Saturday, July 26, 2008

Coffee Culture Comparison

Working in a cafe in the Netherlands has led me to several observations about the differences between cafes and coffee culture in Europe and the U.S. - specifically differences between the Pacific Northwest's dedicated coffee diehards and the Netherlands more simple (it seems) maintenance of tradition.

One of the most notable differences between coffee consumption in the Netherlands and Stumptown is the way it's taken.

In Portland, there are few codes of conduct. People drink coffee in groups, alone, with friends, with children, with whoever. They drink at counters or at tables, on couches or on the go. Each cafe or coffeehouse has a different approach to coffee drinking.

These different approaches can be annoying, for example when you don't know if you should claim a seat first and THEN order your drink, or if you should wait to sit until you have ordered - is one polite and the other pushy? Are you waited on or do you order at the bar? (Usually it is the latter, but not always.)

In the Netherlands - or at least in Middelburg - coffee is traditionally a social activity. You don't see many people sitting by themselves. The exception to this is old men and women taking their morning coffee and reading the paper, but even this usually turns into a social event when they see friends and talk with the waiters, other customers, etc. Also, they only drink alone in the morning - you never see them in the afternoon.

I have never seen a couch in a cafe in the Netherlands, and very few people get coffee to go. This would defeat the social aspect of a cup of coffee!

Luckily, I have been able to find a few cafes where I do not feel impolite or asocial when I sit alone with my journal or a book for an hour or so. Globalization at work, I guess. It's another one of those tricky things, where you like things the way you like them... but should you continue to like them that way at the expense of other cultures?

One Dutch coffee tradition that I am very happy to adopt: the cookie. Every time you order a cup of coffee - a gewoon koffie (also known as a lungo), a koffie verkeerd (a "wrong coffee", similar to our caffe latte), a cappucino, or some froofy drink with whipped cream, flavored syrup and decorative sprinkles - it comes with a little tea cookie on the saucer, at no extra cost. As my mother says, how civilized!

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Dairy Diet

Working at an ice cream salon or gelateria usually results in a strange and somewhat unhealthy - though delicious - diet: one based largely on dairy products.

Two and a half years ago, I was employed at a gelateria where the owner actively encouraged all of us barista/scoopers to constantly taste the ice cream. He wanted to be sure we could advise customers on every aspect of his main product. Even my mom got in on the deal, happy to have a chance at one of her great job ideas: flavor consultant.

I don't remember which flavors she most liked (Mom? comment here!), but some of my favorites were cassis sorbetto with fior di latte gelato, lampone (raspberry) sorbetto with pistacchio gelato, and zabaglione gelato with just about any stone fruit sorbetto - peach, apricot, plum.

Of course, I only discovered these combinations by constantly eating the gelato.

In addition to the ice cream products, we were a cafe and sold a lot of coffee. We also drank a lot of coffee. In the 5 or so months that I worked there, I averaged 3-4 small lattes each day. That's 4 shots of espresso and 32-40 ounces of milk.

However, I actually lost weight at this job: I often had coffee and ice cream for lunch or dinner, and gelato, made from milk (as opposed to cream) is much less fatty than ice cream.

However, my current employer sells honest-to-goodness ice cream, made in Belgium, and in a huge array of tantalizingly tempting flavors such as French coffee (with coffee grounds and grand marnier), dark chocolate, caramel pecan, luikse siroop, peperkoek, and cinnamon. It is hard to remember that it is much, much more fattening than gelato, and as such... I am not losing so much weight at this job!

Living on the dairy diet is an extremely enjoyable - if slightly unhealthy - lifestyle. However, as long as you have some dairy-free sorbetto to get some fruit, and maybe eat a few vegetables when you aren't working, I have a hard time believing that it can really be all THAT bad.

I'm no expert, though, so don't trust me on that.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Expat Patriotism

This morning I went out for coffee with a friend of mine, who graduated in June and is periodically back in Middelburg for a day or two while moving her things between her mother's home, her boyfriend's place, and her new place in Utrecht. After coffee, we did some wandering and shopping, as is usually the case with our meetings.

