Van Harte Gefeliciteerd Met Je Verjaardag

Fijne Verjaardag!  Gefeliciteerd!   What does it mean- Happy Birthday and Congratulations!  Birthdays in The Netherlands are an interesting affair.  There are several notable differences between birthdays here and those in the US.  

  1. In The Netherlands, birthdays are a celebration for others more than they are for you.  It is not customary here to congratulate the birthday person as much as it is to congratulate their family.  On my birthday, my husband’s colleagues congratulate him.  When children have birthdays, the parents are congratulated (though I can understand this one; after all, we did keep them alive for another year!).  In general, if you are around them, you should congratulate all of the birthday person’s family on the birthday…and maybe even close friends as well.
  2. Along those same lines, no one provides the birthday person with a birthday cake or treat, but rather, it is your responsibility to provide something to allow others to celebrate you.  In offices and schools, this means you bring in a treat to share with everyone on your birthday.  And, your colleagues will get very upset if you don’t.  We moved here on my husband’s birthday, and, thus, I did not send anything into his office.  Now, I think his colleagues forgave us for that, but they made sure to let him know that the following year he needed to bring something. Same goes for your birthday party-you provide the dessert. 
  3. Birthdays are important to the Dutch.  I have never seen it personally, but rumor has it that there is a Dutch calendar kept in most homes (oddly enough, kept hanging in the bathroom) that is solely for listing the birthdays of everyone in their circle.
  4. Speaking of circles, the Dutch have a strange and often awkward tradition at birthdays of hosting what is called a circle party.  Everyone at the party sits in a circle of seats and has coffee or tea and cake.  The guest list is generally made up of both family (several generations) and friends.  And don’t forget, as a guest, it is your responsibility to greet and congratulate everyone in the circle.  Once you have done this, it is time to sit back and enjoy the potentially painful conversation and awkward silences.  As of yet, I have not attended one of these parties, but have several acquaintances that have, and they have assured me it is an interesting and generally less than desirable event.dutch-birthday
  5. Finally, in the tradition of Dutch directness, if your neighbors are planning a party that will not assume the form of the quiet circle party, they will generally let you know by dropping a note in your mailbox or by coming to your door to tell you.  And, lest you think that this is their way of making sure that you attend, think again.  They just want you to know that they are having a party, you can expect noise which, by way of them warning you in advance, you are to ignore, and, though they don’t say it directly, you are not invited.  Unlike in the US where we would typically try to avoid having someone know that they weren’t invited to a party, the Dutch are quite comfortable with being open with the fact that you didn’t make the guestlist.

And what’s the final thing that you should know about Dutch birthdays-the song, of course.  

Lang zal ze/hij leven,
Lang zal ze/hij leven,
Lang zal ze/hij leven,
In de gloria,
In de gloria,
In de gloria,
Hip, hip, hip, hoera!
Hip, hip, hip, hoera!
Hip, hip, hip, hoera!

It translates to long shall she or he live (3 times), in the gloria (3 times) and hip hip hooray (3 times). It’s a boisterous and fun song to sing. To get a feel for the tune and energy, think swinging mug of beer in one hand as you tipsily sing in a pub!

So there you have it-birthdays in The Netherlands. They seemingly celebrate and benefit everyone except the birthday person, but they are fun and important celebrations none the less!

Food, Glorious Food!

Food is one of those subjects that everyone is curious about in other countries. We can’t (and don’t like) to go long without it so it’s always on our minds and we romanticize the idea of eating exotic and novel foods. However, as our world is often a melting pot of mixed cultures and ethnicities, food tends to become a blend as well. Here in The Netherlands, we can find the influences of several cultures in the food and there are plenty of choices of foods from around the world to select from. You can find the presence of Italian, Greek, Turkish, Chinese, Indonesian, Vietnamese, Japanese, Indian, North African, Spanish, Surinamese, Brazilian, Mexican (and I mean really authentic Mexican), Afghanie and more here in The Netherlands. Many of these foods, such as Turkish food, have made their way into Dutch food culture by way of a large immigrant population in the country or through past colonization connections such as with Indonesian and Surinamese food. But while there is a plethora of cultural foods to choose from, if you venture into any non ethnic restaurant, you can be sure to find a few things.
  1. Many restaurants do not serve breakfast. They may be open for coffee and other drinks but often food is not served until noon. Of the ones that do serve breakfast, don’t think you will find pancake, bacon and egg platters, my American friends. You are more likely to find some sort of bread-maybe sweet, maybe with jam and butter, maybe with some ham and cheese, but whatever it is, it will likely be simple.
  2. Like many places in Europe, you are choosing between sparkling and still water, and it most likely is not free. A few places will do tap water but they may still charge you for the glass.
  3. Lunch is usually a simple affair. The Dutch love broodje-an open face sandwich with a topping such as carpaccio, cheese or salmon. They also love a tosti which is just a sandwich with meat, cheese, tuna or salmon salad or maybe a combination of the above in it. Another lunch favorite on a menu are kroketten (usually two) which are fried and often filled with a meat ragout. You can count on it coming with a slice of bread and maybe some fries. Finally, you have the uitsmijter which is a piece of bread topped with ham or bacon, a fried egg and cheese.
  4. You can always find beer, wine, tea and coffee on the menu.
  5. Finally, you can expect to find a few small bites or snacks to go with drinks often including bread with a spread of some sort, bitterballen (much like the krokets listed above but smaller and round), and olives (typically green).english-dutch-menu-with
Now, you may be wondering what we eat at home. For the most part, we tend to continue making the same foods that we ate in the US. With the absence of some products here, a few of our old favorites are not able to be made, but, surprisingly, you can almost always find a way to either make substitutions or make homemade versions of items that can’t be found in the store here. We have incorporated a few Dutch foods into our meal repertoire though. We really enjoy erwtensoep in the winter-essentially pea soup that is eaten pretty thick and with Dutch rookworst (smoked sausage) cut up in it. Also, we eat stamppot which consists of potatoes and other vegetables such as carrot, onion and kale mashed up. This is then served with some kind of meat, typically sausage such as the rookworst mentioned above.

