The Wooden Shoe Diaries

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 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

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.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Hunger games

I think our neighbours are testing us. They keep inviting us to things. And I don’t mean that every once in a while one of our neighbours drops by to let us know they’re having an informal gathering that evening and would we like to stop by if we don’t have other plans? Such spontaneity is anathema to the Dutch, who use the same word (afspraak) to refer to a work meeting as they use to refer to a coffee date with a friend. Socializing in the Netherlands is by appointment only, and more often than not these appointments are organized well in advance, and involve a lot of cross-referencing of everyone’s day-planners. Never before I moved to Holland did I ever feel the need to have my agenda – which I associated only with work appointments – with me at all times. Now if I forget it at home I am regarded as socially retarded, which is unfair, frankly, because there are lots of other, much clearer signs of this than my leaving my agenda at home.

The latest craze in neighbourhood socializing seems to be something called a “running dinner.” This, for the happy uninitiated, is a dinner hosted by multiple parties, for which you must traipse around from one house to another like a collector for a charitable organization in order to get your food. These dinners are always multi-course affairs, with each new course requiring a change of house. This means that not only do you have to get up from the comfort of your chair at least three times, but you also have to come up with new compliments for the hosts, new pats on the heads for the children, and new mmms and ahhhs about the food for each of the new houses you visit. Just writing about it makes me totally exhausted and happy there’s a snack bar around the corner. Is this “work-for-your-food” nonsense going on in other parts of the otherwise-sensible world? Or is it a uniquely Dutch thing? It certainly isn’t anything I ever came across in Canada, but maybe that’s because the distances meant that by the time you got to the next house the next course would most likely be breakfast.

It’s not that I’m not grateful to be invited places, by the way. I love invitations. But if God intended us to chase our food, he wouldn't have invented evolution. Or the Albert Heijn. Amen.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Boil them cabbage down

The other day I was in the supermarket buying salad to go with my wine and potato chips when a woman approached me holding a bag of pre-shredded cabbage aloft as though she was about to present it as evidence and said (in Dutch): “Excuse me. Can I ask you something?”

What, you have a burning cabbage question?

Turns out, yes, she did. “Do you cook the cabbage at the same time as the potatoes?”

Now, this seems at first like a strange question. What cabbage? What potatoes? Stop using the definite article to refer to what is clearly not a mutually understood referent!

But in the Netherlands this question becomes instantly interpretable. Cabbage Lady was, like me, one of the Un-Dutch, and she was asking for my advice (MY advice!) on how to prepare the traditional Dutch dish of potatoes, cabbage and weiners from a jar known as stamppot.

Seriously. You need help with this? Photo from Wikipedia.
(At this point in my story I feel compelled to digress so as to point out that if you need advice on how to boil two of the most resilient vegetables on earth [one of which has already been cut up for you], bash them with a metal implement, and lay some processed meat on top of them, you are not much of a hand in the cooking department and should consider just sticking to microwave meals). But I digress.

I was thrilled. I mean, I had no idea what the answer to the question was because I don’t have a clue if most Dutch people cook the cabbage with the potatoes or not; my husband is the stamppot aficionado in our house. But still. A wonderful thing had happened to me, ladies and gentlemen. After seven years of living in the Netherlands I apparently looked so at home and in control of my surroundings (this was before I got to the wine section of the supermarket) that someone actually thought I was Dutch.

I know that after a while people sometimes start looking like their dogs, but I never expected to start looking like Dutch people, especially as I’m only five-foot-four and more often than not am dressed like an American soccer mom.

I told the lady I couldn't answer her question. “I don’t know. I’m not Dutch!” I said, guffawing at the irony of the whole situation in a very un-Dutch demonstration of emotion in a public setting. Cabbage Lady laughed too. "Thanks anyway," she said, and as I walked away I heard her ask a real Dutch woman the question again: "Do you cook the cabbage at the same time as the potatoes?" 

"I don't," the woman replied, her emphasis on "I" clearly indicating that there was in fact a great deal of controversy surrounding the issue of simultaneous cabbage-and-potato-preparation of which I had been totally unaware. 

I concluded that even though I speak Dutch, and at times may even appear to actually be Dutch to the occasional untrained eye, I would never really feel truly Dutch until I knew what my stand would be on this crucial issue.

I went home from the supermarket and asked my husband the question Cabbage Lady had asked me. “Do you cook the cabbage at the same time as the potatoes?” I asked him.

I don’t,” he said.

And from now on, that will be my answer.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

This week in Clog World

Some fun things have been happening in Clog World this week.

The first fun thing happened when I was out walking my dog a few days ago on a relatively crowded mid-day city street. A man cycled past me, and as he did he lifted his bum and farted loudly. He then carried on as if this was perfectly normal. It was at this point that it occurred to me that there are some downsides that the fact that the Netherlands has more bikes than cars.

Second fun thing: it's fall again, which is great because the walking trails are full of klonkers

Plus kruidnoten are in the stores again. My husband keeps bringing them home, but to me they’re like crack so he’s basically an enabler. We'll almost certainly end up on Dr. Phil before long.

Meanwhile, in the run-up to Sinterklas, the UN is investigating whether the Dutch practice of having an annual parade featuring people in blackface is maybe just a teensy bit racist. The head of the committee has pretty much already declared publicly that she thinks the answer to this is a no-brainer, so I'm seeing an opportunity to divert the cash being spent on the investigation into other areas. Don't say this blog does not provide solutions to real-world problems, people. WSD: unofficial adviser to the UN.

And that’s how it looks in Clog World right now folks.

Monday, October 21, 2013

What I meant to say #12

What I meant to say:

What I actually said: