The Wooden Shoe Diaries

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Whammo!

Last week my bike's kickstand broke. As with so many things in life, on the surface it would seem that I am the responsible party, but really it was my husband’s fault. 

For reasons I can no longer recall, my husband was using my bike instead of his own during the Christmas holidays while I was away in Canada. I should mention that he’s 6’2” and middle-aged and my bike is baby blue with pink flowers on it – it’s about as dissonant an image as you’re going to get. Anyway, during that time he managed to break my kickstand. He repaired it, badly, but well enough that it could still be relied on to hold up my bike, although at a rather half-hearted angle and probably not in strong wind. But I made do. Then last week I was grumpily and hastily loading groceries into my bike bags and whammo! (except that’s not at all what it sounded like, but my skills at onomatopoeia are lackluster today) – my kickstand cracked clean off under the weight of the load. 

Now, I never would have thought that a broken kickstand would be much of a problem. I mean, I never used the kickstand on the bike I had as a kid, preferring to throw my bike on its side in the yard, to the great irritation of my parents. But I’m not 11 anymore and I don’t have a yard to throw my bike in anyway, and so I do fairly often have to stand the thing up. It’s especially important to be able to do this when leaving the house. You try balancing your bike in one hand, your briefcase and handbag in the other, and locking the door at the same time. It can be done, but only by those blood-origin Dutchies, not recent turncoats like myself.

So whereas my usual approach to repairs is to procrastinate and complain (case in point: my watch has needed a new battery since May), the day after my kickstand broke I promptly took it to the shop for repairs. It's been more than a week already, which makes me worry that maybe they had to order a whole new kickstand. Luckily my bike is domestic, so the parts don't have to come from Japan. And if you didn't recognize that as a lame joke based on an analogy with automotive repair, the fault is surely mine. Okay, it's a little bit yours. Let's say 70/30. Unlike the fault for the broken kickstand. That rests 100% on some blood-origin Dutch shoulders.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Canada wins

Yesterday I applied for my Dutch passport (hurrah!). Here’s the terribly complicated process I had to go though in order to do so:

1. I got some passport pictures taken.
2. I took my pictures, together with proof of citizenship document (which, just to remind everyone, I now have!) to the town hall.
3. The end.

Yes, that’s right. The nice lady at the town hall just looked at my documents and processed the application for me. I didn’t even have to fill in a form. My passport will be ready next week and it only costs €66.

I didn’t even need two references and a guarantor, because, unlike the government of Canada, the government of the Netherlands seems to realize that applying for a travel document shouldn’t involve rounding up a posse of supporters. I mean, I’m not running for office. I just want to fly on a plane.

I have to renew my Canadian passport later this year, and I’m already thoroughly exhausted just reading the "How to apply" section on the website. When it comes to red tape, Canada wins.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

And then I became Dutch

As any of you who have been following my blog will know, I have been in the process of securing Dutch citizenship for more than a year now. And today it finally happened. Today I officially became a citizen of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

Everyone was so darned excited. Even my dog got into the spirit of things. No we didn’t make her wear it. She totally picked it out herself.

My dog's sense of patriotism knows no bounds.

My naturalization ceremony was not held in a town hall, together with other prospective Dutch citizens. Instead, the whole thing took place in my dining room. The mayor came to my house, read aloud the belofte (oath), which I then had to agree to (my line was ‘This I declare and promise’, only in Dutch obviously, because English surely would not have gone down well in this particular context). And then, just like that, I was Dutch. It was a bit like being transformed by a wizard’s spell only without all the frogs and swans and lightning and pointy hats.

Leave it to me to be looking in the wrong direction at the crucial moment. The giant orange thing in the foreground is not the mayor's spaceship, but our dining room lamp. That it happens to be orange is serendipitous. That it happens to be in the foreground of nearly every picture is just bad photography.

After my instant and magical transformation into a Dutch citizen, the mayor handed over the official paperwork, plus some flowers and presents (a Middelburg mug, some chocolate, orange candles –  all things I have been doing without for the past eight years). We then sat down and had coffee and cake. It was super leuk.

Naturalization is hilarious!

