It has been one tiring week for me here in Amsterdam. The International Student Network orientation has kept me running all over the city doing fun things, so much so that I can’t walk today due to blisters and other ailments of the feet (my boots have turned against me! noooo!) So let me show you what I’ve been up to:
Friday morning we went on a boat tour of the canals. I did not take as many pictures as I would have liked, but it was super cold, and I did not want to keep opening the window to take a picture.
Next we went on a tour of the royal palace. The palace is currently undergoing renovation, and I heard it won’t be done for another ten years. Let me just say that I personally felt the white plastic kind of killed the effect:
The inside of the palace was pretty much what one would expect–fancy, opulent, no taking pictures with flash.
After touring the palace we were hungry, so we decided to eat patates frites, or Dutch french fries. What makes them curious to most visitors is that the Dutch usually eat them with mayonnaise on top. I chose not to get mayonnaise, though, because I hate mayonnaise. So far I have done well with trying everything that I can, but being in a foreign country is not going to magically make me like mayonnaise. I got ketchup.
We went to see a Dutch movie, but there was not auditorium-style seating so the person in front of me blocked the subtitles. About a minute into the movie I decided to stop struggling to see what was going on. I took a lovely little nap instead.
After the movie we went to eat Dutch pancakes. This was the part of the night where all the cultural differences came out. Up to this point, everyone had things in common–school, hobbies, music. However, when the pancakes came out, everyone went ballistic.
They were very, very thin, and about the size of the entire plate and a person only got one pancake when he or she ordered. So the other American and I said something like, “Wow, those are more like crepes.” And literally everyone got into an argument. The girl from Slovakia said that crepes were rolled up and filled with stuff. The Australian said they were not exactly pancakes, but not exactly crepes. I said that I thought the defining characteristic of a crepe was being made primarily of eggs and being really thin. Either way, those things were sure as hell not pancakes as I know them.
The pancake discussion was rather lighthearted, but soon we started talking about other differences between us. The Americans and the Australians were discussing how dehydrated we were because there is never any water, and when you go to a restaurant you pay the same price for water as you do for a beer. So, naturally, everyone chooses alchohol. The Europeans got really offended that we said anything and were like, “That’s just the way it is here. That’s just the way it is.”
The most awkward conversation was actually started by me, indirectly. I asked the girl from Singapore what her parents did for a living, as she had mentioned that they were Muslim Indians, so I figured they must live in Singapore for business reasons. She said her father was in shipping and her mother was a housewife. This set off a firestorm of discussion. The girl from Slovakia was rather blunt and said, “I could never imagine being a housewife. Why spend the time to get a degree and then stay home?” The Australians and I tried to defend housewives by saying that some people want to stay home with their children or that the costs of childcare are too high. The girl from Singapore also said that where she comes from, there is no need for two incomes, and that her mom spends time cooking and cleaning and shopping, not just sitting at home doing nothing. The Slovakian girl said, “Well European women do all those things and have jobs.” I was baffled by that. I thought she was being rude and taking the women’s lib thing too far. I was prepared to deal with people of other cultures seeing things differently than me, but I really was not expecting to butt heads over housewives.
After dinner we went to karaoke. I usually don’t like karaoke, but it was actually a lot of fun, and I found that Michael Jackson brings people of all nations together. When Billy Jean came on, the Belgian guy in my group said, “I can’t believe I forgot my Michael Jackson costume at home! I have ze one glove and everyzing!” Um, yeah. That’s a little too much information, Reuben.
A really cool part of the night that I didn’t think I would enjoy was the nationalistic fervor of people from each country getting on stage to sing famous songs from/about their country. The Americans were first, and I didn’t hear them call us up, so I didn’t get to sing “Born in the U.S.A” with my fellow countrymen. After that, the Germans sang “99 Luftballoons,” the Dutch sang a song I couldn’t understand, and a group sand “Walking on Sunshine.” I don’t know where that song is from, though, so I don’t know who was singing it. I left after that, and walked home by myself, and I really feel safe in this city. I have walked around by myself a lot in the dark and I don’t feel creeped out or anything. See, I’m fine, Grandma!
Yesterday I woke up and looked out my window to see this:
I slept in and skipped the sports day part of orientation. I went shopping and bought things like towels and laundry detergent. One of the strangest parts of the day was attempting to buy shower gel. I pick up a bottle of what looks to be shower gel and go to put it in my basket. Then I notice it is called “douche gel.” Suddenly I became very afraid. Was I buying douche gel? Does “douche” mean “shower” in Dutch, or will I be rubbing vagina cleaner all over my body? Are all the Dutch people in the store snickering at me? I put the bottle down and rushed out of the store. Later, I was at the grocery store looking for hand soap when I saw a bottle that said, “Shower Gel (Douche Gel).” So I bought it. I think I am using shower gel, but who knows. Oh well, at least my bellybutton won’t get a yeast infection.
Last night I went to the orientation final party. It was held at Club Odeon, and it was really fun. There were probably 350-400 people there, all dancing. I love the way people dance here. I have never been a bump-and-grinder, never have been and never will be, so it was really refreshing to see people dancing like normal humans. I meant to take a picture of the packed dance floor, but I forgot. So enjoy these pictures of me and my friends:
On the left is Ole Martin and on the right is Angus. They are from Norway. They study physics. So far, everyone I have met from Norway studies physics and all say they do so because it is fun and interesting. Yeah, fun and interesting, like stabbing myself in the eye. Repeatedly. But they are fun and interesting, so that’s good.
These girls got Ole Martin and Angus to dance. It was precious.
Ole Martin and German girl (I forgot her name, sorry).
Me and Thomas giggling at the boys dancing with the slutty girls.
It was a sunglasses party. Also, a Spiderman party, apparently.
Ole Martin, the German girl, and I walked home. Ole and I had a lovely chat about the Norwegian state church and compared church attendance rates between the U.S. and Europe. My favorite quote by him: “You are registered in the church before you can even think.”
All in all, I am having a lot of fun. I miss you guys but I’m doing well and I think you would be proud. Love you all!