Van Leeuw, the multimedia store, was having a 3-for-15 sale of CDs, and miraculously, there were a lot of good choices - which is so rarely the case with such things. I had a hard time choosing from Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Woody Guthrie, Chris Isaak, and the Counting Crows, but in the end I settled on Wilson Pickett and Woody Guthrie, since they were both two-disc albums, and Chris Isaak, because I simply love him.

During our other wanderings, such as into the HEMA and the H&M to look at fun things like swimsuits (despite the overcast weather on a day I had been planning to go to the beach), we somehow got to talking about the 4th of July. She asked how I had celebrated.

Celebrate the 4th of July? Now that's something I would never have thought to do. I have had a little Thanksgiving celebration the last two years, but the 4th of July?

I shook my head. The 4th of July isn't very much fun now, I said. Especially since September 11th... to me, it's associated with the brand of Patriotism that supports President Bush and the war and the Patriot Act and those types of things. Basically, all it is, is fireworks and a barbecue - that is, if it isn't raining.

I just got home and put on my new Woody Guthrie CD. A few minutes later, I heard the familiar lyrics of "This Land is Your Land," and sang along. Now this is my kind of patriotism.

In very different news: The Gemeente Middelburg as chosen today to re-lay the cobblestones on my tree-lined street. There are jackhammers buzzing and bulldozers bulling (because I guess they aren't dozing) and men in bright orange vests walking back and forth in front of my window. Of all of the weekdays they could have chosen to do this, why did it have to be the weekday I didn't have to work?

Monday, July 14, 2008

Going Dutch

Now, how's that for an original title?

But it's the truth: Since Thursday, I have more or less gone Dutch. At least as far as language goes.

Since realizing on Wednesday just how much Dutch I can speak, I have been using it increasingly at work. Every day I learn two or three words to add to the vocabulary. I am also amazed at my grammar, which seems to be much better than I expected. The confusing word order of the Dutch language flows pretty easily for me now.

I talk to friends and bartenders at the club in Dutch (even with all of that loud music in the background). I regularly translate for friends. Serving ice cream to Dutch customers is an absolute cinch. Don't ask about the German ones, though, I can't even count past 5.

The beach behind my current place of employment

Out with the old, in with the new?

Not being able to count past 5 in German is not a big deal. This morning, however, I came the realization that I can't count to eleven in Spanish. I get to ten, and... blank.

In fact, most of my Spanish is slipping away. My brother, newly returned from Ecuador, tries to talk to me on the phone in Spanish and I have trouble understanding. My cousin messages me in Spanish and I reply in English. When I try to talk, or even write, in Spanish, almost every other word comes out in Dutch.

And yet, my French is not failing me the way that my Spanish is. Why is that?

I can think of two reasons for this.

The first is that I still use French a fair amount in the Netherlands. Instruction booklets often come in Dutch and French, not English. The international train to Belgium makes announcements first in Dutch, then in French (followed by German, then English). Less than a year ago, I was studying second-year French. I made a trip to Liege about 6 months ago and spoke French for 24 hours. I was temporarily promoted to waiter one day at work because we had French-speaking customers.

Could it just be all of the little refreshers and small opportunities I have to use French?

Or could it be the second reason, which I think is more interesting, if less likely: I began learning French long before I was 11, or whenever the threshold age for learning a second language is. I learned to count to ten in Spanish before then, too. I spent a little time in France and had been significantly exposed to the language by the time I started formal lessons in high school. Maybe it is just easier for me to differentiate French from other languages because I started learning it earlier.

After all, I spent all of last summer speaking fluent, rapid Spanish daily with my coworkers at the bakery where I worked, as well as with a visiting Mexican friend who lived across the street the whole summer.

Onze? Once? Any of you readers who currently has a lower language retrieval threshold for Spanish than I do, please tell me how to say 11...