So where do we go to get the groceries for these meals? Most Dutch people will divide their shopping between small specialized shops, grocery stores and markets (open air stalls). While we mainly stick to the grocery stores, there are small stores for bakery items and cheese as well as butchers. You can also find small produce, organic and ethnic stores. Markets most often have produce, fish, cheese, flowers and other non consumable goods. You also often find stalls for spices and nuts.

nut stall

A wide variety of cheese can be found everywhere, even at the grocery stores, but for a larger selection of meat and fish, it is best to go to specialty stores or the market. While there are definitely pork items, it can be harder to find pork products because there are many halal butchers who cannot carry pork items due to the large number of Muslim immigrant and refugee groups here. Also, the Dutch do not consume a lot of turkey so ground turkey, turkey hot dogs or turkey bacon are not available. And yes, this means they do not carry turkey at the holidays. If you want one, you need to go to the American expat store or to a poulier (a poultry shop) and order it. As far as fish goes, the most commonly found would be salmon and cod. Shrimp and mussels are also highly available as is herring. If you go to a fish market stall, you can find many different kinds of fish as well as other items from the sea such as octopus. And if fish is your thing, you can always stop at the stalls and order some kibbling which is breaded, fried fish (usually cod) that comes in a small basket and is eaten with a toothpick and maybe dipped in a sauce. It’s usually very fresh and quite good.

In the stores, you can find most of the produce that you need, but the markets definitely have a wider selection and more exotic items. While there is a good variety of produce to be found, you generally hear one of two things about Dutch produce-either people say it is tasteless or they say it tastes fresher than produce they have had in the States. I haven’t noticed things being tasteless myself. Of course, much of the food in The Netherlands is grown in greenhouses. In fact, The Netherlands is actually the world’s second largest exporter of food. The Netherlands takes a possible shortage of food due to increasing demand very seriously and are actively working to find new ways to grow more food in less space. Also, chemical pesticides are not used on the produce in the greenhouses. Likewise, less antibiotic hormones are used on the poultry and livestock here. Actually, in general less synthetics used to prolong shelf life are used here. What this means is that things will go bad pretty fast, especially in the heat of summer with no air conditioning, but they have less artificial additives. You may also find interesting that eggs do not need to be refrigerated here. This is because they are not sprayed with the chemical spray used in the US to clean the eggs. That chemical spray likely damages the outer shell of the egg which makes bacteria growth more likely unless the egg is refrigerated.

So there you have it-hopefully everything you ever wanted to know about food in The Netherlands. For more details on foods that you can find here that are unique to The Netherlands or originated here, you can read my past blog post at https://terisacunha.com/2019/04/04/bon-appetit-or-eet-smakelijk/. And if you still have burning questions about something food related, be sure to just ask in the comments. I’m sure I can be persuaded to do a little food research if you need me too!

A Time for Remembrance, A Time for Celebration

While WWII was an important war for many countries, including the USA, little is done to continue commemorating the war in those places.  That is not the case for many European countries, including The Netherlands.  I find their commemoration quite interesting and thought that perhaps some of you might as well.  So as Remembrance Day and Liberation Day are upon us, I am sharing a little about the events.

On May 4th, the Dutch begin the commemoration with Remembrance Day.  This day began as a day to remember those who lost their lives in WWII.  Since the 1960s, this day has also been designated for remembering those who lost their lives in other wars and peacekeeping missions, much like Memorial Day in the United States.  The difference, though, is that Remembrance Day is meant to remember all victims whether military or civilian whereas Memorial Day is generally reserved for remembering military personnel who lost their lives in military service or combat.

