Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Practical Dutch for The Dutchless

Do you want to impress your Dutch friends Bart and Anouk conquering their highest estimation and perhaps (I said perhaps!) a second cookie at Their next coffee invitation?
Is this that you really want? Are you sure you want? Well, you made your choice.
I made some research and I can help you. Try with the following sentences.

Niet bij de pakken neer zitten
Don't sit down with the packages
(dank je wel Jasmijn)

They say this meaning
"Don't give up".

I guess this idiomatic sentence comes from Their Gouden Eeuw (Golden Age), between 16th and 17th century. At that time They were all merchants, navigators, entrepreneurs, businessmen. In that period a man sat down with the packages was certainly a loser, a creep, a defeatist, an atypical Dutch. Nowadays the sentence could be referred to all the foreigner students who have unsuccessfully tried to open a Dutch bank account at Abn Amro or Rabobank losing their patience and their bike in the meanwhile.

De Gouden Middenweg
The Golden Midway
(dank je wel Jasmijn)

They say this meaning
"We've found an agreement starting from two opposite points".

This is because one of the main characteristics of those Dutchmen and women is that They are after all reasonable people.


They say this meaning
"Hey you asshole, don't you see this is supposed to be a romantic candlelight dinner? Kick yourself away and leave us alone in our idyllic courtship".
Instead of insulting the waiter who's just trying to be nice and gentle, asking if everything is tasty and ok, They say whispering or gnashing this useful expression. Even if you're alone having a Sunday Nederlands ontbijt (Dutch breakfast) in a Cafe don't be afraid to sound cold or impolite: use the M word. The waiter will understand you and He will surely appreciate your Dutchness.

Alsof er een engeltje op je tong pist
Like an angel pissing on your tongue
(thank you Ying)

They say this meaning
"Oh God, this beer is unbelievably delicious"

I don't know how old this expression is and if you can use it with wine and non-booze beverages as well. Yet, according to my source, who is currently based somewhere between Singapore and Philippines, it seems that the expression become particularly popular during the last edition of the Lowlands Festival.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

What's Going On in the Lowlands?

Bands Contest

what: The Clash of the Titans
where: dB's Studio, Utrecht
when: February 15, Friday night
how (much): 4 €

Located in a postindustrial middle of nowhere, the dB's Studio is the place where many alternative Utrechter use to go. It's here that you can listen to the most interesting local bands challenging each other gig after gig. I heard about the Tweede Halve Finale (Second Half Final) of the so called Clash of the Titans by my flatmate H who's really going into the Dutch scene.
As a self proclamed international talent scout, I couldn't miss the event. Considering how my knowledge of Dutch music doesn't go further than Shocking Blue, The Ex, Bettie Serveert and Solex I really had to be in the first row. That's why I went to the dB's together with my favorite Focus Group. We tied our bikes to the gigantic structure of a wooden billboard which looked like a wreck.
Then we came in. First impression: a Dutch diner packed with people wearing flannel shirts chatting discreetly around while looking the bottom of their glasses of Grolsch (a Dutch beer).
We paid. A guy stamped blue ink on our hands. We came into the ballroom.

Five bands were going to be on stage.

Unfortunately we missed Natureboy, the first one. According to the dB's website, they brengt jazzy funk met hiphopinvloeden compleet met trompet. Een partyband van het zuiverste water. What a pity mumbled the whole Focus Group.

Band #2: Leslie Grows
(...) mooie gelaagde composities, op professionele wijze ten uitvoer gebracht. Hier is over nagedacht zonder daarbij te veel te vervallen in indierock clichés. Three very tall and very Dutch guys and a drummer. The bass player looked like 18 years old. They played good and with a great personality on stage albeit the reaction of the audience wasn't that great. Quite original sound with a good combination of guitars and decent English lyrics. At the end of the night it happened they were the closer band to the kind of music I like. They could have a brilliant career.
Rating: 7+
RSVP: Clap Your Hands and Say Yeah!

