Category Archives: Nederland Life

Please Don’t Make Me Say “Mambuvian”

Money, I’m glad to see you again. Funemployment, I miss you already.

This week I joined the Dutch workforce as an instructional designer for Mambu. Mambu sells cloud-based banking software, which admittedly doesn’t quite have the sexy cachet of “I work at Apple.” But after 17 years at the World’s Biggest Corporation, they’re just the sort of employer I’d been hoping for: a smallish company that’s growing fast and gives me the opportunity to contribute in a foundational way. 

On Monday morning I biked, trammed, and walked my way through the spitting rain to the super-slick office building on the river where Mambu (normally) occupies the 14th floor. As you’d expect for pandemic times, I was ushered across an empty floor into a conference room with three other new hires, where an IT guy handed us MacBooks and helped us complete our onboarding process. It wasn’t the grand entrance one would hope for with a new career, but there *were* free snacks and a welcome box with Mambu-branded trinkets. 

By Monday afternoon I was back home and seated at my new home office—that being the corner of our bedroom with a space just big enough for the smallest desk Ikea sells. I’m facing the window, so it’s not the worst WFH situation, but I’ll be more than ready to at least occasionally visit the HQ.

I neither expected nor got a riveting first week—it’s been a lot of app downloads, password setups, and hi-how-are-ya’s with my new coworkers1. I’ve also completed a bunch of required new-hire training courses, which is rather meta, since my team wrote the courses; I’m meant to understand the content but also to own it moving forward.

I’m excited about the job. It’s a warm fuzzy feeling to feel qualified for the work I’m doing, to have smart ideas about how I can help make the training better. I’ve got good first impressions about the company too, which has strong diversity and anti-harassment policies and just hired a Director of Sustainability (she was one of my three fellow new hires!). 

Meanwhile, my residency in Nederland is past the five-month mark. I’m less than a week from reaching a 1,000-day streak in Duolingo, and coincidentally am almost done with the *entire* Dutch Duolingo course. Final verdict: while Duolingo will IN NO WAY make you conversational in a new language on its own—and is often frustratingly obtuse about how Dutch people *actually* speak2—it’s still a great way to soak up common words and phrases to the point that you can almost-but-not-quite interpret the latest De Speld headline.

Which reminds me: we are officially OVER the weather. I knew what I was in for, moving to northern Europe in the wintertime, but I’d at least hoped for a lovely spring as a reward. Instead—with a few gloriously sunny days excepted—Amsterdam had its coldest April in 35 years, and May isn’t doing much better. But it’s spring just the same: tulips and peonies are in abundance, and the days have reached an alarming length, with light lingering in the sky well past 10pm and starting up again around 5am. I’ve got to wear my eyemask to have any hope of sleeping until the alarm goes off. By midsummer it’ll almost never be completely dark outside.

Wish me luck.

A Typical Tuesday

(This might have been a bad idea. It works better on a laptop.)

I woke up at about 8am1 and got some work done2 before biking3 to the fysio4. On the way back home I bought some nuts5 per Kiki’s request. Back at the computer6, I read through some of my Safari tabs7 and shot some zombies8 before Nardje showed up9 in the afternoon. 

On the advice of the fysio I took an hour-long walk10 around Amsterdam, getting feta cheese11 for dinner on the way home. Kiki made a delicious shakshouka12 while I built an Ikea cabinet for the bathoom13. We were in bed before 1114.

Baby Did a Bad Bad Badkamer

The (finally) finished product. No, that’s not a bidet in the background.

From the beginning of the Big Move planning process, I intended to spend a significant chunk of money on improvements to the Hoendiepstraat apartment. It started with a large Ikea closet to hold my clothes. In short order after my arrival came an “American-sized” TV1; a new dining table; and the most non-negotiable item, a clothes dryer.2 

And then, in the middle of discussions about what should take priority next, the toilet started to leak.

Feel free to make the obvious joke about my American poops overwhelming European bathrooms. Given that the toilet was now being flushed more than twice as often as before, you wouldn’t be far off-track. But the toilet was old and in poor condition anyway, so it was time for a new one. And—all you homeowners will nod in agreement here—if we’re swapping the toilet, why not do the sink as well?

This would be the fateful twist in the story. As James Breakwell recently wrote, “The key to any small, reasonable renovation is to keep adding to it until both of those adjectives are a lie.” In this case, all it took was a sink.

