Learning to walk

5 September 2011

I have been hit by the cruelest jet lag, but hopefully i’m over it now. It has prevented me from basically living after 9 at night. When I say 9 at night here, I really mean 9 during the day. Due to the seasonal shift and the close proximity of the Netherlands to the Arctic the sun sometimes doesn’t finally disappear till around 9:30-10 at night.

This caused some difficulties during the first days here. I was staying at the Ibis Hotel in Utrecht – a pretty nice place. Cosy rooms, good TV. Little to complain about. So it was around 5:30 and I thought to myself ‘mmm I am hungry, might just wait till it’s dark and i’ll get something to eat’

And so I waited.

I didn’t trust the great internal clock which is my stomach. How could I? In the past 24 hours it had inhaled a massive lunch while flying over Iraq. These weren’t normal times. My stomach had been recruited as a terrorist – a sleeper cell inside my own body. I could trust no one.

So I did what all hungry people/those who are struggling with an eating disorder do. I slept.

When I woke up at 9:00 I was shocked to see the sun only just coming down. I quickly got dressed and stumbled down the stairs to the restaurant.

Now, here’s an interesting opportunity to discuss the thing which I was most worried about before coming on this adventure – my lack of ability to speak Dutch. Now, I don’t want to sound like i’m somekind of amazing person – but I have basically mastered most of the ability to read it. I mean, I can’t read a book or anything, but some items I have been able to discover their meaning based on the context of the use of words or the similarities to english words.

‘Melk’ is Milk.

Yes. I’m basically Einstein.

Most people here DO speak English. Praise Jebus. I am absolutely astonished by these people based on that fact alone.

Sometimes, however, things do get lost in translation. Sarcasm is sometimes one of my main weapons in trying to eliminate awkwardness. Unfortunately, when a Dutch person doesn’t understand your sarcasm things just become more awkward.

There was this one guy at the hotel that spoke EXCELLENT english. Anyway, I usually dealt with him (thank god.) He is exceptionally nice.

So one day I was down there flicking through the brochures near the front desk. They have a bunch of touristy things to do – much like hotels anywhere in the world.

There was one brochure for the Dolfinarium. I know. It possibly has the greatest name in the history of the world.

The Dolfinarium features dolphins and other aquatic life, but seems a bit. Corny. I don’t know. Watch this ad and judge for yourself.

<iframe width=”560″ height=”315″ src=”http://www.youtube.com/embed/Oxr4s5XrgjE” frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>

HOTEL GUY: Find anything good in there?

ME: *heavy sarcasm* Well, the Dolfinarium looks amazing.

HOTEL GUY: OH! THE DOLFINARIUM! It’s very cool. My uncle works there. I’ve fed the Walrus’ and everything. You should definitely go.

ME: oh…well, I’ll definitely keep it in mind.

That did not go as planned.

Things got even worse that night at dinner.

I was standing at the bar waiting to get a drink and order some munchies.

ME: Hello

BAR GUY: *insert 30 seconds of unbroken dutch speak*

ME: can I please get a beer and a steak?

BAR GUY: …okay

The awkwardness of that conversation is rivalled by the conversation I hope in a shop whilst we were stopped for a bit in Singapore.

ME: G’day

SHOP ATTENDANT: *giant pause for 1 minute*

It was as if I had cast Petrificus Totalus on her. She just stood there. Stunned. Perhaps the pure amount of Australia which I had pumped into this first encounter with a truly foreign person was too much for her to handle. The subtle amounts of Australian she had ingested throughout her life were nothing compared to this. Her brain began to shut down. Her pupils became dilated. Her heart was racing at a million times an hour.


I then left the shop. Well, I walked through the shop. Her pause/minor stroke had granted me the time I needed to peruse her store.

Well done, Dale – yet another successful conversation with a human being.

I think the most awkward moment though came on my first day/first hour within the Netherlands. I was on the train from Amsterdam to Utrecht and I was absolutely amazed. I was taking photos of all the green grasslands. The animals. The farm houses. Everything. It’s beautiful.

And then this man entered the carriage.

I had no idea what language he was speaking, but it sounded like German.

Everyone in the carriage looked at him as he walked heavily down the train. He was menacing. Of course, in these situations it’s best to follow the actions of other commuters. I think the man then started speaking in French. Of course. He’s going through the languages. He’ll speak English soon.

Everyone seemed to be showing him their ticket or some id. I immediately freaked out. I had no idea what this guy wanted. I didn’t have any special identification from the Netherlands. I had nothing. Yet he continued to speak French, German, Dutch – but no English. Oh God. I’m being deported. This is lovely. I travel around the world and the most I get to see of the Netherlands is an amazing airport and the greenest grass in the world. Now to mention a few cattle and sheep, but I don’t think they count.

He was staring over me. Breathing down my neck. To me, he was practically the devil. He came into this carriage where I was being quite peaceful and joyous and he stole it all away.

I handed him my passport and ticket. He looked at the cover of my passport.

He then gave me a look of complete WTF. Oh god. He had no interest in my passport at all. He glanced at my ticket and gave it back to me.

No doubt he left the carriage thinking that all Australians suffer from at least some kind of intellectual disability.

My most heart-warming conversation thus far occurred within a supermarket. Supermarkets here aren’t as big as in Australia. They don’t seem to have the huge deli, bakery sections which we have. They still have them, but there doesn’t seem to be so much space involved. On the other hand, the entire deli department of Australia is replaced by cheese. So. Much. Cheese. Every shape, size and type that you can imagine. I never realised there were so many different types. The aroma they create is kind of amazing.

Furthermore, the supermarkets here sell alcohol in them – which is incredibly cheap.

Anywho, I had just finished my shopping and got to a register.

CHECK-OUT CHICK: *speaks Dutch for 40 seconds*

ME: 23 Euros correct? Here you are.

CHECK-OUT CHICK: Oh wow. I’m sorry. I didn’t realise that you don’t speak Dutch.

ME: Oh no. Please. It’s your country, I should be speaking your language if anything.

CHECK-OUT CHICK: No I shouldn’t! That’s no excuse! My apologies.

My mind was blown by that conversation. I mean, how could someone not be pissed off that they have to swap between their native and foreign languages. In Australia we would be cranky all the time about it. We hate it when taxi drivers can’t speak English. We hate it when anyone can’t speak English. It’s just weird. The Dutch people really do treat people as visitors. As people who matter. Well, at least some of them.

Thank you CHECK-OUT CHICK. You have restored my faith in humanity and decency.



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