Sunday, 14 July 2013

Dutch Retreat

Later this week I will submit my thesis, marking the end of my academic year at UU. Hard to believe! Looking back on the year, to quote Dickens: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…” – A Tale of Two Cities 

The best of times? Making new friends, studying, working, and partying with amazing people from all over the world. Living in the Netherlands, in the heart of Europe, the biggest little country who could – and still can! Studying an exciting, vibrant and fresh area of law, in the very place where it is all unfolding. Having easy access to The Hague, with the Peace Palace and its incredible international law library, and the international tribunals and courts. And, living in Utrecht, the best kept secret in the Netherlands; old enough to know better but young enough to do it anyway, ever smiling!  

The worst of times? The sheer volume of information to be absorbed, assimilated and then written about with some semblance of authority. The demanding intensity of the study load given the short timeframes of the quarter system. The utter loss of confidence as you struggle with beginning anew, as an expat, with an area of law and way of life far beyond your comfort zone. Long dark nights studying, doing research, writing, fretting about deadlines, and, in the winter, well, very long dark nights! 

But after those “dark nights of soul,” the “Dark Knight Rises.” That film, which borrowed liberally from Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities,” ends with Bruce Wayne being espied, alive and well, in Florence after being presumed dead. It was the Batman series swan song for director Christopher Nolan and actor Christian Bales, but of course it will continue with a fresh perspective. Likewise, this is my last study blog, but next fall another student will begin afresh! 

Between submitting my thesis and graduation in late August, I will have time to relax, enjoy a visit from my son, travel a bit, and reflect both on the past year and what comes next. Whatever comes next, I am pretty sure you will find me in Utrecht. I’ll admit, what began as an infatuation has ripened into an abiding love. Where else can you dine on a medieval werf, watching the sublime and the ridiculous drift by? Opera singers, “mooners,” not to mention the odd person falling into the gracht. Where else can you enjoy carillon bell concerts from a 600-year-old tower that include Pink Floyd’s The Wall? (This year’s conclusion to the summer concert series). Where else do large teapots suddenly appear on top of shopping malls? 

So, I conclude with advice from Dickens: “The most important thing in life is to stop saying ‘I wish’ and start saying ‘I will.’ Consider nothing impossible, then treat possibilities as probabilities.” ―  David Copperfield. Take care, and watch out, as you may find me cruising around Utrecht on my bike, pinging right behind you!   

Tot ziens!

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Going Dutch (Advanced Version)

As you near the one-year mark of living in the Netherlands, you realize that not only are you accustomed to living Dutch, you ARE Dutch. How do you know?  
You understand there is no description more dismal than “ongezellig,” and (bonus point!), can pronounce this word using proper fricative g’s and accompanying note of disproval.  

You understand that “leuk,” and “lekker” both mean nice, but that lekker means nice to the senses, such as tasty, warm, or luscious, and should probably not be used to describe your colleague or your boss. Bonus point, you can use the words “leuk,” “lekker” and “gezellig,” properly nuanced, in one sentence.  

You appreciate the economy of using one word, “snoepen,” to refer to the act of eating sweets and perhaps doing so on the sly.   

You routinely add the diminutive “je” to everyday words. Bonus point, you can ask for a “mesje” (knife) and not be misunderstood as asking for a “meisje” (girl). Important if you happen to be near a red light district!    

You no longer giggle when you see the street names “Fockstraat” and “Kockstraat,” and can say the words “uitvaart” and “rondvaart” with a straight face.   

When shopping for cheese, you understand the difference between “jong” (young) and “belegen” (mature) and (bonus point!) understand that “jong belegen” is not an oxymoron.   

You can distinguish between yogurt and kwark. And, (bonus point!) you prefer kwark.  

You have an Albert Heijn bonus card and always have your own bag handy.   

You think of “haring hapjes” (raw herring) as Dutch sashimi.   

You understand that “half seven” is 6:30, not 7:30.  

You can say “24” as “4 and 20” without thinking of blackbirds baked in pie.   

You are no longer surprised when traffic comes to a halt so that the bridge on the road can lift up and let several boats go by.   

You stop mentally placing the word “death” in front of the Dutch word for stair, “trap.”    

You think Douwe Egberts, not Starbucks.   

You continually complain about the weather and, (bonus point!) have referred to it as “hondeweer” (dog weather).   

You believe that bicycle traffic signals are only suggestions.   

You can lock your bike to just about anything, can locate it when you get back, and (bonus point!) can extricate it from the dozens of bike parked all around it without knocking most of them over.   

You can drink coffee and text while riding your bike, (bonus point!) sometimes both at the same time.    

You understand there is no arguing with “dat kan niet.”   

You buy fresh flowers just because they are so pretty and (bonus point!) so cheap.   

When inadvertently making eye contact with people through curtainless windows, you smile and wave and they smile and wave back.   

You can identify drop (black licorice) by sight, and (bonus point!) you like the salty ones.   

You know that animals speak Dutch, too: cows boe, frogs kwaken, pigs knor, birds tjilpen, and chickens say “tok tok.”  

You can read all the Dutch subtitles on English TV programs and (bonus point!) have learned all the important epithets in doing so.   

You can no longer imagine living anywhere else!