Now, unlike those free-wheelin’ Americans, home-improvement stores are currently closed in Nederland, so your only option is to order online. Praxis.nl is no homedepot.com, but we were eventually able to pick a toilet, sink, and faucet from their online shop. I successfully booked a plumber (no small feat) who had a delightfully thick British accent for the following Tuesday.

Then on Thursday, the sink arrived. It sounded like this.

Now let’s not kid ourselves: that is hilarious. But it meant that I had to cancel the plumber, letting him know I’d let him know when I had an intact sink. It also meant that, when the toilet arrived the following day, it had nowhere to go besides our living room.

We found ourselves at a standstill as Praxis customer service remained consistently unhelpful and unresponsive about getting the sink replaced. (One customer service rep hung up the moment I asked if we could speak English. Another told me via email to call their shop in Heerhugowaard, 45 minutes north of Amsterdam; when I did, the shop was as confused as I was.) Days stretched to weeks, with the toilet and shattered sink going from comedic conversation pieces to unwanted freeloading roommates. 

In desperation we ordered a second sink from Praxis, which arrived in one piece and allowed us to schedule the plumber once again. Finally on Wednesday, March 10th, five weeks after we’d started the process, a very nice, ridiculously good-looking plumber3 arrived. In four short hours, the toilet and sink were installed; by the end of the night, so were the cabinets. (Small bit of bragging: thanks to my double- and triple-measurements, the cabinets fit in with the new sink down to the centimeter.) Our new bathroom looks fantastic. So happy the ordeal is over.

I’m still trying to return that broken sink, though.

Seven Things about Amsterdam: Feb/March edition

1 Okay, y’all. I had a WHOLE BLOGPOST written about what it’s been like adjusting to the cold Dutch climate—from standing on my first frozen pond to learning the joys of dry cracking skin—only for all of Texas to become a goddamn ice planet on the very day that it all melted here. I never thought I’d be wishing happy warm thoughts from NL to TX, but these are strange times, my friends.

So that long whiney post got deleted. The short version is: we got a solid layer of snow on February 7th, and—as a native Texan, this was new to me—it stayed snowy. The canals and river were mostly frozen, ducks and pigeons and occasionally humans sliding around on top. I saw kids being pulled on sleds for function rather than fun. We mostly stayed indoors.

Pretty though.

2 When I arrived here in mid-December, the sun set at 4:30 in the afternoon and I was confused why delivery drivers kept showing up after dark. The tides are turning, though! Our days are now about 11 hours long, and in the summer we’ll have blissful 17-hour days and the sky will *never* be fully dark. Latitudes are crazy.

Screen Shot 2021-02-15 at 1.31.20 PM.png
The weird time jumps are daylight savings time. Yeah, we got that here, too.

3 Dutch update: I’m still at the level of knowing just enough to get myself in trouble. Like, I’ll absolutely nail the first line of a conversation—“Goedemiddag, ik heb een afspraak om half tien”—and then the person will respond in Dutch and… I’ll have no idea what they said. 

But I can eavesdrop on Dutch conversations (usually Kiki’s) and more often than not grasp the topic—sometimes even entire sentences at a time. Progress!

Fun Dutch vocab of the month: the Dutch word for latte is “koffie verkeerd,” literally “wrong coffee.” The Dutch word for Easter is “Paas,” which explains the weird name of those ubiquitous egg-coloring kits when we were kids.

4 On the 24th we rented a Mini Cooper and road-tripped two hours south to Maastricht, a historic town in Nederland’s weird little appendix at the border with Germany and Belgium. This city is a thousand years old if it’s a day, with charming buildings by the dozens and literally more churches than they know what to do with. There was a full-sized church sanctuary behind our hotel with no apparent means of entry. Elsewhere in the center are a bookstore and a grocery store, both inside churches.

It was a charming couple of days in a truly charming city, and also a good example of the COVID-tourism paradox: though the city center was blissfully free of tourists1, all the shops and museums were closed, which explained the emptiness but also made things a bit boring. Then again, “boring” gave us ample time to explore virtually every street of the old city with time left over to relax on the hotel balcony. Also I discovered the magic of vlaai.

On our way back north to Amsterdam we zig-zagged through a variety of small towns, any of which might be the setting for the Dutch edition of “Hot Fuzz,” with their own 500-year-old churches and unironic thatched roofs and war memorials2. The weather was glorious, peaking around 20C/68F. We’ve got to do it all over again when things are open; I’m sure we’ll grumble about how many tourists there are.