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On Remembrance Day, a national ceremony is held in Dam Square in Amsterdam following a service in the church there.  The King and Queen and other dignitaries proceed from the church service to the square and lay wreaths at the foot of the national war memorial in the square.  Church bells ring for 15 minutes followed by two minutes of silence at 8:00pm which is observed by the entire country (traffic and public transport, flight takeoffs and activity in restaurants even come to a stop).  Following the moments of silence, more wreaths are laid for:

  • people who were murdered because they were in the resistance
  • Jews, Roma and Sinti who were persecuted and murdered
  • civilians who were casualties of war
  • civilians in Asia who died as a result of the Japanese occupation
  • soldiers and merchant seaman who have died in service

In addition, school children (one for each year of liberation in The Netherlands) and people from organizations representing the different groups affected by the war lay flowers.  All of this plus somber and poignant music, speeches, and performances are broadcast on national television.   It is very important to the Dutch that these people and events are not forgotten.

remem day 1

The end of the Remembrance Day ceremony marks the beginning of Liberation Day which is a bank holiday every five years.  On May 5th, The Netherlands commemorates the day the Nazi occupation ended in the country, and it is a day for celebration.  A Liberation flame is lit shortly before midnight on May 4th in Wageningen, where the historic documents of Nazi surrender were signed.  Torches are then taken by runners, cyclists, and inline skaters to other Libration fires all over the country.  During the day, there are military parades and music festivals and concerts around the country.  The Dutch flag is displayed at many homes and businesses and the Dutch are encouraged to think about their freedom and its importance.

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But don’t think that the Dutch have forgotten that they were not wholly responsible for their liberation.  The country has the utmost respect for the countries that assisted them in ending the Nazi occupation.  The nation was liberated by Canadian forces, British infantry divisions, the British I Corps, the 1st Polish Armoured Division, American, Belgian, Dutch, and Czechoslovak troops, and the flags of these nations and groups are flown on vehicles in the parades around the country.  In addition, throughout the year, in the town of Margraten, where one of the US WWII cemeteries is located, local citizens tend the graves.  Many American soldiers stopped in Margraten before crossing into Germany during the war, and they often stayed in the homes of Margraten families.  Their sacrifices have never been forgotten, and the amount of respect and gratitude felt for them is so great that the people of Margraten do more than just tend the graves.  Families adopt specific graves, take flowers and other mementos throughout the year, and, in some cases, are in communication with the surviving family members of those soldiers.  The adoptive families take it so seriously that they pass down the tending from generation to generation.  In addition, thousands of Margraten citizens fill the cemetery and place Dutch and American flags at the graves for a large Memorial Day celebration each year.

SONY DSC
SONY DSC

And while WWII involved many non-European nations, the war seems much less removed in Europe.  The evidence of the war can be seen more readily here, the effects are more apparent in everyday life and the memories and lessons of the war years and liberation are never far from Dutch minds.  These yearly commemorations are very important days for the Dutch and serve to remind us not only of the atrocities so that they are not repeated, but also of perseverance, gratitude, hope, joy, and the celebration of freedom.

 

It’s All About the House

For those of you that don’t know, we recently bought our house in The Netherlands and have been doing a few upgrades-both items involving a process unlike what we experience in the US.

Buying a house in The Netherlands is quite an easy process actually.  As we didn’t have to look at homes, we just went to an agent (he charged a flat rate fee since he was mostly handling paperwork which we billed us for about a month after we finalized the purchase of the house) and he assisted us with the paperwork to make an offer and directed us to someone who could help with financing.  Unlike in the US, there isn’t a need to look over all documents with a fine-tooth comb.  In The Netherlands, the government has actually designed these contracts to protect the buyer.  Our poor US-centric minds couldn’t quite accept that, so we did still review the documents as best we could (being that they were in Dutch), but in the end, I don’t think it was wholly necessary.  After that, we had an estimator come out to establish the value of the home and then established our financing which was also very straight forward and designed to protect rather than snare you unsuspectingly.  There were no inspections necessary; you could pay if you wanted to, but we were assured that since our home is newer construction, there was no need.  In fact, it seems inspections here might have more to do with structural issues due to sinking ground and water levels.  In fact, there does not appear to be any building code standards that are used as some very shady electrical and plumbing work had previously been done in the house (don’t worry, we knew there was a problem and had the previous owner pay to fix it before the sale went through).  Then at the closing, we went over the papers and signed (this took less than 1 hour) and we were Holland homeowners!

After the papers were signed, we decided to have our tile floors changed to laminate.  After searching for well-reviewed companies, we went to the store to inquire about options and pricing.  As it turns out, everything happens in the store.  Unlike in the US, no one comes out to measure the rooms and determine what extra items are needed to finish the edges or to evaluate your current flooring to determine what to lay down as an underlayer.  You give them the measurements (good thing we had floorplans with all of that), and you tell them what you want (luckily they will make some suggestions based on the information you give them or pictures you have).  Since they weren’t sure what we would like to finish the edges, they charged us for two options and told us that after we decided onsite, they would take the unused product back and refund the money.  They held true to their word, and the job was finished without complaint from us.  Our next project along those lines is to have our stairs redone, but for the life of us, we have yet to find someone who will do this work.

