Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanksgiving Day in the Netherlands.

Today was an odd Thanksgiving. Being in the Netherlands means that we were far from our friends and families but we still wanted to have some sort of Thanksgiving celebration. A bit of Googling showed that getting a turkey dinner with all the fixings in the Netherlands would not be an easy task, so we decided to hop on a train and head for Amsterdam where we found that at least one restaurant would be providing a traditional Thanksgiving meal... The Hard Rock Cafe.

Let me be blunt here. I should have known what we were in for when I realized that we were ordering our meals with Rob Zombie blaring in the background. When our food was delivered to the table it was accompanied by Lou Reed, not your typical holiday music. All in all though we were quite happy, we had turkey, carrots and broccoli, mashed potatoes with gravy, and something that was supposed to be dressing but that missed the mark completely. Still, it was better than hitting a döner stand.

After leaving the Hard Rock we wandered around Amsterdam for a while. You should know that this was my first trip to Amsterdam and to me it felt like less of a city than it was a tourist trap. Where we live in the Netherlands almost everyone can speak English but you rarely hear anyone actually using the language. In Amsterdam you heard almost nothing but English. Signs were in English, menus were in English, many of the accents you heard were English, it was like we had left the Netherlands when we got off the train in the country's capitol. It really made me appreciate my adopted home of Tilburg.

We weren't going to let any of this spoil our day though. We wandered around taking in the architecture and admiring the canals. We visited the Homomonument and took a few photos. We checked out a souvenir shop, made use of a street urinal (they should have these things every where) and after a while found ourselves at the Anne Frank House.

After some discussion we decided to go in. We didn't know if this was an appropriate day to take in a museum based on the experience of a young girl during one of the saddest points in human history. But finally we decided to go in.

If you have never been to the Anne Frank House the first thing that strikes you is the silence. No one says a word. You hear the sounds from the scattered video displays and you hear footsteps, you get a small bit of the feeling of what it must have been like to stay completely quiet in order to avoid being discovered. Of course the silence you hear in this building today doesn't come from fear, it comes from respect and sadness and introspection. As you view the exhibits, as you look at those walls, the story of Anne Frank becomes much more real and I was very glad that we took this less than traditional detour on Thanksgiving Day.

You see, this year Thanksgiving Day is also the start of Hanukkah. We were in the Anne Frank house on a day that probably would have be a celebration for her family if they had been there in saner times and we were only there because of a holiday that we were celebrating. Somehow all of this came together as an intense reminder of how thankful we should be for living in a world that is considerably less cruel, less crazy, and less confining. We were reminded just how much we had to be thankful for, so much that it can't really be quantified, and how thankful we are for people like Anne Frank who will hopefully remind us of how terrible humans can be in the hope that we will never find ourselves in a horrific situation like that again. If you find that you need to place the blame for your problems on other people based on their race or ethnicity I ask you to take a hard look inside your heart and see if the real problem doesn't come from there. Anne Frank was a little girl who died for no other reason than who she was. We should do everything we can to make sure that never happens again.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Magic and Loss...

Today I was scanning FaceBook when a link to a Rolling Stone article stopped me dead in my tracks. Lou Reed was dead.

I was in shock, I wanted to be in Nashville at my favorite dive bar begging the DJ to play one more Velvet Undergound song, I wanted to be around other social outcasts who Lou Reed wrote about even though he never met them. I wanted to be somewhere that I could share my loss with others who felt it in the same way I did, but I realize there are few who do.

I grew up in the 80's, at a young age I embraced The Clash and the Sex Pistols and The Ramones, all of these bands were a lot of fun and they seemed to be saying something important even if they weren't talking to me directly. Then one day I walked into a record store and found a copy of "The Velvet Underground & Nico" on cassette, in a bargin bin. I had heard someone talk about this band before but I knew nothing of them, but hey, it was cheap and I had a few bucks on my so I bought it. When I got home I popped the cassette into my tape deck and started listening.

