- Bikes: As a pedestrian I soon learnt to deal with these strange commuters. Treat them like volatile animals. Make eye contact - let them know that you have seen them and you are aware of their presense. Maintain eye contact - let them know that you are sticking to your chosen path. You are on the pavement, they should be on the cycle path. Unless, you are on the cycle path - in which case you should be prepared to be mowed down.
I still can't get used to the multitasking. Shopping, kids, potplants, anything and everything is piled onto the bike. Couples cycle next to each other, holding hands. People cycle while smsing or chatting on the phone. Kids learnt to cycle on specially modified bikes - they pedal attached to the back of the parental bike. Clever. I think the ultimate in arrogance is when people cycle with hand in their pockets. Show-offs.
As a cyclist myself, I'm very proud of my personal growth. I am no longer terrified of traffic. I've realised that motorists are actually considerate of cyclists - they tend to wait for your right of way, instead of aiming at the two-wheelers. Bike paths definitely help. Oh, and I figured out the trick to using the bike light... I changed gears. Much easier now.
- Homes: The very first thing that struck me was that people are not big on curtains. Even if they actually have curtains, they don't close them. And they're not hidden behind 7ft solid brick walls and electric gates. Coming from SA, where you can't even see your neighbour's driveway, I could not stop myself from gawking into people's lounges. Also, most stairs are really narrow and steep. Fortunately, ours are not. I'm glad we don't live in an old apartment block... I would hurt myself.
- Food: The Dutch love their fried snacks. Recipes consist of 'gooey meat type stuff, rolled in bread crumbs/pastry/something starchy, doused in hot oil' = kroketten, bittenballen, frikadellen, ragoutje. Served with lashings of mayonnaise and fries (or any form of potato/patat)
When the Dutch aren't eating fried stuff, they're stuffing raw herring down their gullets. I have not tried this yet, but I'm going to go with a resounding YUCK. I'm sorry. I like sushi. I LOVE sushi. But sushi at least looks like it's been prepared to some degree. To eat something that looks like it has just be picked out of a canal... YUCK.
On the upside, I have rediscovered salty licorice - yum. And stroopwafels - yum.
Dairy: Rows and rows of cheese. Not a huge surprise, just makes it trickier to select - I'm used to choosing between Gouda and Cheddar. Yoghurt... this one I didn't see coming. The Dutch love their yoghurt varieties. You've got the standard selection (full cream, double thick, slim etc) but then there is also fla (tastes like runny instant pudding - do NOT point this out to a local), kwark (very sweet and rich), and a number of other yoghurt bi-products I've yet to discover.
- Language: Now that we've gotten TV, it's a lot easier to pick up the language (especially insults and swearwords). And playing with a Dutch hockey team means I'll be more familiar with on-pitch instructions than social conversation. But a few of my favourite words so far:
Hoor: pronounced 'whore'; used in agreement - as in "Ja, hoor."
Doei: pronounced 'doo-wee' with enthusiasm; equivalent to bye-bye/cheers
Douche: pronounced 'doosh'; as in shower. It cracks me up every time I see an ad for douchegel. I take great delight in informing Mills that I'm off to go 'douche'. And don't even get me started on the Nivea bodywash campaign that read: "Douche time, Happy time"...
- Other: I've learnt that the Netherlands is the third most populated country in Europe, after Monaco and Malta, and that traffic jams can be astromonical (anything from 5km to 22km for no particular reason). I've learnt that South Africa was never a colony of the Netherlands - but that Suriname was. I've learnt that Dutch people tend to be honest to the point of bluntness, and I like it.
End of lesson. For now.