Friday, July 11, 2008

HHW Videos

Be sure to check out my video clips form Haarlemse Honkbalweek. Most of them are available in the "My videos" section at the bottom of the column at right.

But just in case, here are the links so you can click straight through to youtube:

The Stadium Scene, pre-rainout
Between-inning Entertainment at Pim Mulierstadion
Ryoji Nakata, Fan Favorite

Pictures are available on my facebook. Maybe one day I will get around to posting them here...

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Haarlemse Honkbalweek (Haarlem Baseball Week)

The Glass is Half Empty

Haarlemse Honkbalweek began with a tenth-inning loss to the Yankees at 5 a.m. my time. But I was going to Haarlem to see some real baseball, live. Including the national teams from both Cuba and Japan.

Things kept going wrong, though. I bought a ticket to Leiden instead of Haarlem. No biggie, but I missed my connection, and was late to meet my couchsurfing host. I asked a train employee where the bathroom was and she couldn’t tell that I was a girl.

I arrived at Pim Mulier Stadium, excited. A family was speaking Spanish; a Caribbean variety, I thought, but heard no Dominicanisms. Cuban? I wanted to ask where they were from but Dutch got in the way.

Gray clouds crowded overhead as the usher scanned me in. What was up with all of the Yankee merchandise? I only saw 2 Red Sox logos.

I watched as Japan and the Dutch Caribbean Team warmed up. The DCT apparently spoke some form of Dutch, but shouted “Arriba! Arriba!” for popups. The Japanese players surprised me with their small size. They crouched and squatted like Ichiro always does in right field at Safeco.

It started sprinkling. I thought how it would have been better if it had rained when I was in Dublin, or in Amsterdam, or on vacation in Italy with Dad, instead of during baseball week.

Wait a minute… I realized. It did rain on those trips: frequent showers countered the sunbreaks in Dublin, it drizzled constantly in Amsterdam, and in Italy, Dad and I were frequently caught in downpours. That’s not fair.

I pulled out a scorecard and tried to keep dry. I was wet, miserable, lonely. A rain delay lasted 20 minutes. I envied the Dutch and their ponchos, as well as their companions. I don’t mind being alone, but sometimes it seems so unfair that I have to do it so often, and have had to for so long.

Japan led 12-0, then 12-5, and then the rains came, driving the viewers below the scaffolding that supported the stands. While the others countered the storm with jokes, friends and conversation, I huddled up with Petite Anglaise. Little comfort compared to the warmth of company.

They called the game. Some fries provided temporary comfort. I waited, cold, wet, and alone, hoping it would clear before the Cuba-Chinese Taipei. but at 8 it was still raining. People were leaving, including the Spanish-speaking family; the game was canceled. I left.

The Glass is Half Full

On the other hand, I got to go to a home, have a cup of tea, and talk to someone. Couch surfing has more to offer than free accomodation.

I felt better after sleeping. I got up the next day determined to make it a good one.

I found a Vlaamsch Broodhuys, which cheered me up. I ate breakfast there, speaking only Dutch. It was raining, but who cared? Let it get it out of its system.

I cleverly bought a poncho and a small towel at HEMA. I went to the Grote Kerk. Big, white walls, and simple windows made me feel happy, peaceful, and relaxed.

At the stadium, I grabbed seats on the third base side, near home plate. Seeing the U.S. team warm up warmed me – nothing like good baseball to make me happy.

During the national anthems we felt raindrops. Then it poured. Only for three or four minutes, but it took the grounds crew half an hour to get the infield ready for play again.

Finally, “PLAY BALL!”

The USA beat the DCT 11-0 in 7 innings (because of a mercy rule). The game ended at 6, delaying the start of the Netherlands-Japan game to 7.30. It was sunny until game time, but suddenly I didn’t mind the weather.

Because the crowd was really into it. Fans were leading cheers on the dugout. Dutch music played between innings. It rained briefly, but not enough to stop the game. The sun came out again.

They announced that the Cuba-Chinese Taipei game would be replayed the next morning at 9.30. I could see it before going home!