In a few days I can take the paperwork to the town hall and apply for a passport (sadly they don’t seem to offer that service in my dining room), and once I have my passport I can finally stand with the other Europeans in the fast queue at airport passport control. But I’ll always look over at the slow-moving travelers in the line next to mine and remember that just a short time ago, I was one of them.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

I've been yachting around the Mediterranean with Ryan Gosling. Okay, not really.

Hi. I’m back.

I know, I know. It’s been a while. I’d like to tell you that the reason I’ve been away from this blog for so long is because something completely fabulous happened in my life that kept me occupied so that I didn’t have time to write. Like, I won the lottery and have been yachting around the Mediterranean for the past few months, or I was having an affair with Ryan Goslingor I was busy corresponding with the King of the Netherlands. But unfortunately none of those things happened. Wait, hang on; that’s not strictly true. One of them happened. I’ll give you ten guesses.

Yes, yes the king thing. Here’s the letter:




Sigh.

I’m not saying I’m not happy about having a letter from the King of Clogland. Of course I am. When was the last time you had a letter that started with the following words: ‘His majesty the king. . .’? It’s just that it would have been even better to have had a letter that started this way that was from Ryan Gosling, on the same day I won the lottery. But I guess beggars can’t be choosers, so the king will have to do.

If you’re wondering what my boy Willem-Alexander was writing to me about, he wanted to let me know that he’s totally down with me becoming Dutch. Which is awesome because now my girlhood fantasy of being a citizen of a country which is so open and democratic that even this guy gets a say in things can be fulfilled:

Geert Wilders. Who wouldn't want someone like this having a say in their national politics? Photo courtesy of www.gva.be


But seriously, folks. It's finally happening. After nearly 8 years I will finally feel like I belong here. Or at least I'm hoping that's how I'll feel after the mayor comes and waves his magic wand over my head and pronounces me Dutch. If I still feel like the same awkward misfit I've felt like for the past 36 years I'm totally going to write back to Willie and demand a refund.

My sincere apologies if you ended up on this blog because you did a search for Ryan Gosling. This was probably not what you were looking for. 
 

Monday, December 16, 2013

Help us win!

Hey there all you loyal Wooden Shoe Diaries readers! The Wooden Shoe Diaries is taking part in a contest for best expat blog, hosted by the good folks over at ExpatsBlog.com and me and The Shoes need your help.

Readers can help this blog win a prize for best blog, and all you have to do to help me is to visit entry on the ExpastBlog website here and leave a short comment underneath.

Note that to avoid spam the organizers will only "count" comments that are at least ten words long. You will also be asked to verify your email address (one time only) in order to submit your comment.

Here's that link again, just in case you missed it: The WSD's Top Ten Signs You are Becoming Dutch

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Smugness goeth before a Tiroler

About five years ago I started to suffer from frequent headaches, the kind that feel exactly like an ice cream headache except in my eyeball and without the pleasant aftertaste. More often than not these headaches incapacitate me to the point where I spend most of the day in bed hovering over a bucket. “Migraine!” I hear all you Google-educated MDs diagnose. But apparently to qualify as an “official” migraine my headache has to not only hurt like hell and cause me to repeat my breakfast, but also has to exhibit at least one other symptom from some mysterious list that my doctor keeps secreted away in her head. So my headaches taunt me with feelings of inferiority not only by reducing me to an infantile state of helplessness but also by losing at symptom bingo.

Sometimes I get lucky and develop a headache that, while it prevents me from doing anything strenuous, like standing, does enable me to take on less trying tasks, like opening my eyes and looking directly at the world around me. On these days, I stay on the sofa and watch movies.

A few weeks ago I had one of these less debilitating headaches and I decided to rent a film from an online film streaming website that I frequently use. As I began scrolling through the categories I noticed that a new genre of film had been added since the last time I had used this service. Under categories like “action” and “romantic comedy” was something called “Tiroler.”

“Tiroler? I mused aloud to my husband. Isn’t Tirol a place in Austria? Aren’t ‘Tirolers’ people from Tirol? Why would there be a whole separate genre of films about the inhabitants of an Alpine province?”

“Just click on it,” my husband said simply. So I did.

