Friday, August 13, 2010

The not-so-good life


There are some things you expect when you move to the Netherlands: You expect to eat a lot of cheese, that the country is flat, that there are canals, and the houses are very narrow. If you have done your homework, you may even be prepared for the ritual of Hollandse Nieuwe, the celebration in May of the first pickled herring.

Don't say I didn't warn you.

But there are a lot of things that you don't realize until you've either lived here for a while, or have a boyfriend to show you around and buffer the culture shock a bit. Things like "Chinese food" not really being Chinese food, and that you can, in fact, order a large pepperoni pizza to be delivered to your door over the phone--gotta love Dominoes....After you've lived here a while you sort of get used to these things and their novelty fades a little bit. You still have fun explaining them to your friends and family, but they're not really interesting any more.

And then there are the things that never, ever, get better. As in, you encounter them the first time, and find it mildly annnoying, and every time thereafter the irritation factor goes up and you find yourself explaining to St. Peter that it really isn't your time, you were robbed of it second by second while living in Holland. Things like:

1) Kim Chee, and other spicy foods. I bought a jar of kim-chee the other day, intending to add it to my udon noodles. I opened it. It smelled divine. I tasted it. It didn't even make me gasp. Kim-chee that doesn't leave you crying on the floor from the agony? Isn't kim-chee. But this is a problem with everything that should have a bit of kick to it--it gets blunted down to "tolerable levels" for the Dutch, which translates into "no taste" for the rest of us. I get the whole adjusting-taste-to-the-palate thing, but just because the potato is the national vegetable doesn't mean that everything should taste like one.

2) Patat met curry. The standard list of condiments available for fries includes "saus" (which is plain mayo), knoflook saus, curry, ketchup, and something called "patats oorlog", which is a culinary tragedy best experienced only once. Now, the saus, knoflook saus, and ketchup are self-explanatory: Mayo, garlic-flavored mayo, and ketchup. However, the curry wants a bit of explaining. See, at a fried-potato stand, "curry" refers to BBQ sauce. However, if you go to a supermarket and buy curry, you'll end up with something very-not-BBQ sauce. None of which would really put this on my "things I'll never get used to" list, except that I really think fried potatoes would be really really good with a curry sauce. And every time I think to get fries, I always want to get them with curry. But not their curry.

3) Any song by Queen played on a pipe organ. The pipe organ is a Saturday ritual, where a couple guys stand around shaking tin cans full of change in time to the music coming from a pipe organ, trying to induce people to give them money. I still haven't decided whether the Dutch actually like these things, or if they just want a few seconds of peace. These songs are usually the simple carnival songs, you know, the one with three chords and five notes, played over and over again. However, every now and then someone will decide to get "creative" and bust out the Queen. No. Just. No.

4) Pea soup the way Mom made it. Now, I like pea soup, when I can find a vegetarian version of it. I like the taste of split peas and I like the warming, filling-ness of the whole thing. Pea soup the way Mom makes it, though? I need to preface this by explaining that it is not just my boyfriend's mother that makes pea soup like this. It is EVERYBODY's mother. And I don't actually have a recipe for it, because just reading the recipe shrivels your coronaries: there is ham, sausage (worst), pig fat, lard, bacon, and bacon. It is so thick that the spoon doesn't so much stir as it does till. It is eaten with a very thin slice of very damp, very dark, rye bread (sold in packages the size and consistency of a small brick), spread with mustard and--you guessed it--a slice of bacon.

5) Punk rock and Lady Gaga and terrible radio. I don't have anything against punk rock and Lady Gaga specifically. They're okay in small doses. But the radio stations here (or maybe it's just Maastricht) seem to think that we all need to hear nothing but that kind of music all the time. And if they do switch it up, it's usually with something Dutch, which is okay at best--Dutch singers tend to be trite, rehashing the same old things. I don't listen to very much radio, actually, but it's usually on when I'm in the lab. And I can be in lab for hours upon hours.

So that's my list of things that I'll never get used to, like the concept of geese on a hill--this is HOLLLAND, THERE ARE NO HILLS (Ganzenheuvel means "geese hill"). What're yours?


  1. Patat met Stew. I love it and it will for ever be a very Dutch thing for me.

  2. @ Stu - Patat met stew? Now I'm going to spend every moment I can scouring the train stations and patat shops for that :-)