I thought I had wasted my money when the first song started playing. "Sunday Morning" is a sweet and touching ballad until you realize it is about coming down off of heroin. I was too naive to realize that. Next up was a song entitled "I'm Waiting for My Man" and I began to think that my purchase had not been in vain. It was raucous and repetative and obviously talking about a drug deal, this fit right in with my punk sensabilities. A couple of songs later I was introduced to the wonderful screeching sounds that a viola can make in "Venus in Furs". I was enthralled, a song about sado masochism, not something that I was into but something that was being put to music that was never supposed to even be discussed. Song after song it just kept happening, things that you couldn't talk about, Lou Reed was singing about, and not in a "Kids, don't try this at home!" kind of way. No, he was just letting you know that these things existed, that they could be terrible but that some people were strongly drawn to them, that the world was more than the sunny, suburban, landscape that surrounded me.

I don't want to overstate things, "The Velvet Undergound & Nico" did not change my life. I was very intrigued by this album, but it did not alter my way of thinking. No, "White Light/White Heat" is the album that changed my life. This album is almost not a collection of music. It grates at you with screeches and wails, it attacks your intellect with stories of drug abuse and sex and murder. It is not meant to be easy listening but I doubt any album containing a story about a lobotomy performed on a transexual is. Don't get the wrong impression, this was no heavy metal, happy go lucky, gore fest. This was art, it was art that made me realize that I might not be the only freak in the world.

Lou Reed wrote about hookers and queers and pushers and pimps and poor people just trying to survive. He wrote of loss and of love in places where only loss should exist. He wrote about things that polite people don't want to think about but that exists all around them. He never judged the characters in his songs, but he never romanticized them either, he simply made them, and to a large extent me, as human as anyone else. Lou Reed lived a life as intense as the lives he wrote about in his music, his parents tried to cure his bisexuality with electroshock therapy. He abused drugs and alcohol. He was often said to be a difficult person to be around. Lou Reed was no saint, but he was the patron poet of the people society would like to forget about and there are so many of us that he stands no chance of being forgotten.

When I read the news that Lou was gone it took me a few minutes to digest it. I was probably half an hour before I realized that, by coincidence, I was wearing the shirt I bought at the concert I saw him perform in Nashville. At that point, for some reason, the song that started running through my mind was "Sunday Morning"

Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Dutch...

Before we came to the Netherlands we did a lot of reading on Dutch culture. We wanted to understand the people and the rules of social etiquette so we wouldn't find ourselves making too many faux paus... unless of course we decided we wanted to. We read over and over again that the Dutch are a rather cold bunch, not normally interested in inefficient small talk with strangers. We learned that customer service is a concept that is foreign to the Dutch and to not expect much from the staff of most retail stores, not even a "hello" or "can I help" you most of the time. We read that if we decided to learn Dutch we would probably have people looking at us with scorn in their eyes as we fumbled in our early attempts to "speek de Nederlands". Umm... no.

To be fair in all of this I must talk about geography for a second. Most of the people who come here see very little of the country. The vast majority only visit Amsterdam, if they are really adventurous they might go to The Hague or Rotterdam. This makes some sense. These are the three largest cities in the Netherlands and they are all located in "Holland" and when most people talk about coming to the Netherlands they refer to it as "Holland" The Netherlands, however, is not Holland. The Netherlands is made up of twelve provinces. Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and The Hague are all in two of these provinces, North Holland (Noord Holland) and South Holland (Zuid Holland), and along with several other provinces these are places that are known as being "North of the rivers".

The Netherlands can be divided in many ways, but like the United States there is a different way of thinking in the North and in the South. It is really more of a difference brought about by religion than geography though. Most of the Netherlands comes from a strong, no nonsense, practical, Protestant and specifically Calvinist tradition. But there are also two provinces in the South, Limburg, and Noord-Brabant (the province where we live) where Calvinism never took hold and where Catholicism remained the dominant religion. No part of the Netherlands is highly religious any longer but the separate cultures and traditions of the North and South show just how much these religions still influence life today even if almost no one would call themselves and adherent.

So back to our study of Dutch culture. Since very few visitors from English speaking countries ever come to the southern Netherlands all of the information we were seeing related the writer's experiences in the more Protestant areas. This means that we have been pleasantly surprised by how friendly and outgoing the people here are. Everyone in our building says hello when they meet you in the elevator or in the hall. We have quite a few elderly persons in our building and even though most of them speak little or no English they go out of their way to try and carry on a conversation with us. Recently I bought an old, used camera and I had to find a replacement battery for it since the one it was designed to use is no longer made. The friendly gentleman in the camera shop opened several different packages of batteries, without me even asking him to do so, to find one that was the right voltage and that would physically fit into the camera. Just like in the southern US things here are a bit slower, a bit warmer, and a bit nicer here in the southern Netherlands. One person we have met really stands out to me though.

