Wednesday, June 27, 2012

And an udder thing

When I first found out I was going to be moving to the Netherlands, my boss at my former job in England -- let's call him Bossy McColeslaw -- laughed (and not in a "laughing with me" kind of way I might add) and actually said (rather than just thought to himself like most socially well-adjusted people might have done) "You come from one of the most boring countries in the world. And now, you're moving to one of the other most boring countries in the world. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA." Then he went back to stabbing his baked potato with his fork.

Did I mention that the above exchange took place in England? Have you seen Gardener's World?

Anyway, this post is just to let Bossy McColeslaw know that his comment was blatantly unfair and is wholly unsubstantiated by the facts. With regard to the suggestion that Canada is boring: Duh. Clearly untrue cuz I come from there. So it's not been boring since at least the late seventies.

But McColeslaw's insinuation that the Netherlands is boring is also totally unfounded. Indeed, just this morning the national news included a very exciting item on the Netherland's oldest milk-producing cow. Here's she is, "Anna 49," surrounded by gift-bearing well-wishers and wearing a crown of flowers (handy because edible) to mark the auspicious occassion of her twentieth birthday:

Still from a video on

Now yes, I have noticed that Anna 49 looks a little perturbed. Maybe it's because someone has put cow food on her head. Maybe it's because that statue totally makes her look fat. Maybe she had planned a quiet birthday and now she finds herself stuck at a surprise barn party she never wanted with a bunch of two-legged meat-eaters. Hard to say, really. All I know is when I look at Anna's subtly threatening expression I like to think she's saying "Look here McColeslaw, some pretty frickin' awesome stuff is happening here today and guess who's missing it? YOU are. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA."

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

We're totally stylin' over here at the WSD

Hey, check me out!

Just in time for the Olympics, The Wooden Shoe Diaries has been given a great new look, cuz I figure, if London is getting all dolled up, we're going to at least fix our hair here at WSD. So there. Now that's better isn't it?

Sunday, June 24, 2012

It's fun to stay at the YM...

This weekend I spent six hours on Dutch trains. I thought you should share in the excitement of the experience, so I took this picture of the inside of a Dutch train to show you:

It's a bit out of focus. But it's hard to take a picture of, well, basically, nothing on public transportation without someone assuming you're up to something, like, I dunno, terrorism. So I had to be kinda surreptitious. But what I wanted to share with you is how it's totally unclear what we're not allowed to do here. I assume that the little genderless being with its arms out and a big red stroke running through its body means (absurdly) "no standing here with your arms stretched out" but it could just as well mean "no imitating birds in flight," "no practicing for your aircraft marshalling exam," "no anticipating an impending hug", "no telling fishing stories" or "no Village-People-inspired sing-a-longs." 

To be on the safe side I have taken to refusing to move my arms at all during the duration of any train journey. 

So if anyone out there reading this knows what this sign is actually warning me not to do, could you be a dear and get in touch? I'll even send a fabulous prize to the first person who sends in what seems like a reasonably believable explanation (I won't really. If I had a fabulous prize I would totally keep it for myself. Or sell it and then buy a car so I would no longer have to travel on trains with Da-Vinci-Code-type secret messages on them. Speaking of which, Dan Brown, if you're reading, you could totally write a book about this. Just be sure to credit me in your acknowledgements for giving you the idea. You're welcome).

Friday, June 22, 2012

Here be monsters

Tomorrow I am going to Amsterdam for the weekend (well for one sleep anyway), and during the 1.7 days that I will be away from my computer I will be unable to communicate with you because I still don’t own any of that newfangled technology that lets you access the Internet on the road. Unless of course you count paper and pen. I’ll have those things. So I suppose I could write you all letters. But I don’t have all your addresses (or, in most cases even your names). That would make it hard for the post office I guess. But still, I could write you all letters and then scan them next week when I get back, and then I could post them on the blog for you all to read. But then I don’t want to have to scan 57 documents and post them as pdf files to my blog because that’s boring and also I wouldn’t have any system in place to control who sees which letters, so Anonymous #1 would be able to read letters I’ve written to Anonymous #2. And that would be awkward because I really feel I’ve grown close to Anonymous #2. But I suppose I could come up with some kind of code or secret handshake or whatever (only not, because this is the Internet, so it wouldn’t really be a handshake but more like a secret series of key strokes) to allow everyone to access the right letter. But now I’m getting kinda tired thinking about how I can keep in touch with you all while I’m away, which is good because I used to think I might one day like to be famous but if reaching out to my fans is this hard when I don’t really have any I think maybe I’ve changed my mind. So thanks for that. Thanks for making me feel tiny and insignificant and totally non-famous. It will save on stationary, but not necessarily on therapist's bills.

Speaking of the medical profession, I saw my doctor yesterday and I didn’t even have to “climb on up on the table.” So that was a relief. But she did want me to get some blood taken, so I had to go the lab today and do that. But it was fine because at least this time I didn’t tell the nurse that I wanted to take my own blood, which is what happened last time (but luckily she must have known what I meant anyway because she didn’t just pass me the needle and say “go ahead”). Anyway, today the nurse came over to the blood-letting chair carrying five plastic vials in her hand, and I just thought she was being a super efficient nurse taking extra vials with her so she wouldn’t have to remember to carry them over the next time. But when she started taking my blood I started to suspect that all the vials were for me because I kept hearing this popping sound like you get from opening the lid on a tube of Pringles, and I worried that maybe my doctor had made a terrible mistake and instead of writing on her lab-note-thingy “patient reports feeling drained” had written “patient should be drained” and now the nurse was calmly taking all of my blood (which I could not verify with my eyes because even though I am 34 I am still mildly afraid of watching as someone stabs me with a giant needle), and I also noticed that my arm was going all tingly and sort of dead. I wanted to shout “Damn you woman, leave some for me,” but then the nurse told me to stop making a fist, and I thought this was because she could see the look on my face and was afraid I would hit her with my balled-up bloodless hand, which, given its limpness would have been about as painful for her as being hit in the face with a dead trout, but really she just said it because she was done.

(The other thing that I love about my life is that I’m a linguist, because that means that I can write long sentences full of “ands” like the ones above and I totally don’t give a damn because I’m a linguist so I can do whatever I want with language, cuz it’s MINE!)

Anyway, the blood. The other cool thing is that in Dutch the word for “sample” is monster. So today the nurse basically took five monsters from my blood. Then she stuck a big piece of cotton and two pieces of tape over the hole to stop any more monsters getting in. So she wasn’t trying to kill me. She was just getting the monsters out.

My bloodless trout arm, with its monster-hole covered.

I realize that this is less a blog post and more a look into the inside of my mind, and for that I am sorry, but I promise that next week I’ll be good.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

This will only hurt for a minute. Or six years.

Photo by massdistraction on Flickr

At some point in everyone’s life there comes a moment when the doctor tells you to “go ahead and climb on up on the table so we can have a look.” And, after one or two (not more than two, I hope, both for your sake and your doctor’s) rookie misunderstandings about what will happen immediately afterward, most of us learn that this is code for “take your pants off.”

Of course no doctor ever says “take your pants off,” because that would be, well, a bit forward, really.

In Canada (well, in my Canada; I’m not going to pretend that a town with a liquor store but no gas station is representative of the whole country) this is typically what happens next:

  1. The doctor swiftly walks away as if they have decided not to examine or treat us at all, usually pulling a curtain with them as they go. Now you are separated from the peering eyes of your physician. This makes no sense whatsoever, of course, since I’m fairly sure that being in a situation where your doctor can’t see you is pretty much the opposite of what you had in mind when you decided to drop in. 
  2. The doctor will then talk to you through the curtain as if you are high school best friends in adjacent stalls at a school dance. Except instead of telling you that she hopes Rebecca Vickers chokes on her retainer she will inform you that there is a paper blanket next to the examination table. The doctor will never tell you what to do with this “paper blanket,” i.e. large-ish blue serviette, so you had better have some good powers of deduction going on at this stage in your life lest you tuck it into your collar and ask for cutlery. 
  3. Neither you nor the doctor will ever say the words “pants,” “underwear,” or “off” but somehow you will both understand. It’s like magic, but without any rabbits or up-close sleight of hand (and yes, for all you annoying spelling police out there, it is spelled “sleight.” “Slight of hand,” I can only imagine, refers to someone who has lost several fingers in a tragic hedge-trimming incident).
  4. Next you will “climb on up” and do your best to arrange the napkin around your body, which is hopeless of course because it is no bigger than a single sheet of Bounty and will therefore only cover the top part of your legs, thus leaving your flanks exposed and subject to draft. Then, while you are sitting there with a giant Kleenex on your knees wondering why you didn’t think to wear a dress -- or chaps -- the doctor will tell you to “let her know when you’re ready,” as if pretending not to have heard you as you clumsily manoeuvred onto the table with all the grace of a hunted wildebeest.
  5. The curtain will re-open, the doctor will reappear, and both of you will act like this is totally normal.
In fact, as any North American woman over the age of 13 will tell you, before, and even after you have “climbed up on the table” your doctor will behave as though you have just bumped into her in the all-lard and soft drinks aisle at Sobeys or in line for tickets to a Garth Brooks concert, because even though you’re the one who is naked from the waist down except for your socks in a room that isn’t your own bedroom or bathroom with a stranger staring directly at your naked parts, she will suddenly get embarrassed and begin making chit-chat with you, asking you all kinds of boring questions she doesn’t give a crap about like how your school/university/work is going or if you've seen The Hunger Games yet, all to deflect attention from the fact that she is under your napkin. What is more, even though this conversation is more painfully boring and inane than any you may actually have had in the all-evil-foods aisle or in line for Garth Brooks tickets, you pursue it with gusto because there is nowhere to run.

