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A visit to the Netherlands

4 August 2011 (the Netherlands)

We were in the Netherlands for a month to visit our family. I was asked if I have seen changes compared with 6 years ago.
Most of all there were some differences that we had forgotten. For example, as soon as we left the airport, I immediately saw the Dutch are much slimmer. And the children on their little supersonic bicycles were all fully decorated with the latest gadgets and they were fashionably dressed like miniature-adults (and matching attitude 😉 )

Recently I read in one of the Dutch magazines (I still read them) that in the Netherlands ‘the prosperity is gushing out of the dormer windows’. In real … that is true. And it’s notable. I saw an interview on tv about Dutch families who supposedly are in financial trouble. In the background I saw beautiful living rooms, top class furniture, wooden floors, modern decorations. Everything of good quality and looking in mint condition. I can’t take that serious. That is really a difference with here.
Yes, for a few days I was jealous of all that wealth and the unlimited choice. Not to say New Zealand is a poor country. I know it’s not Ethiopia. And we ourselves aren’t poor too. But the image around us though, is certainly looking a bit … eh … well … let’s not equivocate; a bit shabby.
However, after a few days I knew it again. Because don’t forget … if you always have to live in such a nasty climate, locked inside your house, probably you desperately need some extra fun/luxury in return.
I prefered the good weather.

Another thing I liked of being back was; Dutchies hardly do courtesy talks. In daily life and in business they can be bluntly honest to each other without affecting their relationship. They are going right to the point. For foreigners they may sound rude, but Dutchies skipping the courtesy talks feels like saving time for both.

A sound that struck me was the cooing of doves. Awww, I missed that. And the far sounds of church bells a couple of times a day. I totally had tuned that out when I lived in the Netherlands, but now I realised I hadn’t heard them for years!
But the finest sound actually, was a certain lack of sound … that eternal voice in the shops, “Can I help you?”
For me it was so liberating that in every Dutch shop (no matter how posh) you can walk in without the shop assistants jump right on your neck.
Beside in the Netherlands there is so much beauty for sale, the disinterest of the staff (or so you want; the skipping of the courtesy) made shopping a great pleasure. When I’m thinking about entering a shop in New Zealand, quite often the saleswoman already greedy tries to make eye-contact, while I am still outside! I can’t handle that and won’t come in then. I hate it and I feel forced. If I need help I know where she is. Everybody knows.
Although I like that New Zealanders always greeting each other on the street (Dutchies ignore strangers), that shop-thing must ne a Dutch habit I can’t get rid of. For Dutch people maybe shops are more a kind of ‘public area’. And for New Zealand people a shop is owned by someone who takes care for the visitors. Does that make sense?

The owner in the background is completely ignoring me and is reading his paper. Thumbs up.


Loose trifles

13 January 2007

After more than a year living in New Zealand, I have written about most of the things that were remarkable to me, comparing to what I was used to in the Netherlands . There are still a lot of loose trifles that I could not squeeze into a story, but I will mention them below.

Loose trifles

No restraint to publicly disgracing thiefs.

The New Zealand children are super polite! When we walked the neighbour dog and she suddenly began to bark meanly at some oncoming children, they thanked us after we called the dog to order … Without any trace of mockery!

In the Netherlands many people are have a guy who comes monthly to clean the windows. In New Zealand many people have a guy coming monthly for lawn mowing. I never have seen a window cleaner in new Zealand and never have seen a lawn mower company in the Netherlands.

Here on television they are still advertising for Abba and Boney M.