Band #3: Reflexy
There were great expectations for them. All the crowd came closer to the stage as soon as they jumped on it. Energieke Nederhop met veel funk-invloeden. In fact they were very energetic, being the proud ambassadors of the U-Town hip hop community. Reflexy weren't that original in dressing and moving, looking like the concurrents of a Philly Spoken Word Contest, yet they were explosive in rhyming. Two MC's and a (poor) beat creator. They rhymed in Dutch, but motherfucking a lot. People were crazy for them and so was I, laughing every now and then (even if they did not piss on us at the end of the gig like I had told to my Focus Group).
Rating: 6.5 (for the music) 8.5 (for the show)
RSVP: Beastie Boys

Band #4: Alura
Combinatie van progressieve rock en met metal gebracht door een geoliede band en een zeer overtuigende frontvrouw. The melancholic side of metal, as we joked before, during and after their gig. Imagine three guys in Dream Theather and Stratovarius t-shirts in search of a good haircut and a pink-haired lady with a powerful voice and a great presence on stage. Less metal stereotyped than I thought, nevertheless not my glass of beer. I felt the pain coming upwards.
Rating: 6
RSVP: Evanescence (sic!)

Band #5: I Wish I Knew
Aparte combinatie die muzikaal klinkt als postrock/shoegazer. They were supposed to be shoegazers or something. Considering how much I like bands such as Jesus & Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine,
I was very curious to see IWIK (gosh!) on stage. They built a good wall of distorted guitars. They had a fascinating female singer who looks and wears like Isobel Campbell moving herself in a hypnotic way. Yet she sang plainly, just showing traces of a charming angel/sinner double personality while screaming in a smile. Nice gig though. But guys, please change your name!
Rating: 7
RSVP: Slowdive

After an exhausting waiting of 5 Dutch minutes (55 wristwatch minutes) Alura were proclaimed winners of the clash. Together with Reflexy (yo!) they will go to the Final. Me and the Focus Group agreed the Utrecht Scene is not that bad. Then we went out cycling back home in the freezing cold.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Kiss From a Rose (quoting Seal)

Alles is Liefde
All is Love

The title of our short trip at the discovery of the V-Day in the Lowlands comes from a recent Dutch movie. You can find its dvd everywhere while here. Do you want it? I can buy it for you. Just tell me. Shipping for free! Anyway, I have to confess I don't know that much about this movie. I just know that the plot keywords chosen by IMDb.com are "folklore", "runaway groom", "gay love" and "brother sister relationship". For Dutchness sake!

However, even in these gray gay Lowlands today is Valentijnsdag.
Dutch lovers are cycling romantically holding their hands and causing many incidents in the fietspaden (bicycle routes). Yet nobody cares. What is an injured ankle or a broken knee compared to the power of love? That's what They think. Their supermarkets sell awful heartshaped boxes of aardbeien (strawberries). National radios like Arrow Classic Rock and Caz! (Italian readers, please don't laugh!) broadcast Dromen zijn bedrog (Dreams are an illusion) by Marco Borsato*.
The blackbirds on the still naked trees tweet the same song. Welcome to The Netherlands. They love each other. You'll love Them.

*The local old pop hero. A kind of national miaowing monument with a sexy Italian name (I guess, for Them) Imagine a mix of Bryan Adams and Eros Ramazzotti with curly cinder-blond hair.

Are you lonesome today? Don't be depressed. Don't sing Eleanor Rigby too much.
Listen. Do like me. Take your chance to make practice with your non-existent Dutch language mispronouncing Valentijnsdag loudly in front of a large size mirror. It's very easy. Follow me.
Faaaalendddinnssdahhhhhhg. Done? I haven't heard you. Mispronounce it louder! Come on!
Faaaal - Yeah!
Endddinnss - Go on!
Dahhrhhhg - Such a great Ahhrhhg sound you made! It was perfect. So lovely Dutch. So apparently impolite. I'm very proud of you. But stop strangling yourselves right now.

The Zutons - Why won't you give me your love

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Merry Dutch Life: Chapter Two

De Nederlandse Keuken - Pannenkoeken
The Dutch cuisine - Pancakes

While living in a foreign country, among foreign people you have to change your habits. A good suggestion could be: behave like them, eat like them. I don’t know if anyone has ever written something like that, but I made this motto mine. And yet, it took eleven days to find the courage of doing my participant observation. Having no Dutch flatmates, I decided to involve in this anthropogical project a Spanish and a Hungarian girl. S & H were in the kitchen. They couldn’t escape me.
"Are you hungry girls?
"Mmh, yes. Perhaps.
"Let’s have a Dutch dinner!
"So what?
"What are we supposed to cook?
"I have no idea.
"But you just said Dutch dinner. Were you serious?
"I was. And I am. Yet I don’t know what and if they eat.

(Yes. What do They eat? Saint Malinowski help us!)

"Stuffed potatoes?
"Oh, don’t look at me! I come from Canarian Islands. You should know more than me.
"You’re right. I should.
"Let’s check on the internet.

Dutch Pancakes. Thus Spoke Google.