"The Hunger Games, you say? No! I haven’t! Have you! Was it good? Really? Really?! Oh you thought it was about anorexia! Hahahaahahahaha."

Like that. It’s pathetic.

Now, this all seems rather embarrassing and it is of course, but there is comfort in protocol and once you know the real meaning of the secret sentence, and The Rules ([1] always fold your underwear and place them under your other garments on the chair next to the table which is designed specifically for this purpose and which you suppose (and hope) they therefore regularly disinfect between visits of this nature; AND [2] don’t take your socks or your watch off because then it just looks like you’re settling in for the night) you can relax, because you know The Rules and as long as you follow them none of this will be more awkward than it has to be for anyone and you can go home and drown the whole experience in a reasonably-priced Chablis.

This works, that is, until you move to A Foreign Country. You see, in A Foreign Country all manner of bad, unexpected things can happen at the doctor’s office. For instance, in A Foreign Country all the other sick people will say hello to you as they enter as well as leave the waiting room, and they will do the same as you enter and leave. If you fail to play along you will be reported to the doctor’s assistant who will make sure the implements are extra cold when it’s your turn.

Also, you may not know that in A Foreign Country it is customary for the doctor, upon seeing you for your appointment, to extend her hand to you in a welcome gesture of greeting. What should be your cue to extend your hand back and engage in what some cultures refer to as a “handshake,” becomes, in your uncivilized, barbarian mind an invitation to give your handbag to the doctor, who now has to act like a hesitant, overpaid maid and carry your purse to her consultation area where she will place it awkwardly on the chair next to you. You, meanwhile, will turn deep crimson at realizing the terribly un-take-backable gaffe you have just made and wonder if your parents would be proud of you now.

But the only thing worse than giving your handbag to your doctor like she is some kind of shop assistant is the realization that “climb on up on the table” in A Foreign Country does not mean “I will now go through steps 1-5 above” but instead means “take your pants off, right now, while I stand here waiting and more or less watching you undress.”

“There must be some mistake,” you think first, but then suddenly you notice all the tell-tale signs of an outright and blatant dismissal of The Rules – to wit, not a curtain in sight and no paper blanket or even an oversized cotton ball with which to protect your modesty. (By the way, it’s not a good idea at this point to simply ask the doctor flat out “should I take my pants off?” You won’t come out looking like the clever one in the exchange. Trust me on this.)

Now, I could complain and moan about how in A Foreign Country (okay, who are we fooling, in The Netherlands for crying out loud!) the doctors are bad-mannered voyeurs with no innate sense of social appropriateness, but it occurred to me, finally, after six years of these kinds of appointments, that their way makes more sense than the one I knew back home. I mean, the doctor is, if she is doing her job at any rate, eventually going to see what’s under your napkin. So why are we killing forests full of trees that could be used to make really useful non-euphemistic not-fooling-anyone paper products, like genuine normal-sized serviettes, or huge posters which translate “climb on up on to the table so we can have a look” for the uninitiated? The North American way – hiding behind curtains and cowering under tissues – pretends that you are not half-naked and it pretends that the doctor doesn’t know that you are half-naked. It makes sense only in a world where everything means its exact opposite. And it is environmentally unfriendly.

So, in conclusion, I say long live straight-talkin' Dutch doctors who don't give a rat's bum if you've seen The Hunger Games or not. While it’s true they don’t sugar coat their directives or make the greatest chit-chatters, I have found that they are always there for you with an arm extended when you need someone to hold your purse.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

What I thought I heard #1

What I thought I heard:

What I actually heard:

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Euro 2012 football thingy

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

It’s football season.