Every Saturday there is a market held right outside our building where vendors sell everything from fruit to bicycle parts to underwear. Of course this being the Netherlands there are several booths selling fresh flowers. On a whim one Saturday we decided to purchase a bunch of flowers for our dining room table, they are so cheap here it would be hard to not buy flowers from time to time. We stopped in a booth where a lady in her 60's offered us a hearty "Hallo" and then started to chat away in Dutch. We could only understand about 3 words of what she said. In English we apologized for not speaking Dutch and she responded in very broken English that it was not a problem. It could have been a problem however, you see most people from the Netherlands who are under the age of 50 speak very good English, over the age of 50 not so much. This is of course a generalization and there are some older people here who speak wonderful English, but noticing this woman's age and they way she phrased her response in English didn't offer us a lot of hope.

As it turns out our assumptions were right. The lady at the flower booth has a very limited knowledge of English, but this is where it gets good. My husband and myself and the woman selling flowers all tried to find words we thought each other would know, we used hand gestures, smiles and frowns, anything we could think of to help us communicate and it all worked. We wound up having a great conversation and she was able to help my husband find the highly fragrant flowers he was looking for. We paid for our flowers and said our good byes having had a very good time, at least we had a good time. We hoped it hadn't been too time consuming or frustrating for the terribly nice woman.

When we returned to the market the next week I quickly found out that our new friend had enjoyed it too as I saw her waving to us from a couple of lines of booths away. We bought more flowers and once again had a good time with her. This scenario repeated itself over the next few weeks but today it changed a little. You see we have started taking a course in Dutch and while we know very little we have already gained enough knowledge in the language to be helpful in a few situations.

Today when we walked up to the flower booth I saw bunches of flowers that I had never seen before. I have worked in a florist shop and so it is somewhat uncommon for me to not know what I am looking at when it comes to flowers. So when our friend walked up I decided to try and ask her what they were called in Dutch. In our first Dutch class we learned simple sentences such as "what is your name?" which in Dutch is "Hoe heet je?". This literally translates as "what are you called?" and I took this as a clue on how to proceed with my question. I pointed to the flowers, apologized in English for how I might be about to butcher the Dutch language, and with a deep breath said "Hoe heet deze?". Suddenly a huge smile spread across the woman's face as she beamed at me with the kind of pride you only normally see a mom show for her children when they say their first word. She quickly told me the name in Dutch, and I won't even attempt to spell it, and then she went on and on about how wonderful it is that we are learning Dutch and how smart we must be to be picking it up so quickly. I think her compliments were a little over stated, but it was pretty amazing, we walked up to buy flowers and walked away feeling like someone wanted to adopt us and take us home. All of this from a bunch of cold, unfriendly people.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Things that are different so far, part 4

So today my husband and myself had our first doctor's appointment since arriving in the Netherlands. We called to set up an appointment last Wednesday and they offered us a time two days later but it was earlier than we wanted to get up so we opted for the next available time which was today. So far socialized medicine isn't causing us to have to wait to see a doctor. When we arrived at the doctor's office we each had a single page form to fill out since we are new patients and right on time the doctor walked out and asked us to come back to his office/ exam room.

Upon entering the room the first thing that struck me was how pricey some of the furniture in his office was. I used to sell high-end modern furniture and so I immediately recognized some chairs and other items from the German manufacturer Vitra. If you know Vitra's products then you can understand how obvious it was to me it was that this doctor is not hurting for money. So we spoke with the doctor for a while, told him about the medications I am on, he took a look inside my husband's ear because of an odd sensation he had been experiencing, wrote out a prescription for some ear drops, and the doctor explained that if we need a prescription we can simply send him an email and if it seems reasonable he will send the prescription to the pharmacist without us having to come in. I then made another appointment for 3 months later (I am a type 1 diabetic and so they want to check me out every 3 months) and we were back on our bikes headed home. The visit cost, for the two of us, a grand total of nothing except for the calories we burned cycling to the office and back.

The entire event was so efficient, so easy, so pleasant it made me wonder how the American health care system could have become so screwed up. We received the care and advice we needed, we were never rushed or hurried, we were able to ask all the questions we wanted, and we left knowing that any future care we need will be handled in the same efficient and effective way. In the US a doctor would never write even a simple prescription without seeing you first, because A. they don't want to be sued and B. they want to charge you or your insurance company for an office visit. Here it seems their top priority is simply to provide good health care.

