The little differences

Vincent: You know what the funniest thing about Europe is?

Jules: What?

Vincent: It's the little differences. I mean they got the same shit over there that they got here, but it's just - it's just there it's a little different.

Jules: Examples?

Vincent: Alright, well you can walk into a movie theater in Amsterdam and buy a beer. And I don't mean just like in no paper cup, I'm talking about a glass of beer. And in Paris, you can buy a beer at McDonald's. And you know what they call a, uh, a Quarter Pounder with Cheese in Paris?

Jules: They don't call it a Quarter Pounder with Cheese?

Vincent: Nah, man, they got the metric system, they wouldn't know what the fuck a Quarter Pounder is.

Jules: What do they call it?

Vincent: They call it a Royale with Cheese.
Some more that I've noticed:

* Using English that's just a little bit off. Our favorite orange juice is called CoolBest. The slogan on the carton: "We keep it Cool, you get the Best!"

* Bread starts out crusty and gets softer as it gets stale.

* When you leave a room, even if you don't know anyone and haven't spoken to anyone, such as in a gym locker room, you're supposed to say goodbye, and everyone says goodbye to you. Speaking of gym locker rooms, the door to the men's locker room at our gym opens at an angle that reveals the room to the whole gym. All they had to do was put the door hinges on the other side, but no -- found this out the hard way, looking up as I was drying my body to see everybody working out through the doorway. And one other thing: at the gym's co-ed sauna, you are required to be nude. "No Clothes or Swim Attire Allowed."

* People do things on bikes you wouldn't believe. Multiple dogs, children swinging off baskets or balanced on handlebars, texting on cell phones, lighting cigarettes or joints, carrying three bags of groceries, giving rides to one or even two friends, who sit on the back looking bored -- or stand up on the rear bar. The postmen and police ride bikes. We saw two cops commandeer a couple bikes while chasing a suspect. They later returned the bikes and thanked the owners. Saw a woman pulling a homemade wooden cart behind her bike. In the cart, a toddler and a puppy, hugging each other.

* Different priorities in government. A smoking ban is coming next year, and folks are wondering what will happen in coffeeshops (hash bars). And the government panel said the other day that they are planning on screening the employees off -- not the patrons -- behind smoke-proof glass, with customers free to smoke throughout the shops. The problem? It might discourage people from working there because it would make it difficult for employees who so desire to smoke on the job. They are looking into solutions. You would think I'm kidding. You would be wrong.

* Stores close at 6. All of them, except restaurants. It means you have to plan ahead. It also means you don't have the elderly working nights at round-the-clock product-mausoleums such as rural Wal-Marts (there are of course no Wal-Marts here because of the labor laws). "Everyone should go home to their families at the end of the day," is how one Dutchman put it to me. On Thursdays -- "Shopping Evening" -- stores are open till 9. Sundays, everything (except bars and restaurants) is closed, actually closed. There will be a pharmacy open in every town, that's it. Monday mornings, things open an hour, hour and a half later than usual. For obvious reasons.

* When they talk about the weather, they are supremely confident: "Tomorrow it will be 26 degrees by 3 o'clock." "Next Saturday it will rain in the morning."

* All banking is electronic. No checks, just automatic withdrawal. When a company hasn't set up automatic withdrawal yet -- the water company, for example -- they send you a bill in the mail. You write your bank account number on it, sign it, and drop it back in the mail. No postage needed. All bills come with prepaid envelopes. No ATM fees, no matter which bank's machines you use.

* You buy your rock concert tickets at the post office.

* At the library, there are information booths with stuff for youth, about drugs and teenage pregnancy and so on. But they are not propaganda -- they puncture myths on both sides of the debate. No, LSD does not cause DNA damage. No, despite the anecdotal evidence that abounds, marijuana is actually not linked to long- or short-term memory loss once the effects subside. Not that the Dutch need worry about these things as much as the U.S. does -- both drug use and teenage pregnancy levels are far below U.S. levels. Also at the library, you pay for Internet and borrowing DVDs. Equivalent of four bucks to borrow a DVD.