Step 1: buy an original Albert Hejin Pannenkoek Mix in the closest supermarket.
Step 2: pretend to understand the Dutch written preparation instructions.
Step 3: make your own pancakes.

We accomplished successfully the first two steps, albeit zouten (salt) and eieren (eggs) were uneasy to guess. The third step was harder than the previous ones. Yet we managed to have a dozen of perfectly roundshaped Dutch pancakes. H did a great job cooking. I washed the frying pans and the pots we used. S served the hot pancakes on the coffee table in her living room.
Without having a real conoisseur of pannenkoek among us, we didn’t know how to fill them properly. Cheese? Bacon? Caviar? Mayonnaise? Hence, I came out ringing the doorbells along the road where we live looking for a Dutch. I rang at numbers 151,153,157,159. Nobody answered me. Just a rasta guy from Suriname. I failed. Apparently we don’t have Dutch neighbors. What a pity.
Eventually we decided to fill the pancakes with strawberry and raspberry jam. Believe me, the final result was delicious. Perhaps not that Dutch, but who cares of? More culinary experiments will follow pretty soon. S & H are going to ask me for a Surinamese dinner. At that time we’ll have the expert in our neighborhood.

Merry Dutch Life: Chapter One

Badhuis & Privaat
Bathroom & Toilet

You're just arrived in the Lowlands. You've sweat liters of water and deodorant carrying your luggages across the streets of your brand new town. Three Dutch bicycles were going to hit you, giving you an early occasion to try your International Medical Insurance efficiency. And yet now you're safe and sound. At home. A place which coincides accidentally with a Dutch house. You need a shower. You need to look your exhausted face in a mirror. You need to...ehm, you know what you need after a long travel. You look for a bathroom. And the adventure begins.

My first meeting with a Dutch bathroom has been a blind date. We didn’t know anything about each other and it took five minutes to find the switch. Then with the lights on I’ve noticed something wrong.
“Merel! – I cried to my host – where is the water closet?”
“In the toilet, downstairs.” she shouted back.
That’s the point. Where an Italian house has one or two bathrooms, a Dutch one has a bathroom and a toilet at two different floors. While an Italian bathroom is a shiny cathedral of marbles and crystals, a Dutch one is basically a room with a shower and a water basin. Let’s take WCs. According to recent studies, Dutch people are supposed to be the tallest in the world. And yet Dutch toilets could win an award as the smallest in the whole Milky Way. I could hardly sit down on Merel’s toilet and the situation is even worse in the place where I live. My landlord is so proud of this toilet that he hasn’t told me where it is. I’ve found it while looking for a wardrobe. Serendipity at home. I wonder how a two meters high Dutch could use a water closet like this if even my knees flap the door every now and then. There should be a local technique, but it looks like a well kept secret. I'm going to learn.

Jus d'Orange

Let's start in the less pretentious way possible. Let's make a list.
May I?
Lists are the shelter of the non-mother tongue writer who is still unaware of the hidden grammatical snares and the subtle semiotic tricks of English.

While in the Netherlands for studying journalism, keep in mind that your first 10-15 days will be swept away by all but serious activities. Taking inspiration from that still underrated weekly Bibles of contemporary literature which are glamour magazines I've divided those activities in three categories . Here they are.

Dos in the Netherlands

- riding a bicycle (if possible a stolen one bought from a junkie)
- eating as many stroopwafels as possible (don't ask, try)
- drinking a cool Dutchnamed beer comparing its color with the brown water of the canals
- dating a Dutch girl knowing only the expressions doeg, tot ziens and dank je wel
- having a sofinummer (if you want to rebuild your life here)

D'ohs in the Netherlands

- having your bicycle stolen by a junkie (liberalistic economic logic)
- smashing your face on a real Dutch pavement falling from your bike (if you still have one)
- discovering that the cool Dutchnamed beer you took is nonalcoholic (point the pint carefully)
- forgetting your raincoat at home in a sunny day (it's gonna rain)
- hitchhiking on the canals (the houseboats won't move to take you on board)

Don'ts in the Netherlands

- looking inside the tiny Dutch houses like a postmodern Rembrandt (they don't have curtains)
- drinking in the streets of Amsterdam (is not allowed)
- making jokes about the Dutch typical tightness (especially if you're dating a Dutch girl)
- being dated by a Dutch man you hardly doubt the sexual orientation of him (at your own risk)
- missing the Maastricht Carnaval in the first weekend of February (I did)

The Nits - In the Dutch Mountains