The Dutch are a people known to enjoy complaining about things, but I have heard zero complaints about their health care system. Politicians in America complain about it, but that is because they are either misinformed or lying. Patients in America tend to not complain about the Dutch health care system as most are too busy complaining about the US health care system.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Things that are different, so far, part 3

Ever since we decided to move to the Netherlands a large number of our friends in the US greeted the news with a common refrain, "at least now you will be able to get health care". You see I am a Type 1 diabetic and because of this it has been years since I have had health insurance in the US. My last employer offered health insurance and having a pre-existing condition wouldn't have prevented me from obtaining insurance through my employer. But for the first year the insurance would not have covered anything relating to my diabetes. I had went through this before and found that during that first year an insurance company can find a way to claim that anything that happens to you is related to diabetes. So I would have worthless insurance that I would have to pay full price for, not a great deal. This predicament is no longer a problem for me.

Today my husband and myself signed up for health insurance through his employer. Some people may be surprised that it came through an employer. They might also find it shocking that our insurance isn't provided by the government. Our insurance comes from a private company. We get to choose our own doctors, choose which pharmacy we purchase our medications from, decide what we wanted our deductibles to be, and thoroughly customize our health care coverage. Is this not what you were expecting from socialized medicine? That's because it isn't socialized medicine. You see the Dutch government doesn't own the pharmacies or hospitals, the doctors don't work for the government, the insurance companies aren't part of the government (although the government does directly provide health care coverage for the poor and elderly like the US government does through Medicare and Medicaid). Socialism involves government ownership of an industry, so this is not socialized health care, it is simply highly regulated health care. It is actually fairly similar to Obamacare (it was even more similar to Obamacare before the legislation was dramatically reduced in effectiveness for solely political reasons by the Republicans), and according to everyone we have spoken with, it actually works.

So at the insurance office today we were allowed to choose which deductible we were comfortable with. After we meet the deductible for the year 100% of our health care expenses will be covered. My deductible is €350 per year and since 2/3rds of the year is already gone 2/3rds of my deductible is as well. That's right, they pro-rate your deductible. I will have to find a general practitioner, known as a "house doctor" here and yes, they make house calls, and I assumed the first visit to my new doctor would eat up most of my deductible. When I said this to the woman helping us at the insurance office she looked confused, you see visits to your house doctor are always 100% covered by your health insurance. She told us that these visits were at no cost to us because if you are sick you need to go do the doctor and if you had to pay to see your house doctor you might not go. I consider this amazingly logical logic. We also found out that medications are VASTLY cheaper here, same drugs made by the same companies just completely different prices. We decided to skip dental insurance for now based on the fact that dental care is actually really affordable. Need a filling? €50.

Many Americans upon hearing the low cost of medical care here might assume that no one would want to be a health care provider, interestingly there doesn't seem to be any shortage of health care providers here. The biggest problem is that it can take a small amount of work to find a house doctor, not because there aren't plenty of them, but because the government limits the maximum number of patients a house doctor can see to help make sure that all of the patients receive good care. Waiting for health care isn't really a problem here as obviously, even with the government's regulations and price controls, health care providers can still make a decent living. Doctors may not be millionaires here, but they aren't hurting either.

So we get low costs, great care, lots of choice, and limited waiting for care, how is this a bad thing America? Why should only the wealthy receive good health care? Why has America created a health care caste system where having a small bank account is almost a symptom of a terminal illness? America can do better, the question is why doesn't it want to?

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Things that are different so far, part 2

One of the hardest things for me to get used to in the Netherlands has to be the hours the local stores are open. Most of the stores here close at 6:00 pm. A couple of grocery stores stay open till 8:00 and restaurants tend to stay open later but over all this city shuts down at 6:00. Except of course for Thursdays. Everything stays open till 8:00 or 9:00 on Thursdays which seemed pretty odd to me until I realized that many offices are closed on Friday making late Thursday hours seem a bit more reasonable. Even odder is that nothing really opens till 1:00 on Mondays. Sunday hours involved local businesses filing a law suit to keep from having to open at all on Sundays. Back in America I could run to a store and pick up almost anything I could want 24 hours a day, here you have to do some very careful scheduling to make sure you don't run out of food at home.