The category “Tiroler” consisted of five films, with titles like “Three Swedish Blondes in Tirol” and “Happy Quickies in Tirol.” The images accompanying the descriptions were cartoon depictions of outrageously busty blondes giggling in the arms of lusty fat men, set against a pristine mountain backdrop.

Lederhosen really are erotic. Image from Mejane.com.

My husband went on to explain to me that “Tiroler” films were to the 1970s what Miley Cyrus is to 2013 – inane soft porn which is mildly interesting mostly for adolescent boys. Apparently these films were regular late-night fare on Dutch TV in more innocent times. Now, it seems, there was an audience in the Netherlands that was nostalgic for the days when your sexual innuendo came with a healthy dose of mountain air.

If we had Tiroler films in Canada when I was growing up, I certainly never came across them. This, to me, was entirely new territory. And after seven years in the Netherlands, I had just begun to grow smug about my knowledge of Dutch culture. But smugness goeth before a Tiroler, it seems, and it’s clear that when it comes to the Netherlands (and specifically Dutch-Austrian relations), I may still have a lot to learn (and some of it is pretty darned freaky).

I didn’t opt for a Tiroler film that day. But I did watch one of the trailers, purely as a sort of ethnographic research exercise. The Sound of Music will never be the same again. Thanks, Holland.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Storm! Panic! Mayhem!

My father loves a good winter storm. As soon as one is forecast, he begins tracking its progress with vigour. Almost all conversations with my father in the day(s) and hours leading up to the appearance of those first foreboding flakes begin with a commentary (his) on wind speed and direction. As (his) excitement about the impending blizzard – which has now been blown up in his mind to epic, apocalyptic proportions – grows, so do his heroic efforts to protect his family. As the wind whips round our house, and we sit anxiously awaiting the wrath of the latest nor’wester, my father braves the elements to go to the local corner store and get in the emergency supplies that will see us through the difficult days ahead: a couple of Crispy Crunch bars and a bottle of pop (maybe some lottery scratch tickets, if he is feeling especially optimistic about the chances of survival).

This is of course nothing more than a reflex left over from his own childhood when a storm really did mean that you could be cut off from the outside world for days. It is, however, wholly misplaced now. For one thing, my mother has enough meat in the house at any given time that a whole new species of hybrid animal could be cobbled together from the various bits and pieces in her freezer. Second, my father lives in a town now. With indoor plumbing, central heating and snowplows. Yes, the snow might reach the rooftops, but luckily we can dispel the darkness by flicking a switch.

Having said all of this, some of my father’s enthusiasm for dramatic storms must have rubbed off on me, because I find myself consistently disappointed by the storms we get here in the Netherlands, to the point that I’m treating any announcement of an impending storm as a “boy who cried wolf” scenario and ignoring it entirely.

Last night I turned on the television and it was all over the news. Today would be the day of reckoning. There were orange and red and yellow lines on the map. Storm! the weatherman proclaimed. It’s going to be, like windy! In some places the water might, like, be wavy!

This afternoon I had to go out to get some supplies of my own (wine), so I decided to do some investigative journalism to see what effect this storm was having on life in Middelburg.

They say that animals can sense weather, becoming nervous and jumpy in storms. I tested this theory on my dog, and yes it's true that she does seem to be sitting in a particularly agitated manner.

I'm freaking terrified.
But if I was doubtful about the effects of the "storm" at this point, my doubts were soon allayed, when I witnessed the damage that it was already causing across vast swathes of Middelburg.

All those leaves totally used to be attached to that tree. Clean-up efforts have still not begun here, as the workers face continued danger from more falling leaves.

Even the tough, weather-hardened men and women who routinely stand outside in all kinds of weather year-round during Middelburg's weekly Thursday market decided the risk was just too great. As I approached the market square they were already packing up their wares and it was only midday. 

I could so be a professional photographer.

"Packing up": residents of Middelburg flee on bicycle as market sellers decide the risks are just too great.

As I rounded the corner into one of the streets leading away from this sad scene, it was clear what had precipitated the market sellers' decision to retreat:

Get down! Get down! The sky is falling! Storm! Panic! Mayhem!
Good thing I got some wine in. At least if we lose power there will be at least one thing that will be lit up.