In New Zealand there is much less of a disposable culture. Everything is used to the bone and then fluffed up and recovered. After there is nothing left to recover, it appears on the online auction or at one of the hundreds op shops (opportunity shop). In every little village you find 3 second-hand stores at least.
For example; a television advertisement for refrigerator rubbers is not uncommon. Of course it makes sense because you don’t throw away a fridge if only the rubbers are wore out, but at the same time I think: What has been the road to start a company in fridge rubbers? And apparently earn enough money to pay for a television ad. And why do I never have seen worn out fridge rubbers in the Netherlands?
Talking about rubbers and ads … Usually we quickly press the mute button as soon as the ads are starting. So lately, without sound, we saw a very worrisome advertising; A girl in a floral bikini wiggling on a white beach, along a sparkling sea and graceful sipping on a cocktail. Between scenes, there was a scary wrinkled hand flopping on such a thin rubber white glove. We began to be a little apprehensive about this combination. Not lessen after it abruptly zoomed in to heavy pink cow udders. …
Oh yes, of course! It was an advertisement for milk gloves. And you could win a prize to Haiti if you bought 100 gloves. Hence the bikini.

Because carelessly disposal apparently is not in their nature, I caught TV presenters wearing the same clothes for 3 times!
Ok, they wore them a few weeks apart, but I noticed it anyway!
Or is that just weird of ME? The fact that I noticed?

At this end of the world they shamelessly still sell duvet covers and upholstery with … the Playboy logo on it!
And no, the funky phenomenon ‘camp’ has never arrived here, so that can’t be the reason. They are deadly serious about it.

How to wipe out the front of your store from a bunch of teenagers, in an effective and peaceful way?
Here in our village is an eating place called the “Two Dollar Pie Shop” where during the day teenagers hanging out at the door and occupy the sidewalk. The shopkeepers in the neighborhood complained that their business is declining because passersby are tired of their begging for a dollar. Customers began to avoid that part of the street.
The retailer got an idea to wipe out the infamous hangout; Nowadays on its exterior always blares the same CD of Nana Mouskouri. He can’t hear it inside. It helps. Now the students hastily buy their dough and look elsewhere for shelter.

Here parking attendants put a chalk mark on the wheel of your car to make sure you’re off within the specified time. There are not much places you need to pay parking fee. The only parking restrictions are the signs that says how long you are allowed to occupy the lot. In larger cities, of course there is paid parking if you want to stay longer than 2 hours in the center.
Loose triflesThe photo shows a parking meter in Tauranga (in our Dutch eyes a cross between a large village and a small city). The parking meter is a flat box with small boxes behind a glass screen. On the front you can find the number of your lot, and at the back of the slots you can put in your coins.
So … at the front side you can see if someone already paid for your parking spot that day … (or is it just me?)
Most slots , by the way, look as if they already are violently dishonored.

Whale island

1 February 2006

whale islandAs long as we are living here, Frank and I are having the same strange sensation each time we see Whale Island off the coast. One time the island seemed to be much bigger than other times. Sometimes it was located close to the coast, dark and glooming … and the next day it could be pale and tiny on the horizon!
Well, perhaps it got the right name; because popularly Moutohura is called Whale Island.

The local newspaper said the island is a nature reserve and could be visited under supervision. That was our chance to discover the secret.
“Don’t spare the horses” apparently was the motto of the captain while he steered the big boat with a sickening speed across the sea.
“At 12:30 you have to be aboard again! I’m not waiting for latecomers.” the captain ordered with a loud and harsh voice, when the passengers stepped out.

It was a nice walk with a guide – certainly not interesting for everyone – therefore I will not dwell on this further. Except that there were 2 (endangered) kiwi birds released after they first were … blessed! whale islandThis blessing was a mumble of 5 minutes by a Maori priest, although he didn’t show any priest-like outward appearances. He wore sunglasses and had a bright coloured towel around his neck and then just went swimming. Maybe that morning, when he selected the apparel for that day, he thought those birds didn’t care what he was wearing. A priest also has to be practical, isn’t it?