We also had painters come and redo the outside trim.  This was quite a lengthy process as they had to scrape all of the existing trim, prime and then hand paint everything including our front and garage doors.  During the painting process, we had to have all of the windows and doors open for hours so that the inside trim could dry.   This was a very cold process since it was well into fall here (we had tried to get the painting done months before that, but the painters were busy and couldn’t come for a month, and then it kept raining daily making painting impossible).  And the craziest part- before they knew I would be home most of the time, the painters asked for a key to the house so that they could open doors and windows as needed, which felt very weird to me.

Now, perhaps the strangest thing about all of this installation and repair work is that Dutch workers take a lot of breaks.  And often, the expectation is that you should provide hospitality during these breaks.  Being very American, I really never offer anything.  In fact, it never really occurs to me that I should, but our electrician did ask if I could make him coffee one of the days that he was here, and the painters asked if they could come in and use my kitchen table to eat their morning snack during their break (I decided to leave the room).  All of the workers used our bathroom freely or asked to come in and use it (they even made a point of coming in and using it at the end of the workday before they left-maybe normal for them, but I thought they should just hold it until they got home!).

So, you see, even things like home buying and repair can be quite strange and foreign in another land.  It’s a nice reminder that while you need to function and belong, you don’t quite belong.  But, surviving the process is also a nice reminder that, even when things feel strange and you don’t quite understand the process, you can still survive and get things done.  Here’s to another day of making it in this so-called Dutch life!

 

Medical Misadventures

After one year, maybe you thought there would no longer be misadventures.  But, I am here to prove that, as an expat, there can always be misadventures!  We were very lucky in the past year and didn’t have to make any doctor or vet visits, but recently we had to jump headfirst into medical care abroad!

First off, we needed to get a longterm pain in our daughter’s elbow evaluated.  The first step in using medical care in The Netherlands begins when you first arrive.  You must pick a doctor as a primary doctor.  You can not just pick anyone though.  The doctor you choose must live near your home.  We were informed that the reason for this is that some doctors will still make housecalls if necessary, so their office needs to be near your home.  Also, for those used to things in the US, you do not pick a pediatrician for your children.  They too use the primary doctor and may be referred to a pediatrician if necessary.  And there is no need to check if a doctor is on your insurance.  While there are variations in what is covered/amounts based on the plan, insurance covers the medical expenses regardless of where they are received.

Once we knew we needed to see the doctor, we called and were able to get an appointment very quickly, even though it was holiday time here, and we were not sick or with an emergency.  The doctor listened to the symptoms and made some preliminary predictions, but suggested we go get an Xray to verify that there was nothing fractured.  We immediately went to the hospital where the radiologist is located.  Upon arriving, you have to first register at a desk in the main lobby area (you only have to do this once; if you have registered before and are in the system, you can skip this step).  After registering, we had to then find radiology and take a number.  As a side note, when we were called in, the person receiving an Xray before us was leaving, and it was quite exciting to find it was a man being escorted by four police officers!  Receiving your Xray is just like receiving one in the US except that they do not use any kind of protective vest on the patient as they would in many situations in the US (this held true for dental Xrays as well).

As soon as the Xray results were sent to the primary doctor, they decided to refer us to a pediatrician as there was nothing on the Xray that would indicate the reason for the pain.  They do work on a referral basis here in The Netherlands, so you do need to receive a referral to see most specialist doctors.  As soon as we received the referral, we called the pediatrician, whose office is located in the hospital, to make an appointment.  Again, they were able to schedule an appointment for a date within a week of the date we called.

Here is where things began to get a little different.  When we arrived for our appointment at the pediatrician, we signed in and were sent down the hall and around the corner to an office where a woman looked us up in the computer and then took height and weight measurements.  She imputed the information and then sent us back to the waiting room for the pediatrician (which was also the waiting room for a gynecologist and perhaps some other specialists as well).  When they called us, we went into a room that looked like your average room at a pediatrician’s office, but, in addition to the exam table and sink, it also had a desk with a computer and chairs as you would find in an office.  This is where we sat while the “doctor” informed us that she is actually a doctor in training and will consult with her supervisor who was not present at this time.  She asked a lot of questions and then finally asked my daughter to sit on the exam table while she did some manipulation of her arm and hands to test some things.  After this, she exited a rear door in the room to retell everything to the actual doctor and consult with her.  About 10 minutes later, she returned with the supervising doctor and they told us what they thought might be going on.  They also said, that since they are not certain, they would be consulting the next day with some rheumatologists and Xray technicians that they meet with monthly for further review of our case.  We left with a referral to a physiotherapist and a promise that they would call the next day with the results of their conversation.  The next day, they called several times, but we missed the calls and they left no information (though they did make an attempt to call after hours which was nice).  On the second day, we finally managed to speak to them in person, and they told us that they wanted us to do some bloodwork just to rule out arthritis.