The girl next to me asked where I was from, and we talked a little throughout the game. She asked why they had intentionally walked a player, making me thrilled to have someone to talk baseball with. I asked her if she rooted for a Dutch team, but she shook her head and said, “Only for Honkbalweek.”

The game was incredible. Percy Isenia, 1st baseman (or Eerste Honkman), scored in the second after hitting a double – the first extra-base hit I had seen, excepting a home run on Monday. The game was fast, not drawn-out like a T-ball game. The fastest pitch I noticed clocked in at 93 mph (thrown by Japan’s Hisashi Takeushi).

The Dutch scored on a solo home run by Roel Koolen in the 5th. In the 7th, they even turned a double play. In the 8th inning, I looked down to mark a hit by Takahirio Iwamoto and was shocked to see it was Japan’s first hit of the game. I had seen 7 innings of no-hit baseball! David Bergman had given up a walk, hit two, and committed an error, but no hits.

Iwamoto scored on another single, a sacrifice bunt, and a groundout. Talk about small ball.

The Dutch led 2-1 in the bottom of the ninth. Number 8, the first baseman Ryoji Nakata, led off to thunderous applause. For some reason, Nakata was a huge favorite with the Dutch crowd. I found their cheers annoying; it seemed they were poking fun of his size. Nakata is short and round and makes Mo Vaughn and David Ortiz look slim in comparison.

You won’t like him so much when he hits a home run to tie the game I barely had time to finish the thought, however, before Nakata drilled the ball down the right field line. It was only fair by three or four feet, but it was a home run by much, much more.

And then I saw that I was wrong: They still liked him! They were all standing and cheering and clapping for him!

That’s classy.

Either that, or they don’t care who wins.

Japan scored another run in the bottom of the ninth to win. I felt bad for the Dutch team but was happy. What a great game! And the next day I would come back to see Cuba! Gosh that would be awesome!

There’s No Half About It: The Glass is Completely Empty

On the way out, the players were milling around, some signing autographs. I wanted one! Then I remembered that I hadn’t brought my baseball. Maybe tomorrow…? But there would be no Dutch team then.

At the information booth, I asked if I could use my Monday ticket to go to the Cuba-Chinese Taipei makeup game. The lady shook her head. Okay, I said, and thought, no big deal. I’ll buy another ticket.

Then I thought to ask, “Are there still tickets available?” and for some cruel reason, the lady actually laughed as she shook her head no.

“I paid 13.50 for 6 innings of rained out baseball?” I stammered, panic clutching at me. She nodded, looking genuinely amused. “Even though I bought a ticket for Monday, I can’t go to the rainout…?”

“No,” she said, as if it was obvious, “You have to buy a ticket for Wednesday.”

“Yeah but… usually you get a coupon or something… you get to come to the make-up game…” She shook her head. “There’s nothing I can do?” I asked desperately. “No jobs… no work… I can’t volunteer, or anything…” I gasped, flailing about for any possible means of entry to the ballpark. The lady shook her head, again.

“Dank je wel,” I said, not meaning it. I went back outside and what little happiness remained within me dissolved into the crowd. No Cuba! They were the team I had most wanted to see!

Maybe I could come early tomorrow and ask the Cuban players to let me carry their bags or something… No way would Cubans let some girl be their porter. I would just be wasting money on train tickets. But… CUBA!!! When would I get the chance to see Cuba play again?

I called my host to find she was still not back from her concert. The blue skies had become black; lightning flashed. I tripped into the city center and found a restaurant/bar. I told the bartender, in Dutch, that I just wanted a drink, a cup of tea or such. He repeated my question back to me, correcting my improper pronunciation of “drink”. Another waiter said, in dismissive English , “A cup of tea? You can sit at the bar.” The bartender was nicer. I felt sort of comforted in his presence.

Still miserable, though.

They kicked me out at midnight. I wandered until a phone call informed me I could go to the house and get some sleep.

