Sunday, May 31, 2009

Going Dutch

Johannes Vermeer's "The Wine Glass"

My husband Mowgli (not his real name) has a friend who has lived in Amsterdam for several years. He swings through town to see family every so often, and we get to enjoy his company over a meal and drinks. It’s a fine, relaxed time that feels like the best parts of college – zesty, deep, respectful debate about everything from the birth of open source software to religion.

Naturally, we tend to talk about life in the U.S. versus life in the Netherlands. Here’s a list of what I learned:

 The housing market there is unsettling people because prices are fluctuating by 10% or so in either direction.

 It’s equally easy to be a vegetarian in either country, although it used to be harder here.

 Europeans don’t wrap up nearly as much of their identity in their jobs as Americans do.

 Temporary resident aliens have the right to vote in the Netherlands. Thus our friend was able to vote for the next Water Commissioner, which might not sound like much, but it is -- 25% of the Netherlands is below sea level and under constant threat of flooding.

 Our friend was the first employee to refuse a company car – in Amsterdam, you really can’t have one because, he says, there’s just no room. Also, when you have four markets, a cheese shop and two bakeries within walking distance, and the bars are a tram ride away, you don’t need one.

 He described the Dutch language as the intersection between English and German. There are two ways to say “cheers”: prost, and gesundheit (if you pronounce the first syllable like you are a Jewish grandma saying “challah.”)

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