The bloodwork was made very convenient.  We were able to go in the next day, they explained.  As the doctor informed us, we should just go in and tell them that we had a blood draw order, and, before leaving, we should make an appointment for one week later to receive a phone call from the doctor to receive the results.  It all seemed so simple, but as an expat, simple things are not always simple.  The lab was, of course, also located in the hospital, so we ventured back, and, since we did not know where the lab was located, we headed to the front desk to ask.  Here we had a slight language difficulty, but they sent us to the lab.  Hurdle one was out of the way.

Upon arriving at the lab, there were two people at a counter receiving patients.  We walked up and were promptly informed we needed to get a number.  We found a digital machine issuing numbers, but, of course, all options were in Dutch.  Using our very limited language skills and the power of deductive reasoning, we were able to obtain a number which was immediately (I mean within 1 second of spitting out of the machine) called to the counter.  I told the clerk that we were sent by the pediatrician to receive a blood draw.  He asked for my paper.  I did not have one.  In a rather curt manner, he informed me that we needed to go to the pediatrician’s office to obtain it.  Then he told me to get a “B” number and leave it with him so he could help us when we returned and pointed to the number machine.  Now, I had barely figured out how to get a number at all, let alone a special “B” number, and he certainly was not going to assist me as he just kept saying B number and pointing to the machine.  So, after staring at the machine for several seconds, an older Dutch woman walked up to get her own number.  I asked her how to get a B number, and she showed me what to press.  B number in hand, I returned to the counter to leave it with the clerk, and then headed up to the pediatrician’s office.  Hurdle two-done!

At the pediatrician’s office, I was met by a receptionist who first began asking for my daughter’s date of birth in Dutch, even though I had explained what we needed in English-hence she probably knew that I didn’t speak Dutch.  This is fine because maybe English is not strong for her and she prefers Dutch, so I made an attempt to understand what she was saying but wasn’t quite getting it, at which point she said it in English.  I answered, and she promptly went back to Dutch to ask for our last name.  That time I did get it, but asked, in English, to verify that I had the correct meaning.  She found us in the system, printed our lab order and said something else to me in Dutch before sending us on our way.  Now, I have no problem with people not speaking English or even expecting that I speak Dutch, but when she knew I couldn’t and she clearly could speak English, I’m not sure why she was making me struggle (especially in a medical setting where you might be having some anxieties anyway).

But, hurdle three out of the way, we headed back to the lab where we approached the clerk who had taken our B number.  He told us that his colleague would instead help us, so we moved to her counter.  She took our paperwork, said one thing, and then told us we needed to step aside.  She helped someone else and then called us back.  The chaos of what was happening was beginning to make my head spin and my daughter was also having some anxiety about having her blood drawn, so I was starting to feel the pressure.  After verifying our information, the clerk told us to watch for our number.  After a few seconds, our number came up on the screen, but I realized I didn’t really know what to do when the number appeared.  She had told us to go to an automatic door in the room when we were called, so we did.  The door admitted us into a room with several lab tech stations set up, but I didn’t know which one to go to.  Finally, the tech called us over and then began to speak in Dutch.  When my daughter said she didn’t speak Dutch, we got a very strange look and then, I believe seeing my daughter’s anxiety, she became a little friendlier and proceeded to do the draw.  As soon as it was done, we followed the exit signs.  All hurdles were complete!

It was only after we were almost back to the parking garage and my shoulders were starting to relax that I realized I had forgotten to make the appointment for our results call.  I had no idea if I was supposed to make this at the lab or with the Dutch-only receptionist in the pediatrician’s office, but I was not about to go back in to find out.  Later we had to call to schedule it, and they told us that it was no longer possible to schedule an exact time, but they would just call us some time on the following Friday.  Luckily, we were able to answer the phone when they called.  They informed us that the results were fine and that they would call back in 5 months to see how the elbow is doing.  Quite an ordeal!  I’m not sure if I breathed a bigger sigh of relief over the fact that the results were favorable or that I was done with that process.  You see, you can often fit in within the confines of your daily life as an expat, but something that is outside the norms of what you “know” in another country can be overwhelming and make you really feel how much you don’t really belong.

But, for those of you who have stuck with me through this long post and are still curious about other forms of medical interventions, we can also report on the dentist and orthodontist.  The dentist is much the same as in the US, however, when you schedule, you choose whether you would like a 15 minute, 30 minute or 45 minute cleaning session and whether or not you would like to see the dentist for an exam with your cleaning or just have the hygienist clean.  Also, you can determine how often you want to go in for a cleaning, although the insurance (at least the plan that we have) only covers one cleaning a year.  We have been informed, though, that the costs of dental care (routine items anyway) is so low, that the insurance really only saves you a few dollars and thus many Dutch people do not carry dental insurance.  The orthodontist is also similar to the US, although, one thing that I have found different, is that you don’t actually see the orthodontist each time you go in.  In fact, the assistant put the braces on and the orthodontist didn’t even check them.  Also, the time between appointments seems to be more like 6-8 weeks instead of 5-6 weeks.  The cost for orthodontics is also very inexpensive compared to the US.  We will pay about half of what we paid with insurance and a prepay discount in the US.  But, children’s orthodontics here are covered through the parent’s health insurance plan rather than a dental plan.