* You can buy beer at 16 -- not that I've ever seen anyone carded, ever. Our local cafe is always full of high-schoolers who are well-behaved and friendly -- and drinking. They are learning to drink moderately in a social setting, instead of getting shitfaced on their own in secret somewhere and driving home (you can't drive here till 18, and you can't afford it anyway with gas at $6 a gallon). The news item in the states a few weeks back, about the mother facing two years in jail for serving alcohol to her son's 16-year-old friends ... was greeted with dumbfounded uncomprehension by the Dutch people we mentioned it to (it was no doubt happening all over town as we were talking). Ditto the teen in Georgia doing ten years for consensual oral sex with a 15-year-old. Absolutely incomprehensible here.

* Occasionally, a grocery store runs out of something. I mean. actually. runs. out. There is no diet iced tea today. You are to shrug and drink something else. Once there was no milk.

* You are required to get liability insurance, which pays for your lawyer and settlement if someone tries to sue you, for tripping them on the sidewalk or something.

* The default is dogs are welcome in shops, even restaurants. In places where they are not welcome, you will see a "no dogs" sticker, one of which says, "Alas! I cannot come in!" with a picture of a crying dog.

* If a restaurant is doing renovations, they remain open and everyone works around it. You wince at the hammer blows, duck under the ladders, squeeze past the drywaller, belly up beside the thirsty electrician.

* When you sell your house, you take everything with you: appliances, fixtures. We heard of someone who took their wood floors. We still don't have light fixtures because they took them, and I'm afraid to rewire, not knowing the wire colors yet. Need to get on that.

* Cheese comes in three types: Young, Mature, and Old. All are yummy, but Old is the yummiest.

* The Daily Show is not daily. It's a one-hour best of, shown on Sundays -- on CNN (think about that for a second). In case you were wondering, there is no Fox News Channel, at least not from our cable company. We do get Comedy Central -- with "The Office," "South Park," "The Simpsons," and -- strangely -- "Third Rock from the Sun" and "That Seventies Show." We get about 50 channels, with 10 in English. On Dutch local news, they will find a way, even if they have to go out of their way, to show nudity.

* And we spied this at a nearby corner:

Chick stoplight


BlondebutBright said...

What a comprehensive post! I don't even know where to start. OK - where is that stoplight?

I really appreciated this - after almost six years in NL I have my love/hate moments with this country, but this brought back a lot of the positive (if not shocking!) differences. Specifically?

-I love the bike culture.
-I love that I've forgotten what a checkbook is.
-I appreciate the healthy (other than Ajax fans) attitude towards drinking alcohol.
-Cheese. Yummy.

Grendel said...

The stoplight is in Haarlem, corner of Gedempte Oudegracht and (I think) Kleine Houtstraat -- in front of the V&D.

I expect the hate part of the equation will expand sooner or later, but we're still in thrall mostly. If I could design a country, it would look a lot like Holland. I know a lot of people have different impressions -- on the Expatica forums, for example. Man, they HATE HATE HATE Holland, viciously, with all their American strength.

Another funny thing: how their commercials go beyond sex sells -- making out for ten seconds or even having simulated sex in the commercial is what sells. Even kids -- that one commercial where the two cartoon kids (how old are they supposed to be? 12?) are making out on the couch, and the angry dad keeps coming in and yelling at them. The boy pops open his orange fizzy drink and the bubbles float up and form a sexy woman, who takes the father away by the hand -- and the kids go back to making out.

dunkeys said...

The bicycle culture sounds great -- the WSJ ran an article a month or two back that showed all the absurdly excellent models of bikes and their uses (e.g., six seaters, kids dropped at school, flat-beds that can haul five hundred pounds). I'm envious.

More questions!

What's the weather like?
Where does the food come from?
And this might sound dumb, but are their professional sports? Maybe just football? Curious.

Awesome post, Grendel.

traca de broon said...

A few more:

1. An annual holiday is a serious matter here, and it's not just a few days but often a full month, and often that month is August, and during that time businesses just shut down, such as dry cleaning businesses, even when they have your wedding dress and you are getting married in a week. I learned this in 2001.

2. Parental discipline is far more shall we say laid back here. I see the good and bad to this: in one sense, children are raised more independently. On the other hand, enduring running, screaming toddlers in a cafe while the parents nonchalantly duck behind their newspapers is a bit of a drag.