By noon we were done, but the boat didn’t show up to pick us up …
It was bloody hot and so there were 40 people in hiking clothes on a beach in the relentless sun, clumped together under some trees that brought a few meters of shade. It was nature. Just sand, so no booths with coffee or ice cream. A few of the people amused themselves by swimming (the sensible ones that brought a swimsuit with them!), but the majority was waiting. Silently waiting. For hours. Waiting and melting …
whale islandIn a group of people of this size there is always someone who gets upset by the situation and is starting some drama. The one who will beat the shit out of the responsible person for this shameful act. Especially when there is paid for, isn’t it?! I already tried to guess which of these individuals would emerge as leader of the angry crowd.

But … when the ship arrived, after waiting for almost 4 hours in serene resignation, the captain cheerfully asked the crowd if the hike have been a good one. Everyone enthusiastically said that it was fantastic and they enjoyed, followed by a list of all the positive things that day. Nobody demanded clarification for the terrible wait and the captain didn’t explain anything.
At the disembarking, he was warmly thanked, like New Zealanders always do after a ride in any form (even when getting off the bus).
At first it surprised me a little. I wondered if we might have ended up accidentally on such a happy sect where everyone loves each other. Then I saw a pattern in this behaviour. The average New Zealander has a tireless courtesy and never expect malicious intention or negligence. At least they never show such thoughts. This is cast in their upbringing.
Even when later that day, we encounter a couple of kissing teenagers in the woods; This operation promptly will be interrupted for a friendly greeting.

Small talk and hot pools

21 October 2005

small talk and hot poolsDuring the wait for the sea container -doomed to be bored to death- our favourite thing to do has become shopping. Every day we allow ourselves to buy 1 something, because that is our only amusement when the sun is not shining. If the sun does shine, of course we do exhaustive forest and beach hikes, but we won’t bore you with the enumeration of all that scenic beauty.
That ‘buying something’ can range from furry winter slippers (there’s only 1 single wood stove in the house) to a clothesline, or a strawberry plant, or chrome polish. Every day we are looking forward to this shopping moment. Mostly 30 minutes before leaving the house, at least one of us is already waiting and tail-wagging at the front door, anticipating the joy.
We buy 1 thing per day. Today our highlight was buying a tin opener. Usually we write a real honouring shopping list for that one and only thing!

New Zealanders love to talk. If they ask: “How are you?”, they expect a real answer. They are not easy to put off with some mumble. The least thing you have to do is to ask the same question in return. Therefore often encounters with neighbours are turning into endless conversations. In daily traffic eye contact is answered promptly with an explicit greeting. Even teenagers half hiding under a tree, politely interrupt their kissing session for a friendly nod.
During shopping you can not avoid some form of attention. For me, as being a hermit-light, it is something I really need to get used to. In the Netherlands contact with strangers was much more formal, so living in my invisible mobile cocoon didn’t necessary feel like being unsocial.

In a New Zealand supermarket:
Cashier: “Ah, cat food … what kind of cat do you have?”
Customer: “Um … a black and white”.
Cashier: “We used to have a cat. But now we have moved on and we had to left him. Too bad though, because they are cute. How long do you have him?”
Customer: “Um … five years.”

Cashier: “Does it taste good, that Italian coffee?”
Customer: “Uh … yeah, good.”
Cashier: “I always wanted to try it, but it’s a little expensive. Maybe I should buy it some time”.

Well, you see … I’m not good in it. It’s a totally undeveloped area in my brain.

The container ship ‘Busan Express’ will arrive next week in Tauranga and yesterday we were at the port already, to arrange the paperwork. We have visited 4 offices! A joy, because the day flew by!

small talk and hot poolsTo make it into a bit of a break, we went to the mineral hot pools too. No, not those white terraces in the open countryside, where people with skin diseases are soaking. These were just some private swimming pools of 3 x 5 meter, that you can hire per 30 minutes. Or you can choose to swim in a normal sized pool without a time limit, together with floating strangers. The mineral water comes from somewhere deep inside of Mother Earth and is just the right temperature; the temperature of mild fever, haha.
When we dipped in it was already dusk and it just started to rain really hard. We chose one of the private pools without a roof. It was fun!