Finally, we can also speak to the medical care of pets here in The Netherlands as our dogs recently decided to injure one another necessitating a visit outside of the annual exam they had received a month prior.  The annual exam was similar to the one in the US in which the vet examined the animals and administered vaccinations, the difference being that some of the required/suggested vaccinations are different than US requirements/suggestions.  Also, they administered the vaccinations in a nasal spray format rather than by injection (not sure my dogs were big fans of this).  The procedure in an emergency was very similar to the US.  The most seriously injured dog received antibiotics and pain medications while the less serious received a natural cream to rub on the swollen/bitten leg as well as a pain medication.  The main difference, again, was that the costs for these treatments were a fraction of what we would have paid in the US.

Fingers crossed that this is all that I will be able to report from the medical front in The Netherlands.  In the meantime, you can rest easy knowing that we have survived a few more misadventures!

 

The Day the Exam Results Came In

Yesterday was a big day for kids in their final year of school in The Netherlands.  It was the day that the results of their national exams came in.  Each student in Dutch schools that is at the end of their secondary school time takes school leaving examinations-some for the school itself and some that are national exams. Everyone that takes the national exams receives a call sometime during the day to let them know whether or not they passed their exam.  If they passed, they fly the flag of The Netherlands outside of their house and hang their backpack with the flag.  This is a celebration of their achievement and to let everyone know that they passed and have completed secondary school.  As we came home from school yesterday, it was apparent that many of our neighbors had received their call because there were several flags and backpacks dotting the street.  Just another different tradition that we have been able to learn about and witness.

Koningsdag 2019

Today is King’s Day or Koningsdag in The Netherlands.  This is a celebration in honor of King Willem Alexander’s birthday.  According to Wikipedia, this day was first celebrated as Princess Day in 1885 in honor of Princess Wilhelmina who would one day become queen.  It used to be celebrated in August for Wilhelmina’s birthday (and of course was called Queen’s Day), but when her daughter ascended the throne it was moved to her birthday of April 30th.  It remained on that date through both she and her daughter’s reign (because her daughter’s birthday was in January and who wants to be out on the streets celebrating then) and then was moved to the King’s birthday of April 27th in 2013 when he ascended the throne (so sensible of him to have a spring birthday).

Many people wear orange for King’s Day in honor of the ruling family being of the House of Orange-Nassau (that is the line that has been ruling The Netherlands for a long time) and orange decorations are everywhere.

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There are also tons of Dutch flags being flown.

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One of the biggest activities for King’s Day is the countrywide flea market.  People bring out their unwanted belongings and sell them on the street.  There are large flea markets in big cities like Amsterdam and Rotterdam, but all the smaller cities and districts have them as well.

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There are also lots of food and drink stalls, bands and music stands and activities for kids.  In Amsterdam, there is a huge party and people go out in boats on the canals.

We decided to just stay in our district of Rotterdam, so the festivities are much smaller.  We missed the flea market as we didn’t get out early enough in the day, but there were still games for kids, food stands and music.  The most interesting kid’s activity that we saw was giant inflated balloons that kids were getting inside and floating on the canal in.

 

The kids also got to celebrate at school yesterday with breakfast and games provided by the King’s Day Foundation.  All schools that sign up receive the food supplies for the breakfast as well as sports supplies for the games.  The PTSA decorated the school in tons of orange and we had an orange-themed bake sale.

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As an American who has never celebrated a king before or even really done much to honor the presidents, it feels strange to celebrate a royal, but it has been fun to get in the spirit of things.  So, Happy Birthday to the King, Go Netherlands and we’ll see you next year at Koningsdag!

 

Our Neck of the Woods

For those who are curious about what the area around our home is like, picture a suburb on the edge of a larger city.  While we are actually considered to live in the city, we are in one of the districts outside of the main downtown center.  Just like in suburbs, we still have shopping and restaurants in our “neck of the woods” (all within a 5-10 minute bike ride), but our district has more of a suburban residential feel and is a bit more nature and recreation filled than some of the others.  We have many parks and lakes, biking and walking trails, a bowling center, paintball facility, gyms and tennis courts, a children’s farm and an outdoor amusement center.  There are also lots of fields for soccer and field hockey.

Yesterday, as the sun was shining and the temperature was warm enough for short sleeves and no jacket, lots of people were outdoors engaging in adventurous activities, and we decided to bike around the area.  Our bike ride began in the park near our home (just a 5 minute ride).  There were many people out with their dogs and several people riding horseback through the park.  Next to the park’s large, lakeside restaurant, there is a remote control car race track.  On this day, they were hosting a race and there were many racers and spectators.