I can’t turn on the TV or open the newspaper without being reminded of it. Heck, I can’t even buy eyeliner without the lady at the drugstore wanting to give me some tulip-shaped red, white and blue hair clips with my purchase. I’m 34 years old. What in God's name am I going to do with tulip-shaped hair clips?

Likewise, for every €10 I spend at the grocery store, I am given some “free” item of made-in-China plastic rubbish, to help me “celebrate” Holland’s participation in the Euro 2012 football thingy. In my own weak form of protest I have taken to shopping exclusively at the organic store near my home, where everything costs three times as much and we never get any free stuff. I am threatening myself and my husband with swift financial ruin, but, on the upside, at least we'll have the moral high ground and incredibly healthy tummies as we lie under our cardboard shelters. 

Even the water in the fountain near my house now spouts orange. TV Guy, as you can imagine, is on the box almost non-stop.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t dislike football. On the contrary. Compared to Canada’s national sport, European football is much less violent (at least, on the pitch), so at least when I watch football I feel as though I am watching a sport instead of a fight which occasionally gets interrupted by some skating. What I dislike about football is the nuttiness that surrounds it: the obnoxious nationalism, the hooliganism, the free junk in the shops, the abrupt changes to my fountain water, the sense that if you’re not watching you are somehow socially deficient. This feeling has even been reinforced recently by the weekly women’s glossy magazine that I confess to sometimes reading in moments of intellectual despair. Last week this last bastion of female-oriented content featured on its cover a designer sporting a “wear-it-nine-ways” orange dress specifically designed for this summer’s Euro 2012 tournament. The dress, I later heard, is available at a national supermarket chain for €10. Clever. Very clever. 

While I’m glad that the old gender barriers that used to prevent sports from being marketed toward women have now fallen away I would really like my glossy magazine back. Thanks.

Yesterday Holland lost its first match, against Denmark. The husband assures me Denmark is a pretty good team, and that there is therefore nothing to giggle about, but I can’t help thinking that if you’ve lost to Denmark (Denmark! Not Spain, not Germany – Denmark!), you’re not in top form. Next up: Germany, über-footballers extraordinaire. This means that this football malarkey could all be over soonish for Holland. Then I can go back to reading my trashy women’s magazine without fear.

By the way, the same supermarket chain that is selling the nine-ways dress also organized a football pool which pits men against women in guessing the outcomes of each match. It seems that for yesterday’s match against Denmark, the men got it right.

Image from the website of supermarket Albert Heijn

The text says “Congratulations men! You have won this competition.”

Yes, indeed you have.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

And another other thing

James Murray, principal editor of the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary. He looked a bit like an ancient Greek, but nevertheless allowed the word 'chestnut' into his dictionary. Photo courtesy of Urlesque.
While we’re on the topic, chestnuts should also have a new name in English, as their current name makes no sense. Try to imagine explaining to an alien life form what chestnuts are. Chest + nuts can only mean protein-rich polyps growing somewhere in the vicinity of your nipples. Granted, my argument presupposes that the alien life form in question understands the words ‘chest’ and ‘nut’ in isolation (plus the rules for forming regular plurals in English, but surely since they are regular), but still. If I were this hypothetical alien and I heard a human ask me to pass the chestnut stuffing I’d assume I was among a bunch of skin-tag-fetish cannibals and promptly run back to my spaceship.

I consulted the Oxford English Dictionary on this one, just to be sure that my opposition to the word ‘chestnut’ is not wholly misplaced. And, as is often the case when I consult the OED, being one of those smug so-and-so’s who frequently consults dictionaries knowing full well beforehand that her starting hypothesis will be proven correct, I found myself vindicated (of course). The word chestnut really doesn’t make any sense, not even from an etymological point of view.

It would seem that our modern word ‘chestnut’ can ultimately be traced back to the Greek word καστανέα (go on, say it three times fast) which some people much geekier than I think refers to a city in the ancient region of Pontus, and which others (still geekier) think refers to a different city somewhere in the Thessaly region. Either way, the Greek word derives from the name of an actual, at-one-time-existent city, which means that in ancient times at least, καστανέα probably made perfect sense to its users, and could also be easily explained to alien life forms (though I would have liked to see them try to explain the togas).

Classical antiquity did not just give us democracy, folks, it also gave us a sensible name for chestnuts. What did we modern people do? We made a laughing stock of democracy and totally mutilated a perfectly good word. If I were an alien life form, I don’t think I’d even bother landing here.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

What you mean to say is not always what you say #4

What I meant to say:
 What I actually said: