NL in ’07: Being There

Well, we’re here. Here follow some random thoughts on my first two weeks of Dutch life.

We managed to land a totally awesome house. It has office space for me, bindery space for Abi, a huge bedroom for Alex and Fiona, and a guest room (which doubles up as play space for the kids). The problem is that it is going to set our expectations very high when it comes to buying a new house next year. (We’re renting it for a fixed 12 months.)

Downside: cleaning the bathroom and toilet(s) now takes three hours rather than one.

Fucking mosquitoes. There was a point last week where I was almost afraid to take Fiona out of the house in case people thought she had smallpox.

Fast food: Chinese cuisine varies from country to country. The Dutch variant is a Chinese/Indonesian cross-over, and it is amazingly gorgeous. I’ve missed this so much.

The pace of life is slower here than in Scotland. Shops still close on Sundays, and on Monday mornings. If you want anything more sophisticated than cash from a bank, be prepared to wait a fortnight for it to show up.

Even worse: don’t believe a fucking word you hear from KPN (the former telecom monopoly). Really, don’t get me started. After a month of dealing with them, I have concluded that they are institutionally incapable of delivery. If you can ever get through to an actual person (and that’s a big if), you’ll find them to be friendly people who genuinely want to help. Unfortunately, they can’t, because they are thwarted by internal procedures at every turn.

Being offline for so long (we were dark until the middle of this week) made me realize just how much I rely on the Internet, not just for entertainment, but also for the smallest nuggets of everyday information. I’m not at Manfred Macx’ level of integration yet, but I definitely feel dumber when I’m off the grid, like part of my brain is missing. (More thoughts on this to follow soon.)

Speaking Dutch again every day is making my head hurt in lots of different directions. It’s messing with my spoken English.

The biggest problem with my Dutch, however, is the mismatch between my accent and my vocabulary. After getting my mouth used to the vowels and diphthongs again, my accent is essentially native. But because I’ve been out of the country since 1990, I’m unfamiliar with the standard terms for anything related to minor stuff like, oh, the internet. Also, although I recognize and remember idiomatic expressions in colloquial Dutch when I hear them, my brain doesn’t have them ready at hand for spoken use yet. As a result, I just sound like a tongue-tied moron most of the time. Conversations in shops often involve much hand-waving and tortuous circumlocutions.

Strange: the Dutch intarwebs (.nl domains) haven’t fully emerged from the stone age yet. It’s years since I’ve seen so many <marquee> and <blink> tags and sites that don’t work properly in Firefox. I’m sure this is related to the fact that of all European countries, the Netherlands has the lowest Firefox uptake; I just don’t know how.

Potentially related: Dutch radio still has an unhealthy fascination with Supertramp. Scrolling through the FM band is like taking a trip through the 1980s. (Thank goodness for the BBC: I can still catch Zane Lowe and Steve Lamacq online.)

Dutch schools: yay. Although one of the local schools offered to absorb Alex into a normal class, we have decided to send him to the Kernschool in Zaandam instead. It’s further away, but they run a special educational stream for children from 6-12 who don’t speak Dutch. It’s a 1-year course, after which the kids are transferred into a regular school. We reckon this will make it easier for Alex to progress through normal school work at the same time. He starts tomorrow, and we’re all a bit nervous about it.

Downside: it means driving Alex to school instead of walking or cycling. We’re in the process of buying a tiny little car.

Packing up a house takes three months; unpacking at the other end takes at least a week. If you’re moving yourself, GET THE VAN AT LEAST A DAY IN ADVANCE.

Ikea isn’t just a shop any more, it’s up there with death and taxes as one of the inevitable facts of life.

Nice: food is cheaper here.

Dutch bikes are really cool. Forget mountain bikes and racers. The traditional Dutch bike has evolved into a sophisticated cargo-carrying commuter vehicle. Screw your light-weight frames, racing tyres, and all-terrain suspension. These are the shire horses of the bike world. How much can yours carry?

Downside: I feel embarrassed about bringing my cheap-ass “British-style” bike in for a tune-up.

DVD box sets are the only way to go when watching TV series. I don’t have the patience any more to wait a week to find out what happens next. (We’ve just run through the first season of The Wire. Very excellent.)

Are we liking it so far? Yes.