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We headed out of the park to bike along the street.  While it was a street, there was probably more traffic on the bike paths than the road.  We biked along a large golf course, many houses, some of which had sheep, horses and cows on their property, and an outdoor ski simulation and intertube “sledding” facility.  The skiing looked scary, but I would definitely try the sledding!

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It was a very scenic bike ride with lots of wildflowers and blooming trees.

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Further down the path, we reentered a section of the park and found the other side of the facility that operates the skiing and sledding.  At this side of their facility, there is an area for renting kayaks and canoes, playing some sort of water sport with nets, doing a massive climbing wall and an adventure obstacle course.  There is also a large lake and numerous mountain biking trails.  There were a couple of people out paddleboarding on the lake as well.

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Finally, we ended up back at the restaurant in the park by our house.  It was packed with people (and dogs) just sitting outside enjoying some food and drink, and there were also people using a paddle boat on the lake as well as someone driving a small remote-operated boat.  There is also a sandpit, climbing areas, a playground and small swing bridge for kids near the water and restaurant and the children were out in droves putting all of it to use.

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After relaxing for a bit with a snack, we headed back home through the nature trail.  It was a lovely, relaxed afternoon, and we realized that Rotterdam and it’s surrounding cities are great, and while we enjoy going into the city center for shopping, food and other activities, we are very happy with the amenities and overall feel of our district and feel fortunate that it is what we currently call home.

Bon Appetit or Eet Smakelijk

Food is one of my favorite things.  As I’m sure most of you have noticed from our travel posts, trying different foods makes up a large portion of our adventures.  We are always interested to see and taste the things that people eat in different countries and cultures.  So with that in mind, I thought I would share a post about the things that we enjoy eating here in The Netherlands that you might be unfamiliar with in the US.

Let’s start with the sweets.  Licorice/Anise flavored items are huge here (they are called drop), but we have not been able to bring ourselves to enjoy that so you won’t find any of that in our home.  We do however enjoy Kruidnoten.  Kruidnoten is actually a winter/Sinterklaas (that’s Santa Claus here) treat.  They are tiny hard spiced cookies.  You can find them plain or they can be coated in milk chocolate, white chocolate, dark chocolate, salted caramel coating, toffee coating, etc.

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Another winter sweet that we enjoy is Oliebollen, which are traditionally eaten with champagne on New Year’s Eve.  You can find them at stands all over town in the winter season or you can buy box mixes at the store and make them yourself.  They are essentially fried dough that is covered in powdered sugar.  A lot of people here eat them with raisins but we prefer them plain or with a filling.  We have had them filled with apple (very good), Nutella, and banana.

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We also enjoy stroopwafels.  If your child was ever in a class with my children in elementary school, chances are they have had stroopwafels as we usually brought some from The Netherlands and shared with the class each year.  These are two thin, chewy cookies made from a batter that is cooked in a sort of waffle iron that are then sandwiched together with a type of sticky, syrup center.  You can buy these prepackaged at the store or you might find a place that makes them fresh.  You can also get these in multiple flavors (the strangest that I have seen is lavender and pepper).

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They also have a product here (the consistency of creamy peanut butter) called Speculoos.  Now, I don’t know how they eat it-maybe as a breakfast spread, maybe as a dessert.  I eat it as dessert right off the spoon!  It is essentially a cookie butter made from speculoos biscuits which are a spiced shortcrust type of cookie.

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While the Dutch are huge fans of apple pie (and it truly is different than American apple pie), one of my favorite things to get from the bakery is Bossche Bollen.  It is reminiscent of a cream puff as it is a hollow dough filled with a whipped cream mixture and covered in a chocolate fondant but this pastry was actually created in a town in The Netherlands.

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Now you might think dessert on these next two but these are actually breakfast items.

 

 

On the left, you have what may look like chocolate sprinkles to you (and essentially they are) but here this is called hagelslag and you eat it on bread for breakfast (the final product also being called hagelslag).  You first butter your bread and then pour on a ton of the sprinkles.  You can also use peanut butter instead of butter.  The sprinkles come in both pure and milk chocolate as well as white and you can find different colors-pink and blue for births are very popular.

On the right, you have what looks like a slice of cheese but is actually a slice of coconut for your bread.  It must be made by mixing coconut, sugar and some type of gelatin together to form this slightly gummy coconut slice.  It is quite good.

Next is a food that is both a sweet treat (generally how the Dutch eat them) and a breakfast item (often how we eat them).  They are called poffertjes.  They are a fluffy tiny pancake that is a little spongy.  I buy them packaged at the store and warm them up for breakfast (for that we eat them plain), but we have had them as a treat with butter and powdered sugar or with caramel or chocolate sauce.  I recently bought the special skillet that you use to make them, so I’m hoping to make some from scratch soon.

