Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Shoes' List of Some More Stuff that Happened Recently When I Was Not at Work

Last week I was fighting evil ear demons, so couldn't go to work. This week I've been extra busy trying to make up for everything I couldn't do last week, so I've been at my office a lot. And we all know I don't write about that. So once again, it's time for:

The Shoes' List of Some Stuff that Happened Recently When I Was Not at Work

1. I got in a fight with a florist. There was no actual hand-to-hand combat, because I am by nature passive-aggressive, so the conflict was played out entirely via email. You see, buying flowers in the Netherlands is so easy, I made the stupid mistake of thinking that this ease would translate across the pond to my home and native land, where I recently tried to put in an order for some flowers using that crazy newfangled technology they call “The Internet.” But it seems one florist in New Brunswick hasn’t figured out “The Internet” yet. Now, I’m normally quite understanding when certain segments of society – like old people and feral children – need a bit of extra time to get used to the latest technology. But if you’re actually presuming to try to sell me stuff online then you’re fair game for my buyer’s wrath when you get it wrong. I mean, today is Google’s fourteenth birthday. If Google is almost old enough drive a car, it’s time your business figured out how to work a website. Sheesh.

2. I discovered that the longer I stay in this country, the worse my English gets. Which is a bummer. Because the plan was: stay in a foreign country and learn a new language. Not: stay in a foreign country and mess up the first one. Yesterday instead of saying “We need to get back on track” I said “We need to get back on the track.” Last week I heard myself use “or/or” instead of “either/or.” I figure at this rate it’s only a matter of time before I start to regress back through the branches of the linguistic family tree until I ultimately find myself speaking Proto-Indo-European.

3. I went to a singing lesson with only one working ear. My singing teacher asked me to sing a line using one technique, and then to sing it again using another technique. “Hear the difference?” she asked. “No. No I don’t. But I’ll take your word for it.”

4. I got excited that kruidnoten are back on the supermarket shelves, which I think means that I've become not only Dutch, but Dutch and five years old. Kruidnoten are tiny crunchy ginger cookie blobs, and they are officially the best thing about the Netherlands. They only come out once a year, in the run-up to Sinterklaas, which is when a bishop on horseback comes from Spain and commands his black helpers to throw candy at hapless bystanders in the street. Demonstrating again why I freaking LOVE this country.

"Yes, Jimmy, I know Mommy told you not to take candy from strangers but Sinterklaas is a bishop. Take the candy or we're all going to hell." Image from

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Thanks, Tramadol

Last week I got to live like I imagine Charlie Sheen does on most normal days. To wit, I didn’t work, hardly ate, and spent most of my days lying around in bed ingesting narcotics and shouting. Unlike Charlie, my excuse was not colossal stupidity but the dreaded otitis externa, aka swimmer’s ear, aka “What did you say?” aka “Ouch.” Yes folks, last week the dark spectre of infection that haunted my ears for most of my late teens and early twenties made a comeback.

Between 1996 and 2003 or thereabouts, I suffered from ear infections on a pretty regular basis. These were no ordinary ear infections. More than once I ended up in an emergency room because my ear had swollen up like a telephone receiver. And the pain during these episodes was what I imagine childbirth would be like if delivery was via the Eustachian tubes. After a few of these experiences, luckily, my family doctor in Canada found a combination of drops and pills that would quickly quell the beast of infection within a few hours of its having started, relieving me of the worst of the pain and swelling so long as I began treatment in good time. Then, around or about 2004 or so, the infections stopped. This was, incidentally, around the same time I got my PhD. Maybe the infection demons thought, “You know what, she just spent a gazillion dollars on another degree in English; she’s suffering enough. Let’s leave her alone.”