6 I’ve thought a lot about how the pandemic has made me miss my casual friends—the ones I never texted with or even think much about (or even know the name of!) until they weren’t around. The improv acquaintances and regulars at the bar. This article is a good read about that very subject. Some of them I’d probably never see again even if I’d stayed in place; moving to a new country might ensure I’ll never see many or most of them again. It’s an odd angle on homesickness I hadn’t considered. Whenever I can finally-finally start haunting local places here and making new friend-quaintances, it’ll be a relief.

7 After two-and-a-half months in the Netherlands, I finally finally have a working Dutch phone number and bank card. It wasn’t the highest priority since we never go anywhere, but it’s nice to be able to pay for groceries myself at last. Ik ben een grote jongen!

Eight Things About Amsterdam: January Edition

1 I had a simple revelation when I was younger that I still think about now and then. Seeing a herd of cows standing in the freezing cold, I felt pity for how chilly they must be. Then it occurred to me: those cows have no concept of not being chilly. They don’t know HVAC systems even exist. They’re cold, and that’s just the fact of the matter, and they probably don’t think too much about it.

On a totally unrelated note, I think I’m getting used to the weather here.

The sun is like, “That’s as high as I’m gonna get, sucker!”

2 This weekend we took a semi-staycation to Utrecht, a city 20 minutes south of Amsterdam with historic architecture and one charming market street after another. It is of course a ghost town right now.

The main thing I want to tell you about in Utrecht is the big cathedral, which was one of the tallest buildings in the world when it was finished in 1382 and then in 1674 got fucking bulls-eyed by a tornado. The citizens of Utrecht wisely decided against rebuilding, so it’s now a weird half-cathedral and a standalone tower with a public square in the middle. Check the before-and-after:

3 This is my neighborhood! It’s called Rivierenbuurt, and it’s a short tram ride south of the city center at the bend of the Amstel river. It was built from scratch in the early 1930s and is almost entirely comprised of four-story apartment blocks with shops at the corners and gardens1 in the centers. Everything was designed in the Amsterdam School architectural style, a know-it-if-you-see-it melange of modernism and geometric flourishes straight out of Middle Earth.

4 On a related topic: of course I’ve had to shift many of my expectations moving from a standalone house to a densely-occupied apartment block. Some of this could be expected no matter where I’d moved: adjusting to the smaller space, cursing the loud music playing from god-knows-where late at night. But some of it feels distinctly European. I’m always walking past ground-floor apartments, and a surprising number of them give zero craps about keeping their shutters open and their home life plainly visible to passers-by. On a recent walk down the block, there were more windows uncovered than not. From my couch I can see what the neighbors across the street are watching on *their* TV. I’ve had to train myself not to look.

But you get to meet some of the locals.

5 One of my house-husband duties during funemployment is to make Kiki her tea every morning. Yeah, I’m doing it out of love, but I’m also doing it because I get to pour in the milk.

I know what you’re thinking, and yes, she really does want this much milk.

6 Dutch update! I gave myself some practice by translating the Dutch article about Rivierenbuurt into English. Check it out (but fair warning, the World War II bits are unpleasant reading): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rivierenbuurt_(Amsterdam)

My favorite way to learn Dutch one headline at a time is De Speld, Nederland’s version of The Onion. Translate a headline and you get a joke!

Your delightfully-literal Dutch word of the month: liquid is “vloeistof,” meaning (and sorta pronounced) “flowy stuff.”

7 The Netherlands isn’t a safe haven from COVID. You’re thinking of New Zealand.2 It’s a relative improvement over the US in that each household is allowed one visitor per day, so we’ve experienced the novelty of “having friends over for dinner” for the first time in a year. Still, sad to say we’re fifth in the world in COVID cases per capita (though deaths are thankfully low). The recent spike in cases has resulted in a 9pm curfew, which naturally—that’s the point—limits my social opportunities even further. On the one hand, yeah, that sucks. On the other hand, it’s nice to be in a country that’s actually responsive to a public emergency. It’ll get back to normal soon enough, and hey, sitting on the couch all day isn’t the worst way to spend unemployment.

8 I included a pretty Netherlands video last time, so let’s keep the party going. One of my very favorite sights in the world (after milk in tea) is starling murmurations. Now I live in a place where I might actually see one!