Wednesday morning was tauntingly, teasingly, cruelly clear and blue. It wasn’t fair! Why hadn’t I planned to come on Wednesday in the first place? Why did it have to rain on Monday? Why? Why? WHY?

The Glass is Refilled (with rain?)

I went back to the Vlaamsch Broodhuys and took some comfort in the friendly woman working there. She was amused at my indecision. “It’s harder to choose when you’re really hungry, isn’t it?” she said. I agreed, though hunger wasn’t the only problem, it was the tantalizing choices. I haven’t seen bread that good in ages.

The English-speaker who was working the morning before came in and I took some comfort in his accent. I thought he was American but couldn’t be sure. He spoke on and off in Dutch, pretty good Dutch. An Anglophone who tries. I like that.

I walked slowly up the shopping streets, no longer hungry, lugging two kilos of bread in a bag (half sliced, so I could freeze it, the other half unsliced to be eaten over the next few days/weeks). I saw cute shoes that I wanted and thought to save up for and buy in Middelburg (only 30 euros). I found a store with Tintin memorabilia in the window and thought to step in and look for a birthday present for my brother.

The clerk asked if I was looking for anything in particular, and led me to the Simpsons products. I explained that since The Simpsons, my brother, and myself all came from Portland… it wasn’t very original.

In the end, I bought a “I Y Captain Haddock” mug and a cute Thompson & Thomson bowl, mariner-themed with a thin blue line circling below the rim. The clerk informed me that those old styles were being discontinued, replaced with the cheaper (and less original, less cute, etc.) “I Y ___” products. Now I couldn’t feel guilty about buying an 11 euro bowl. I told her how we had these bowls when I was little, and it was sad they weren’t making them anymore.

Later I realized that neither would be very good presents for Simon. Oh well, I’ll take good care of them so I can have them when I finally move out of Bagijnhof.

Only after I left did I really recognize the fact that I had done every last bit of that conversation in Dutch.

Also the conversation in the bakery.

Oh my God.

I can speak Dutch.


I caught the train back to Middelburg, thinking if I couldn’t see some baseball I might as well get home and write, read, and maybe listen to the game in Dutch on internet radio.

Middelburg was wet and rainy. If the Netherlands wants to keep playing baseball, (and I want them to,) they should really consider investing in some domed stadiums.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Late night bike rides

Usually, on days I close at work, I ride home with a colleague who also lives in Middelburg. He's a nice guy and we have fun conversations, sometimes random but usually just talk about our (extremely different) backgrounds and varying interests (he's the outdoorsy type, while I'm the bookish type). Tonight I talked about how Americans embarrass me.

They come into the workplace from time to time, or I run into them somewhere, and while ocassionally it is nice to hear an American accent, most of the time it is unexciting or even annoying.

And it is such a hypocritical sentiment! Their accents sound twangy.... so I guess mine does, too. They talk to so loud. But then, so do I. What is it that makes me sometimes feel so, well... superior?

Maybe it's my decent knowledge of world - not to mention U.S. - geography. I'm happy to break the stereotype that Americans don't know geography, but unfortunately, that stereotype is there for a reason.

Totally different direction here: I'm learning Dutch. Every once in a while, something reminds me; tonight, it was a conversation some of my colleagues had as we were chatting over wine and other drinks after closing. They were talking about the good wine at this pub and the bad service at that one, and towards the end I realized that, yeah, I actually understood the majority of what they were saying.

And another, really different direction: I've been reading the Petite Anglaise blog, the topic of my thesis (as I will refer to it here; it is just so much more universally understood than "IRP"), and it's really very well written. I can actually see why she got a book deal.

Which is quite a relief, since I have to read 3-4 years' worth of daily blog entries, as well as a book that is based on/taken from/inspired by the blog itself. I printed out the first three months and read them on paper, and now I really understand just how interactive blogs are by the amount that I couldn't do when reading one on paper. All of the links - even the link that exposes the comments is disabled on a printout!

I'm excited to get the book and see what carries over from the blog to the book and what is totally missing.