But last week, on Sunday morning, I felt that familiar twinge, and by Monday it was clear. I was half deaf and in the first throes of what would become the same abysmal pain I'd known in days gone by. I made an appointment to see my doctor the same day. He looked in my ear, pronounced it infected, and proceeded to write me a prescription for a drop which, although I didn’t realize it until I picked the prescription up from the pharmacy, contained as its active ingredient “azijnzuur,” or acetic acid. Yes, folks, my doctor had basically prescribed me a bottle of vinegar. In light of my past experiences, I was naturally apprehensive. But then I thought, since I hadn’t had one of these infections in such a long time, chances were it wouldn’t be as bad as before. The vinegar would probably work after all.[1]

Now, I don’t want to go into all the dreary details of the few days that followed. The short version is that, contrary to my optimistic reasoning, the salad-dressing method did not in fact work. However, on Tuesday, after another trip to my own doctor and a couple of phone calls put in by my husband to an after-hours physician, I did eventually get an antibiotic, as well as some pain medication that I could keep down for longer than an hour. This was handy because the overdose of over-the-counter painkillers that I had already taken had bottomed out my stomach. My husband, in a last-ditch effort to stop my screaming, had taken to crushing paracetamol tablets in a pestle and mortar and adding the powder to apple juice which I would drink between bouts of retching. Later, when the good drugs finally came, he started opening the caplets and adding that powder to the mix too. Here are some photos of my husband's little apothecary station.[2]

There’s still narco dust all over the kitchen. We’ll be high for weeks.

I have no idea what the second drug on this list is so I'm including this photo in case I die of poisoning in the coming days, in which case you will all be able to act as witnesses to my husband's blatant (and absurdly regimented) murder scheme.

I'm all better now and ready to go back to a pain-free normal life of work and responsibilities. I'll miss the hallucinations, though. Thanks, Tramadol.

[1] As this line of reasoning clearly illustrates, I totally could have been a logician. Or a doctor.
[2] Proving that my husband, in turn, could totally have been a pharmacist.

Monday, September 17, 2012

May you always have cows around

News last week that a giant supermarket chain in the Netherlands wants to pay dairy producers less for their milk seems to have come as, well, news to most people here. I had previously just assumed everyone already knew that supermarkets are evil, and I’m not just talking about those days when the jogging-panted nose-pickers come out to load up on wieners.

Six of the seven cardinal vices are routinely committed while supermarket shopping. Greed is an obvious one, as is gluttony. But think also of standing in line with one item behind a family of two-cart monthly shoppers because the speedy line closed just as you were approaching it (wrath). Think of a plastic bag containing an entire already cut-up meal (sloth).

Who is Sophie and why do I have her cut up food? Photo from Aviko.

Think of watching as others load up their car with purchases while you wobble home with your bags swinging madly from the handlebars of your bike (envy). Think, dear reader, of that self-righteous feeling that inevitably comes over you when the person in the next line has in his or her basket a ginormous pack of Euro Shopper paper towel while you, superior being that you are, have the 100% Organic Made-of-Twice-Recycled-By-the-Digestive-System-of-an-Alpine-Yak Non-Paper Earth Saving Towels in yours (pride).

The supermarket is where parents break down in the cereal aisle and end up with four boxes of something with a chocolate vampire on the front and couples quibble over whether or not you can freeze cabbage. Oh, no, my friends. There be no glory betwixt those aisles of woe, as I suppose Shakespeare would have said it (if Shakespeare had the verb conjugation habits of a Disney pirate, which he, unfortunately, did not).

And now the evil arm of the supermarket is reaching for the udders of the poor sodding cows.

As a Canadian raised in a fishing region, I don’t have much with cows, if I'm honest. I mean, I don’t have anything against them (remember Anna 49? I liked her, after all). But some Canadians are, like into cows. My friend Cleo, for example (not her real name, because maybe she would rather not be associated solely with cows on the single only reference I have ever made to her on this blog). Unlike most people in the publishing industry (one assumes), my friend Cleo happens to own some cows. And of course, Corb Lund and his Hurtin' Albertans. What? You’ve never heard of Corb Lund and the Hurtin’ Albertans? My God, people. Where have you all been?

Anyway, on behalf of the whole country of Canada (because I am clearly in the best position, both diplomatically and geographically to be their spokesperson) I offer up to Dutch dairy farmers and to cows everywhere, one Canadian band’s take on what the traditional Irish blessing would sound like if it had been composed by a Dutch cow farmer. Let this be my form of protest against the supermarket in question. It may be a crap protest, but it beats standing outside.

May the road never rise to meet you because this country’s too flat. May your windmills keep turning, and may you always, ALWAYS, have cows around.