Eight Things about my Time in Amsterdam So Far

The view five minutes from home

1 It doesn’t get easier to witness what’s happening back home just cause I “escaped” to Europe. Heck, it might even be a little harder. My thoughts are with the people who are vulnerable and suffering.

2 You know how anywhere you travel, you’ll find some yokel who says “If ya don’t like the weather here, just wait a few minutes and it’ll change” and then gives a hearty laugh? Yeah that is NOT the case around here. It’s been mostly cloudy in the mid-30s since I arrived, literally any time, day or night.

Speaking of which, here’s my handy-dandy conversion kit to understand temperatures in Celsius. It’s not that hard!

-10:  Miserable
0: Cold
10: Cool
20: Pleasant
30: Hot
40: Texas in August

3 My Dutch is sloooowly progressing. I can speak a sentence with a few seconds’ thought, whereas my comprehension has progressed from “recognizing two words” to “recognizing five words and maybe grasping the topic of conversation.”

Dutch word order is a bag of monkeys, by the way. Today’s example: “She did not hear me say that” translates to “Zij heeft mij dat niet horen zeggen,” or “She has me that not heard said.”

As before, though, learning a new language teaches you a lot about your own. Have you ever thought about how “mint” can mean either a flavorful herb or the place where they make money? It’s the same word!!

4 I’ve shared this before, but this is how the Dutch do trash collection, and it’s awesome.

5 Just a random fact, because I looooove random facts: in 1973, Duracell debuted a battery-powered pink plush bunny mascot with a European commercial, but they never trademarked the bunny in the United States. Fifteen years later, Energizer stole the concept and introduced the Energizer Bunny with a US commercial. So that means when you’re in the US, you see the Energizer bunny; and when you’re anywhere else, you see the Duracell bunny.

6 Being a World War II nut makes a move to Europe all the more interesting. It was well less than a century ago that Nazi Kübelwagens were rolling down my street; the D-Day beaches are a day’s drive away. The most famous local story was Anne Frank, of course, and only after moving here did I realize I had a fundamental misunderstanding of the story: the “secret house” in the city center that Anne’s family hid in for two years was not their house. I realized this because the house where they did live before going into hiding is a ten-minute walk from mine. The streets Anne walked on, the park where she played, even the bookstore where she bought her diary (still in business!) are all right across the neighborhood. History here feels as close as a curtain against a window.

7 Okay, that was a bit heavy. Here’s a palate cleanser: a ten-minute time-lapse of a boat’s commute across the Dutch countryside from Rotterdam to Amsterdam. (If you’re the impatient sort you can skip to eight minutes, when day turns to night and they arrive in Amsterdam.)

HOT DRAWBRIDGE ACTION!! ???


8 I know long-distance relationships are all the rage, but have you tried a SHORT-distance relationship? It is soooo much better.

Ik spreek Nederlands. Soort van.

You do weird things when you date Dutch girls. 

Like learn Dutch.

I hadn’t made the barest attempt to learn a new language since Spanish class back in college, but a couple of years ago I went over to Duolingo.com just to see what the deal was. The clever bastards who run that website have made it absurdly easy to get started. Within three clicks I was learning the Dutch words for man (man), woman (vrouw), boy (jongen), and girl (meisje). 

…Sure.

This is kind of a dumb way to spend my time. Dutch people not only speak English, they speak it better than you do. Thanks to an upbringing of American media with Dutch subtitles1, Amsterdammers are not only fluent in English, they sometimes have American accents when they speak it. And when a waiter hears YOUR American accent as you try to stumble your way through a pancake order, they’ll more-than-likely just take pity on you and switch to English.

So I have little practical reason to learn the local language. Many expats never bother. But Duolingo is an addictive website, and I’ve been learning from the cartoon owl for 815 days and counting. I’m afraid to stop.

There are the quirks that come with learning any language—yesterday I did somersaults trying to remember the Dutch word for “hard,” finally remembering it’s just “hard.” You also learn a bit about your own language in the process. I learned Dutch uses the word “weg” to mean both “way” and “weigh,” which sounded completely insane for half a second, until my eyes widened and I realized ENGLISH DOES THAT TOO. Sometimes it’s so dang close to English that it sounds like you’re faking it (“That is my cat” = “Dat is mijn kat”). Other times you swear it’s just messing with you.

(But their word for “checkout counter” is “kassa,” so we’ll call it even.)

The biggest pain in the language is the whole gendered-noun situation. Ya know how Spanish has masculine and feminine forms like “el chico” and “la chica”? Dutch has that as well (“de jongen,” “het meisje”) but without the -o or -a clue at the end of the word. So you just kinda have to KNOW which version of “the” you should use for every, single, noun.

It has some fun advantages, though. Dutch people get to use words like “efficienter” and “expensivest.” There’s even a word for y’all—jullie, pronounced “yooly.” It can be delightfully literal: rhinoceros is “neushoorn,” cheating is “valspelen” (false-playing), and gas is “brandstof” (fire-stuff). And while we stumble through all four syllables of “The Netherlands,” Dutch people just call it “Nederland.” Can we at LEAST adopt that one?

Free Dutch lesson: the letters “ui” are pronounced “ow,” which makes words like “uit” and “huis” a lot more understandable. If you pronounce your j’s like y’s and your w’s like v’s, you can sound like you know what you’re talking about next time you visit! 

I’m still in what I call Phase 1 of learning the language—if you give me a second I can mostly read a sign, and I can get the gist of a conversation, if not actually follow it. With some mental preparation, I can probably order those pancakes. I’ll have Kiki’s nieces for conversational practice, which is great since (a) since they’re not throwing around five-dollar SAT words and (b) they seem amused with my efforts in the same way they might be with a talking parakeet. After a year or so, maybe I can converse with adults. Maybe.

Operation Market Garden

For all my travel these past few years, I’m much more of a homebody than you might think. I might judge the folks who never left their hometown after high school, but like a big ol’ hypocrite, I never left my hometown after college. In fact, I’ve never lived outside of Texas—let alone outside the US—in my entire life.

Well… it’s a crazy year.

Thanks to a very pretty, funny, and loving Dutch-Australian girl—and thanks to a country that would rather see me leave than welcome her as an immigrant—around the end of the year, I’m moving to the Netherlands. For the first time in 18 years I’m quitting my job. For the first time in 24 years I’ll need to learn my way around a new city, albeit one I already know and love.

To call this a big shift is an understatement. Amsterdam is no Kuala Lampur, but it ain’t Dallas, either. They do typically European stuff like putting the day before the month and pronouncing the letter Z “zed” and calling the first floor the “ground floor” and the second floor the first floor.1 Rush hour is a flood of bikes, hot or cold, rain or shine (usually “cold” and “rain”). Good Surinamese food can be found everywhere; good tortillas can be found nowhere. Football is played with feet. And so on. 2

So what am I doing when I get there?

First and foremost, after two and a half years, I’ll be in a relationship that’s NOT long-distance. I’m excited about the utter mundanity of seeing my fantastic girlfriend—and her fantastic cat, Percy—every goshdarn day. I’ll be privileged enough to stay funemployed for a bit, giving me time to work on my Dutch and tackle some creative projects (painting, writing, etc). I’m excited to join the fantastic Amsterdam improv community. Beyond that, who knows? Watch this space.

If the job search doesn’t pan out, I could always work at Amsterdam’s hippest clothing retailer.

I love Amsterdam, and I love Kiki who lives there. I’m deeply excited about having the adventure of a lifetime. But I can’t write this without acknowledging what’s bittersweet. There won’t be a farewell party or improv show. Austin is my favorite place on earth, and I’m leaving it at its lowest point. I’m swamped with guilt as I move off to (frankly) a better place while the places and people that I love the most are struggling. I sure wish I had an uplifting end to this paragraph.

I have so many things to do before I go. I’m doing what tiny amount I can to make Election Day a happy one. I still have 52 county courthouses to visit. I need to inventory every single thing I own and label it Store, Sell, Donate, or Pack. I need to see so many friends (even if at a distance) and eat so, many, tacos.

And no, I’m not leaving forever; I love Austin far too much for that. Hopefully in the near future our country won’t be such a fuckface about immigration and COVID, and Kiki can come here! For now, though, we’ll be there.

FAQ AND THINGS TO KNOW

  • I’ll be renting my house, hopefully to tenants who are excited to be chicken tenders. More details soon, if you’re interested.
  • The cats are coming—Sabado in December, Suitcase sometime next year. Moving them across an ocean and introducing them to Kiki’s cat is the most nerve-wracking part of this whole thing. (If you’ve read this far, maybe you’d be a good Suitcase foster parent?)
  • Holland is to the Netherlands what England is to the UK. Denmark, though, is a completely different country.