Preuvenement this year coincided quite nicely with the start of the academic year, a yearly event denoted in Maastricht by the sudden appearance of student parties everywhere, and the population doubling, and possibly tripling in some neighborhoods. At least it seems that way: lines at the Albert Heijn are at least twice as long now, but they have the best bread, so I grit my teeth and bear it.
As such, you might expect back-to-school sales to be everywhere. Nope. There are sales here and there, but none of the back-to-school extravaganza that seems to sweep the US prior to Labor Day (another vacation that I'd forgotten). This is not to say that kids don't get new pencils and paper and notebooks, just not on the scale that they seem to "need" that stuff in the US. In fact, the only clear delineation of this time of year is the appearance of academic agendas in bookstores. These aren't any different from regular agendas for boring working people like me. They just start in September rather than January. A few of them might have places for grades, and possibly classes, but that's it.
School is a casual matter here, where the focus seems to be less about learning stuff (at least, until you're 10 or so and have to start worrying about the placement exams) and more about learning to tap into the Dutch hive mind and the art of cooperative living. Bookbags, therefore, are shockingly skimpy, as for the most part, they don't really have to carry much of anything.
I mention this because when I was in medical school, I bought one of those L.L. Bean "unconditionally guaranteed" backpacks. It was about $40, near as I can remember. But L.L. Bean's products, as you might know, kick ass because they are about as indestructable as Superman. My first L.L. Bean packpack was just starting to show a little wear-and-tear after 5 years of use--it then passed on to my sister, who used it throughout high school and possibly still uses it in college.
I brought it with me when I moved to the Netherlands, because traveling up and down the East Coast had taught me that there are several things that are indispensable when traveling. Amongst them, a good book, and a small pillow. And here it languished for a little while before it got pressed back into service for my daily commute to and from Leiden. It is not at all unusual to see "real adults" carrying their stuff in a backpack instead of a briefcase. As a matter of fact, I'd venture to guess that more adults use backpacks than students, and this, combined with the literally light class loads, means that there is no demand for heavy-duty-missile-stopping backpacks of the kind that were prevalent in my admittedly-very-geeky high school and college.
Which can be a problem if you're the enemy of all backpacks, as my boyfriend seems to be. He merely has to look at a backpack and the seams unravel and the zippers get stuck. To say that he has the touch of death for backpacks is like saying that molten lava is a bit warm. I don't think any of his previous backpacks have survived the six-month mark. So it was with serious misgivings and not a little concern that I finally passed on my L.L. Bean pack to him.
After one year, I can surmise one of two things: either the L.L. Bean pack is truly indestructable, or Adobe's clone-stamp tool works a bit too well. It's a bit eerie, actually, to know that the backpack is not only still around, but that none of the zippers have gotten stuck, the seams are still together, and that it looks pretty much the same as it did when I bought it.