(Oh, and by the way, there are no Hurtin' Albertans in the video below. They were probably at another protest.)

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

What I meant to say #5

What I meant to say:

What I actually said:

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Schreeuw van geluk (scream from happiness) - a drama in one part

Conversation between me and a call centre employee at an online clothing retailer:

ME: “Hi. I’m calling because I want to return a pair of shoes. I have the box that the shoes were packaged in, but I don’t have the original outer box that was used in the delivery from your warehouse. Is it okay to send the shoes back just in the shoebox, or does this need to be re-packaged in another outer box?

DELIBERATELY OBTUSE CALL CENTRE PERSON: “You don’t need to use the original box. You can send the article back in any box.”

ME: “Yes, okay. But what I want to know is, does “the article” include the shoebox? I mean, do I need to place the shoes and shoebox in another box to protect the shoebox from damage, or can I just wrap up the shoe box and send it back like that.”

BDOCCP: “You can use any box you have. It doesn’t have to be the original.”

ME: “So it doesn’t matter if the shoebox becomes damaged from the tape I’ll use to close it, for instance?”

BDOCCP: “You should pack the item in a sturdy box so it doesn’t get damaged. Let me explain how the return process works for you, then hopefully you will understand what to do.” (Yes, she actually said this)

(BDOCCP then proceeds to walk me through the incredibly complex steps I will need to follow in order to return my shoes. I’m really glad she does this, because without her help I never would have guessed that I would have to complete such difficult tasks as “place the item in a box”, “fasten the box securely with tape” and “take the box to the post office.” Thank God we have BDOCCPs to explain this stuff to us).

ME: Yes, I understand the process, but that’s not actually what I am asking. What I am asking is if it matters if the shoe box is used as the actual delivery box or if I need to place this inside another box, as was the case when the item was first sent to me.

BDOCCP: “You can use any box you have. I said that already.”

ME: “Okay, thank you. You’ve been very helpful.”

Now I really wish you fit

The tagline this shop uses in their advertisements is “schreeuw van geluk” which means “scream from happiness.” Oh yes. It's totally from happiness that I'm screaming.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Earthquakes are also natural and no one "loves" those

I don't know if there are certain times of year when the farmers around Zeeland let their pigs out of their vile indoor pens. What I do know is that every once in a while, Middelburg smells exactly like you imagine a town would smell if a giant stinky pig with incontinence issues had repeatedly dragged itself on its belly through every single street.

And the only thing weirder than living in a place where you eventually learn to distinguish the odour of cow shit from that of pig shit is that some of the natives will tell you that they simply love (LOVE!) the unmistakable acrid tang of pig manure wafting like a big wafty pig-smelling armpit through the entire town. These are the same people who believe in dream catchers, but in the Netherlands, that amounts to a significant portion of the population.

Yes folks, according to some, we’re supposed to like the smell of pig dung because it’s natural. This is how far we have come as a civilization. We’ve modernized to the point where people are so desperate to get in touch with nature that they have perversely convinced themselves that they enjoy the malodorous belching of a pig’s bottom.

But I feel I really ought to point out that there is a reason why the human gag reflex is activated at the thought of coming into contact with poop: it’s because it could make you die. Dream catchers are all well and good, but if it’s nature you’re after, then lay off the “I love the poop” talk, because this is decidedly unnatural. I mean, I’m all about the organic fruit and veg myself, and I’m doing my bit for the environment too. I never throw my old batteries in the trash anymore, for example (instead they live permanently in a drawer in my kitchen because no one can remember to take them to the supermarket where the special battery disposal containers live. No doubt they will in time leech out their harmful chemicals directly into the bloodstream of myself and my husband and cause us both to have horrible deformities. Oh well. At least the environment will be okay). But seriously. I do have to draw the line at being excited about something that evolution actually programmed me to want me to avoid.

To those of you reading this who have never experienced the olfactory delights that come with living in a place surrounded by animal farms, be grateful, and take solace in the knowledge that you will not have to have a conversation with someone today about how great pig shit smells. And please, think of me here in Zeeland, hoping and praying that some day soon, the wind direction will change.