Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Only the Dutch

I'm pretty laissez-faire about sharing stuff with roomies. I don't really mind people using my coffee maker when I'm not around, provided that they clean the machine afterwards. And I don't really mind buying toilet paper. As long as someone else takes care of these things from time to time, I'm cool.

But of course, if things were that simple then I wouldn't have a post: I technically live with my boyfriend (as in, his place is my address) but I keep an apartment in Maastricht, the better to not commute for 4 hours a day with. In May, I moved to my current setup, which is a house in a very snazzy neighborhood (Sint Pieters, or the Hill), owned by a lovely old couple who get rich off of renting the individual bedrooms of the house out to poor students. Well, okay, they can't possibly be getting rich at the prices they charge. But you get the point.

There's room in the house for 5 girls, but whoever lives in the huge space on the ground floor (what Americans--but not Pennsylvanians--call the first floor) has her own bathroom. The rest of us, 4 girls, have to share a bathroom, and everybody shares the kitchen. We've all sort of come to an unspoken agreement that we will not share food and that the Internet/TV gets split 4 ways regardless of how many tenants there are (currently just 3). A little harder to split evenly, in a manner that could be construed as "fair", is paying for trash bags and toilet paper.

Now, I'm not talking about the €1 trash can liners. Here in the Netherlands, the cities have special vuilniszakken (vile-ness sacks?) that you must place your trash in if it's to be collected. Said bags cost a pretty penny, too: in Nijmegen they're €5 for 10, but in Maastricht, they're €11.70 for the same number. If that sounds outrageous, consider that at least you don't have to pay a separate bill for garbage removal.

What makes this a tricky matter to negotiate is that I produce a comparatively huge quantity of waste: I eat ramen, buy things that come in plastic boxes, eat yogurt, and drink coffee, all of which generates a fair amount of trash that must be disposed of. My soon-to-be-former housemate (who's just finished her final exams and is now in Germany, and presumably celebrating) generates...well, I don't know how she does it, but I don't think I've ever seen her make a single speck of trash. So you begin to see why this matter can be a rather delicate calculus. Fortunately, my new housemate also cooks, cleans, eats, and all sorts of things that human beings do, and has said that she's perfectly happy to split the fee for the trash bags. The toilet-paper issue is a little less contentious--I consider €2.65 a cheap price for a non-stinky house.

And here is the point: yesterday my housemate introduced me to Wie Betaalt Wat, a website that tracks all of your common consumables in a shared household, and automatically divides by the people who share it, to show who owes how much. Quite a clever little site--it's not something that only the Dutch would think of (after all, roommates and roomie drama happen all over the world) but it is something that has a very nette feel to it. That last word, according to Google's Translator, means "neat", but like gezellig, there is an element of, well, Dutch-ness, to it that renders the site completely foreign even if you understood the language perfectly. Which is a rather long-winded way of saying that the site is very, indescribably, Dutch.

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