I think I have begun to figure out why the store hours seem so strange to me. In the US most businesses want to be open as long as possible and they normally have no trouble finding employees to fill the hours. In the Netherlands it isn't that people don't want to work, the Dutch have a very strong, Calvinist influenced work ethic. The Dutch maintain a very high level of productivity, one of the highest in the world and equal to if not higher than US labor productivity. All of this productivity happens within the shortest average work week in the world. An average Netherlander only works 29.5 hours per week, because of this they also have a slightly lower average annual income than an average American worker, and they are perfectly OK with that.

In America we seem obsessed with income. We want to make more and more money so we can spend more and more money even though all of the hours we work can prevent us from enjoying the things that we purchase. In the Netherlands the average person seems much less obsessed with income than they are with quality of life. If you can live with less, or less expensive things, you can get by with less money which means you can have more time for yourself and your friends and family instead of your boss. In America we like big, flashy, new cars. The Dutch like these cars as well, but they reason that if a €5000 used car will get you to where you need to go then why would you pay €30000 for a flashy new car? In the US we would say, A. because we can, and B. because it is flashy. This isn't the way the Dutch think.

In the Netherlands someone who owns a flashy car or wears expensive clothes is considered a show off and very shallow. Here almost nothing is purchased on credit so if you own somethings it is assumed that you worked all of the hours required to pay for it in full. If you own an expensive car you obviously have no life, spend no time with friends and family, and are probably not very interesting. In the US someone might decide the responsible thing to do instead of buying an expensive car would be to purchase a bicycle and use it for most of their commuting. Then they would go out to a bike shop and purchase a really nice new bike, an expensive helmet, cycling clothes, and all the other accoutrements required to show the rest of the world that you are a responsible cyclist. The Dutch would just laugh at this. They would instead buy the cheapest used bike they could, ride in their daily clothes, and never think about a helmet. Then they would ride the bike home and enjoy being gezellig.

"Gezellig" is a Dutch word that can't really be translated into English (it also can't be pronounced correctly by most of us who speak English as our first language) but it is a descriptive word relating to things that are cozy or comfortable or warm or pleasantly familiar. It is also possibly the single most important word in the Dutch language. Netherlanders seek out gezellig, they cherish gezellig, they value gezellig over almost anything else. Work isn't gezellig but the income it provides can help provide gezellig. After a certain numbers of hours at work though your job starts to provide diminishing returns when it comes to gezellig as it takes away from the time you could be enjoying gezellig things. The Dutch are very concerned with efficiency and have discovered that when it comes to living a full and happy life a 40 hour work week isn't very efficient and certainly isn't very gezellig.

Could Americans ever figure out a way to translate "gezellig"? It seems like the nation that considers itself the most innovative on Earth should be able to find a way to let its people enjoy life.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Things that are different, so far.

So, I have been living in the Netherlands for about a week now. Long enough to start getting a bit used to things but not so long as to stop noticing things that are different here from the US. If you have spent much time in Europe much of what I will comment on will seem obvious to you, but if you are like me and have never been to Europe or the Netherlands before you may find yourself as surprised as I have been.

First things first, you need to understand that I am living in Tilburg, the 6th largest city in the Netherlands, which has a population of around 200,000. This is not Amsterdam but the Dutch who live outside of Amsterdam will be quick to tell you that their capital city is not a good representation of the rest of their country. Yes, there are a few "coffee shops" here in Tilburg where one can indulge in marijuana but they are far from common place (and no, I have not visited any of them) and while prostitution may be present here I have seen no evidence of it. Again, this is not Amsterdam, this is simply a working class/ university town that does not rely on tourists for its survival.

So what has stood out to me as being different? First off is the food. In the Southern US we love our food spicy and fried. They don't shy away from frying here, but they have a very different idea of what spicy means. Instead they seem to enjoy making most everything sweet. Yesterday we were at a weekly open air market right outside our apartment building and we picked up some sausages that were baked into a croissant like pastry with a curry sauce. The sauce was much less spicy than it was sweet and everywhere you go you see fresh baked, sweet pastries. You can get French fries with a sweet peanut sauce. I have tried paprika flavored Pringle's and they had a bit of sweetness to them, even many of the cheeses are a bit on the sweet side. The Dutch like their food sweet.

