could never see your friends or hang out with them on Sundays. "Sunday is the day for family"he said - "in Holland, your house is your church and you keep it clean like a religion. The man cleans the garden and the car and the woman cleans the house. On Sundays you visit your parents and you all sit together and talk - no tv, no fooling around." This would explain why most of the shops, except around Centraal Station are closed on Sundays.

I've also heard that the Dutch take their mealtimes VERY SERIOUSLY. Most of the people in my office take off at 5pm. From what I have been told, dinner is at 6pm with the whole family around the table. Now, not everyone is like this - I do live in Amsterdam after all. But I'm also an expat so I tend to hang out more with either expats or Dutch people who have had an expat experience. But because the country is so small, we have people commuting in from Utrecht, the Hague, and other countries. A lovely woman that I work closely with commutes 2 hours each way on the train through the countryside to come to work and she has four children!

I've slowly been acclimatizing to the Dutch life but I still feel like there will be a side that I will never know. While friendly, open, and fun - the Dutch are also extremely close with their friends from university and childhood - the hierarchy is family, those friends, work events, and if there is any time left over - perhaps some strange expats. But maybe its not so different from the US after all... I remember thinking how difficult it was to assimilate to North Carolina when I moved there - trying to find someone who wasn't married with kids to befriend me and in the end, my close friends became other transplants looking for the same.