3. Don't assume you can use a credit card here. You most likely cannot.

4. Dutch people, particularly older men, like to sing -- loudly, unabashed -- especially when cruising through town on bicycles. I spent a good ten minutes in the bread aisle of the supermarket listening to a man yodel.

5. City dwellers without gardens just sit out on the street on a sunny day, drinking wine and watching their children play in traffic.

6. "Goodbye" is a sound rather than a word. The proper goodbye is "tot ziens," (until I see you), and the more casual is "doei," which everyone seems to have their own rendition of, ranging from "dooeey dooches" to "doy doy doy doy." My goal is to become fluent enough to pull that off.

7. When ordering wine in a cafe, you can only specify color (white, red, rose) or taste (dry or sweet). And when you clink glasses here, you have to maintain eye contact with the clinkee. Don't look at your glass. It's harder than it sounds.

Grendel said...

It's been raining since May, though today is nice. It's that northern temperate light sea drizzle kind of place. Often cloudy. Doesn't get too cold, nor too hot. Like a slightly sunnier London maybe? But it's been bullshit for more than a month. And cold. I'm wearing a sweatshirt today.

As they have since time immemorial, they grow everything in fields and greenhouses (see tulipmania, 1600s, when a single bulb could be worth more than a house). They are a net food exporter, I believe, one of the bigger ones in Europe. Not so sure about livestock. Lotta cows picturesquely dotting the countryside when you take the trains. Fruit seems to come from Spain, north Africa, middle east.

Sports: Soccer ("voetbal"). Many leagues and teams. As Blonde But Bright mentions, Ajax is the biggest team in Amsterdam (I think). One time in Utrecht, we were sitting outside along a canal at an Indian restaurant when the owner came out and rather nervously urged us to move inside. We heard a dull roar coming from somewhere across the town. "The hooligans," he said. "The football hooligans are coming."

Strangely, baseball is becoming a popular sport here. Haarlem especially -- there is an actual baseball stadium here, with pro and semi-pro and women's and amateur and old-timer's leagues. I would be playing in the old-timer's league if I hadn't screwed my knee.

Down the street is a park -- a basketball court with a soccer goal under each b-ball goal. I walk past it ten times a day. I have yet to see a basketball.

BlondebutBright said...

Next time I'm in Haarlem I'll have to check it out.

I was fortunate enough not to discover the Expatica forums for several years - even now, on my darkest day, I avoid them. It's really depressing to get that far down about everything. At some point you just want to enjoy life!

And I agree about the commercials - always an experience.

Brando said...

Awesome stuff, Grendel and Traca. I am so jealous. I would miss the 24-hour convenience of things being open, but that would be pretty easy to get used to.

That is also awesome about baseball. Do they show American pro sports on TV? If I could watch the occasional Cubs and Bears games, I think I could move.

Grendel said...

Here are some Dutch commercials. Seriously, you simply will not believe they put this stuff on TV.

The value of learning English

Coffee, uh, creamer

A public service announcement

How does this sell the product again?

TLB said...

I almost lost my latte on that creamer one.

Brando said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Grendel said...

Thanks --- here are the corrected links.

A public service announcement

How the hell does this sell the product again?

Brando said...

Thanks, Grendel, and sorry for the name slippage -- I forgot to use your CB handle!

The Soesman Language Training one is just brilliant.

traca de broon said...

In the early 90s -- the peak of "Married with Children" popularity, at least here -- Ed O'Neill starred in a TV ad for a shoe store. The spot had just one line: "If your shoes look like shit, you look like shit."

Ned said...

This is really strange: I was replaying the Pulp Fiction dialogue in my head today as I made hot dogs and considered whether or not to put mayo on them... (about two lines later in that scene Travolta is talking about mayo on fries...)

Then tonight I Google Rebecca Curtis and come here.

Cool site.

Grendel said...

Great minds, Ned...

In other news:

Labour PvdA, Democrats D66 and green-left GroenLinks are urging that coffeeshops be exempted from the smoking ban. "We have chosen this soft drugs policy, and that is why smoking should remain permitted in coffeeshops," said PvdA MP Bouwmeester. Van Gent (GroenLinks): "A coffeeshop where you are not allowed to smoke is like swimming pool where you're not allowed to swim."