They also like it cheap. In general groceries seem about 20% cheaper here than they did in Nashville and the prices in Nashville are rock bottom when compared to a place like New York City. Restaurant prices however seem slightly higher here. I don't even remember seeing a dollar... I mean Euro menu at the local McDonalds. But that's OK because they have the McKroket sandwich which is quite tasty. Drinks, for example soft drinks, are pricey when you eat out. You can easily pay €2 to €2,50 for a coke in a restaurant, but it will probably come in a bottle instead of a paper cup. If it does come in a paper cup you probably won't be dispensing it yourself as is common in the US and even if you do there probably won't be an ice dispenser as most of Europe seems to think that putting ice in a drink will kill either them or you so for safety's sake they just won't do it.

Of course the differences with food don't stop there and I'm not even going to get into the love the Dutch hold for pickled herring. No, I am talking about the inevitable outcome of eating, a visit to the toilet. Many, if not most, toilets in the Netherlands are a bit odd by American standards. First off the toilet in a Dutch home will not be found in the bathroom. The bathroom is used for bathing, the toilet, along with a tiny sink, will be found in the water closet. Once you have located the water closet the real fun begins. Look at an American toilet and you will probably see an open container holding a fair amount of water that serves as a landing, or splashdown point, for human waste. When you look at a Dutch toilet you will probably see a large, relatively dry, expanse of porcelain that angles down into a small reservoir of water at the front edge of the toilet. I have nicknamed this exposed area of porcelain "the observation deck". You see I have no idea why Dutch toilets are designed this way but the end effect is that the product of your efforts are left high and dry and on perfect display. The other effect is that none of the odors are sealed in by water and so elimination becomes a very sensory experience. Not every toilet here is designed this way but it seems the majority in homes, including our home, they are. I am sure there is a good reason for it but I am at a loss as to what that reason may be.

I will end this post on that as I don't want to give you too much to digest at once (pun intended) so check back soon and I am sure I will have more interesting tidbits about living in the Netherlands to share with you.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

An American in Europe

So, contrary to what a few conservatives might think, I am very proud to be an American. I think my country has accomplished many amazing things and is, overall, a pretty great place. Being in Europe, however, has made me realize what it means to be an American outside of America.

Many Americans come to Europe and manage to somehow keep themselves surrounded by other Americans. We haven't had that luxury. Somewhat by choice and somewhat by chance we have found ourselves thrust into the middle of a couple of cultures that we are not, as of yet, really a part of. Before coming here you have an idea of how an American would be received in this situation. You might think that we would be hated, you might think that we would be loved, what we find instead is either indifference or mild curiosity. Being an American here doesn't seem to be any different that being Chinese or Brazilian to the people we are meeting. When we are in areas not frequented by tourists there is at most slight surprise that we would leave the tourist areas where all the signs are in English. When we get the chance to have a conversation with someone in these areas we suddenly learn what it really means to be an American.

In the US I am from Nashville or from Tennessee and both of things carry certain connotations with them. I am a liberal or I am gay or I am white or I am middle class. Here I am none of those things, I am simply an American. Here I am cut from the same stone as Barack Obama and Pat Robertson. I am from New York and LA. I am a cowboy and a robber baron. Gay, liberal, Nashville, none of these things mean anything here, I am simply an American without any asterisks.

This has led me to think that the US, which for years was a great melting pot, has become a very divided place where none of us really are Americans any more, at least until we leave the country. We have stopped being proud of our nation and instead have become proud of our ideologies or lack there of. We have taken sides on everything to such an extent that we have become blind to the things that should be holding us together. The rest of the world still seems to see us as a single entity, why can't we?

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Drinking in Europe

So, for someone who grew up in the Bible Belt the social rules and laws concerning drinking over here in Europe strike me as a bit odd. First off beer here in Berlin and also in the Netherlands is cheaper than bottled water, this is not hyperbole, it is fact. Secondly alcoholic beverages are available every where you go. In the US we expect to see candy at the checkout in grocery stores but here in Berlin you find cigarettes and miniature bottles of liquor. Drinks at a bar are also remarkably cheap by US standards, I think this continent may run on alcohol. Here is where it gets really interesting though, in the time that I have been here, including spending a day at a fair, I haven't seen a single obviously drunk person. Not on the street and not in a bar.
In the US people claim that if we teach sex education in schools our children will become sex fiends. Here nudity and sex are common on TV and sex education is not at all taboo in schools and yet then teen pregnancy rate and std rates are lower than in the US. We raised the drinking age from 18 to 21 in the US but here they seem to have fewer problems with drinking. The Netherlands allows the recreational use of marijuana and they have considerably lower rates of drug use and addiction than we suffer through in America.
You can't say that adopting European ideals concerning these issues would produce the same results in the US, but since what we are currently doing isn't working maybe we should reconsider our tactics?

