Monday, May 25, 2009

My Expat Shopping List

Whenever I make the trip back to England, even after nearly 9 years living in the Netherlands, I arrive in the supermarket armed with a shopping list.

The list covers the things I cannot get in Dutch food shops, things that are just not the same as the English version, or items that are so much cheaper in the average Tesco than they are in Albert Heijn or the local expat shop. It makes sense of course, if you buy English (or any other international food) here in the Netherlands then you are of course paying for the import. So, when I get the chance we fill the car up with English goodies and haul it back ourselves.
So here is my typical list:
  • Bisto gravy granules
  • Crumpets
  • Malt loaf
  • Custard powder and/or Ambrosia ready made low fat Devonshire custard
  • Ambrosia low-fat rice pudding
  • Stuffing
  • Penguin bars (for my husband who has acquired a taste for them)
  • Guinness (for my husband who has acquired an obsession for it)
  • Jelly
  • English language kid's magazines
  • English language books
  • Prawn Cocktail crisps
  • English cheese (like cheddar or red Leicester)
  • Branston pickle (although I notice the XL Albert Heijn is now stocking it)
What do you stock up on when you pop back "home"?

Monday, May 18, 2009

A Tip for Learning the Local Lingo

Many years ago, when I first moved to the Netherlands, I received a telephone call from the sales department of de Volkskrant, a leading Dutch national newspaper.

I explained to him in English that my Dutch was non-existent so subscribing to the delivery of a daily newspaper in a language I did not yet speak seemed a waste of my husband's hard earned Dutch guilders (I was also job hunting at that point).
He replied, in English, that it would be good for my Dutch if I read the Volkskrant daily. He had a valid point.
It didn't work as a sales push, but it is certainly good advice for those wanting to master the Dutch language. Reading newspapers and magazines in the local lingo will certainly help immerse you in the native language. Reading a language is far easier than listening and understanding, so an excellent technique to build up some vocabulary, as well as keep abreast of things going on in your adopted land!
Check out for a great overview of the top news in Dutch in national and regional papers.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Queue Hopping the Dutch Way

A while back, I read "Watching the English" by Kate Fox. A fascinating read if you are English or spend time with English people, or if you just want to get to know us English folk a little better. There was a lot of penny dropping going on during my scurry through the chapters, lots of thigh slapping and "So THAT's why"......

The English, as a nation, are polite. Very very polite. It makes dealing with some of the more blunt Dutch manners even harder for English expats than other nationalities. However, an American reader got in touch recently about the annoyance he feels at the lack of queue etiquette in the Netherlands. Ahh, I thought, a pet topic of mine! I am English, therefore I queue.

I queue patiently, joining the line in order of arrival. Waiting for a bus for example, this means English people get on the bus in the same order they arrive at the bus stop. So if you arrive last, you are at the end of the queue, and if there are no seats on the bus that means you are the guy standing up! Logical huh?

Not in the Netherlands. Every morning I used to get the bus to work. Every morning I was generally p'd off by the time I got on the bus. First to arrive at the bus stop most mornings gave me the RIGHT to get on the bus first. Right? No. The Dutch way to get on a bus is EVERYONE CHARGE to get on and screw the order you arrived in! If that means arriving first and still spending the 30 minute bus journey standing up whilst hurtling down the motorway then so be it.

The whole experience did not sit well with the ingrained English queue culture I have. I was relived to hear that it also sits a little uncomfortably with the American culture.

Then I read this headline in the NRC:
"Brit op Titanic was te beleefd" - translated this means "Brits on the Ttitanic were too polite". I read further and in short, from research undertaken by the Universities of Zurich and Queensland, the British men were too polite for their own good. By standing patiently in line to let women and children go first, whilst their American counterparts fought to get to the front of the queues to get on lifeboats, British men had 15% less chance than the Americans of surviving the disaster.

Is that the Dutch rationale for fighting to get on the bus? A result of some inherent survival instinct? If something happens, at least they are not the ones left standing in the aisles....... it's us polite English folks!

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Green, Green Grass of the Netherlands

There is a children's playground two minutes from home, a place that my son loves to visit of course. However, whilst i enjoy watching my toddler have fun, I am not so keen on the rituals we have when we come back from the park.

At the front door we do a shoe check, followed by a pram wheel check - that's at least four feet and four wheels. The result of the examination usually leads to profanities (from me) and calls of "dog poo, dog poo" (from my son), followed by "project scrape and wash".

Hondenpoep. To you and me, that's dog poo. And it is everywhere in the Netherlands. If it is green then it is adopted as a dog toilet. Even if the patch of grass is adorned quite clearly with signs forbidding dogs, it still ends up as a doggie bathroom.

Now, I am not talking about the odd pile to manoeuvre around. In my local park it is truly a dog poo obstacle course that only military trained personnel can complete without incident.

We actually mailed a complaint to our local council, believing quite strongly that slides, swings and dog poo are not an ideal combination. Within a day or two, we had a card posted through our door from the wijkpost, telling us quite clearly that they are fully aware that there are dog poo issues locally. The park we had highlighted would be added to the 'dog poo patrol' round.

Furthermore, the card informed us, dogs may only foul in the bushes, not on paths and grass areas (good to know next time i am rummaging in the bushes for my son's football), but dog owners are obliged to pick up after their dogs should they foul anywhere outside of the bushes. They are subject to a 90 euro fine if they fail to remove the offending pile and dispose of it in a considerate manner.

The note ended with "Unfortunately, we can't be everywhere at the right moment, but the dog poo nuisance will certainly become less of a problem when dog owners see us patrolling daily".

Ok. I am not holding my breath (unless I am in the bushes on ball fetching duty again) but next time I'm in the park I'll be keeping my eye out for the poo patrol! (I wonder what a dog poo patrol wears!) And if you are a dog owner in my neighbourhood - BE WARNED - if you thought 25cents was an expensive visit to the toilet at the V&D, then wait until you get on the wrong side of the dog poo patrols - it will cost you 90 euros.