Tuesday, July 30, 2013


So, it is Monday, July 30th and I am sitting in a hotel room in Berlin, Germany. Last Friday we flew out of Nashville, had a short stop in Washington DC where we grabbed something to eat and almost missed our flight to Amsterdam because they decided to start boarding the plane early. Thankfully we made it an arrived in Amsterdam the next morning.
My husband's adviser picked us up at the airport and took us to his home in Ulvenhout where we ate, drank coffee, and tried our best to stay awake for as long as we could. That afternoon he took us to Tilburg where we would be staying at a B&B for the next two nights with a pair of wonderful hosts who gave us much advice on adapting to life in the Netherlands. The next day we explored the city and found that we would be living in the middle of the city center near a large number of shops and restaurants and the train station. We purchased Sim cards for our phones and began to feel a bit more human again :-) We spent the rest of the day enjoying Kermis, the largest fair in the Netherlands, watched the funeral procession for the fair that they hold on the last day every year and then enjoyed a fireworks display before heading off to bed. The next morning we enjoyed a breakfast of bread and several spreads that are popular with the Dutch including a curry spread and one called filet Americain in which is made of spices and finely ground raw beef. It was very tasty but we thought it was rather funny that our host served it because she assumed with the name Americain that it must be something we eat in America all the time.
After this we got the keys to our new apartment, repacked our clothes in 20 minutes and headed off to yet another airport to catch a flight to Berlin.
Once we arrived in Berlin things got interesting. At every other airport I have flown into you leave the plane and then head to a central area in the airport to collect your checked luggage. Not so here. At this airport you pick up your luggage at the gate where your plane came in. Not knowing this we left the gate, realized our mistake and then found out that we couldn't go back to get our luggage. A couple of hours later we left the lost baggage office with our luggage and hopped on a bus to a train station where we were to board a train to take us to our hotel. That was the plan, but it took us quite a while to be able to find out where to board our train, luckily we did manage to get to our hotel. Once we got to the hotel the confusion didn't stop. In order to turn on the lights or air conditioning you have to insert your key card into a slot on the wall, this took us a few minutes to figure out.
You might think that all of this confusion has left us with a bad impression but it hasn't at all. The people here are so friendly, so willing to help, so open and jovial that you can't dislike this city. Don't get me wrong, the Dutch people that we have met have been very nice, and their English is so good that they can be easier to communicate with, but it seems that they really have to get to know you before they are willing to joke around and open up. Not so with the Berliners, they are your friend as soon as they meet you.
So to summarize our adventure so far, tiring, exciting, confusing, Sim cards, fair funeral, great and sometimes odd food. We have a ways to go before we can call ourselves Europeans.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Back to writing?

Some of you may be shocked to see a new blog post from me, after all I have not posted for quite a while. That is all about to change and in the next few weeks I plan on returning to blogging on a regular basis. I apologize in advance.

So why have I not been posting? The biggest reason has been a lack of time. Until very recently I have been working so much that I just didn't have the time or energy to devote to writing. Now I will have the time, and hopefully the energy to get back to it.

So why am I starting back now? The past few weeks have been pretty momentous for me and the next few weeks will continue this trend. In the last month I have quit my job, sold my car, and my father passed away. In the near future I will be moving into a new apartment and looking for new employment, in a city I have never set foot in, which happens to be in a country I have never visited, on a continent I have never seen. You see my husband and myself are moving to a city in the Southern Netherlands where he will be finishing his PhD and I will be finding out how well some of my progressive political beliefs stand up to a real world test. I support marriage equality, universal health care, regulations that protect workers, greater income equality, and the ability for individuals to have control over their own bodies. Now I will be living in a country where these concepts are the law instead of being considered somewhat fringe beliefs as some of them are in the US. This should be an interesting test.

So stay tuned and see how things play out for me, I'm quite interested in finding out myself.