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One other treat that the Dutch might eat as a pastry treat and we often eat at breakfast is amandelstaaf.  This is a flaky pastry with a sugary almond paste filling.  These are typical at Christmas time and they are really delicious.

almond staaf

 

In terms of snacks that aren’t sweet, the Dutch, of course, do like raw or pickled herring.  We are not fans of raw fish as a snack, but there are two snacks that we like that are very similar to each other-kroketten and bitterballen.  Both consist mainly of a creamy roux type filling which often contains chopped or minced beef (although it can contain other things such as cheese or potato).  This is then rolled in breadcrumbs and fried.  They are usually served with mustard or a mustard mayonnaise combination sauce.  The most noticeable difference between the two is probably their shape with bitterballen being round and krokets/croquettes being oblong shaped and larger.  Krokets/Croquettes are often also found on lunch menus as a main dish.

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Another snack is frikandel which is a firm, skinless meat sausage or minced meat hot dog that is deep fried.  It is often eaten as a snack, but you find it on the children’s menu at restaurants quite often as well.

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The other beloved snack in The Netherlands are frites (better known as fries).  The main difference between fries in The Netherlands from those in the US is in how they are eaten.  The Dutch love to eat them with mayo (and tons of it).  They can often be purchased from snack stands in a paper cone with layers of fries and mayonnaise (referred to as frites sauce) or other sauces and toppings and are eaten with a little fork.  This is called a zak patat.  Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it; it’s pretty awesome!

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Now, how about some healthy items.

One thing that you can find in many places across Europe, but that I have not seen in the US (at least not where we are from) is red currant berries.

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Another item that is a specialty of the south of The Netherlands is white asparagus.  I haven’t tried this yet, but am hoping to soon as I just saw them at the market.  I have read that it is white because it is grown underground and never has light to produce chlorophyll which makes asparagus green.  White asparagus are supposed to be slightly sweeter and more delicate in taste; I will have to let you know.

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Of course, The Netherlands is known for its love of Gouda (pronounced “How da” here).  And while we do eat that, I really love Old Rotterdam cheese.  It’s an “old” cheese meaning it has a stronger flavor, but it’s really good.  It is also a harder cheese.  If you ever have the opportunity to try some, I highly recommend it.

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As far as the main dish, the Dutch like stamppot.  This is potato mashed with some other vegetable (typical choices would be spinach, kale, carrot, onion) and served with smoked sausage on top or sliced to the side.  There are many variations and different seasonings that you can do to this dish.  It’s pretty tasty and definitely hardy.

stamppot

Pannenkoeken is another favorite meal.  There are both savory and sweet versions of this type of crepe and many fillings to choose from but typical fillings are cheese or bacon/ham or both.  Common sweet fillings would be sugar and whipped cream. These are generally very large (like they cover the whole plate) and they are slightly thicker than a crepe.

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Finally, we have drinks.  I’m not sure if this is in the US or not, but here they have fruit water.  I know many people drink fruit-infused sparkling water, but that’s not what this is.  It’s still water and it tastes like drinking plain water with juice mixed in.  It comes in many different flavors like apple and berry and it’s a nice alternative for kids who want a sweet or special drink since it is made with only the natural sugars from the juice and the amount is cut down by the water.

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Of course, there are all kinds of “adult beverages” here.  Gin is a specialty of The Netherlands and there is a plethora of beer as well.  But one thing that is a wholly Dutch drink is called Advocaat.  It is made from eggs, sugar and brandy forming a rich and creamy drink with a smooth, custard-like consistency.  The typical alcohol content is generally somewhere between 14% and 20%.  I have not had an occasion to try this yet, but look forward to giving it a go at some point.

Finally, in addition to coffee, the Dutch do enjoy their fresh mint or ginger teas.  Of course, you can get these teas in the US too, but they aren’t presented in quite the same way.  At a restaurant or cafe here, they will bring you a glass stuffed with mint leaves and a pot of hot water.  Pour the water in and wait and you have your tea.  The ginger tea often comes as hot water with a skewer of ginger chunks and lemon slices.  Just let your skewer soak and then drink your tea.

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Now, I don’t know about you, but all this food has made me hungry.  Good thing I live in The Netherlands and can bike it all off!!

Bon Appetit or as the Dutch would say Eet Smakelijk!

 

***Update to the post-I have now tried both the white asparagus and advocaat. The asparagus was fine. It definitely was a different taste and texture than green asparagus. Advocaat was interesting. It was the consistency of a thick custard-we ate it with a spoon even though it is considered a drink. It was good and definitely strong. It would be interesting to try one of the cocktails made with it.

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Spring in The Netherlands

Spring appears to be here in The Netherlands.  While it’s taken a little while to convince the sun to come out and stay, it seems like we may finally be on the right track.  Unlike where we are from in the States, the grasses have stayed green here all winter, but now it’s time for the flowers to bloom and the trees and shrubs to bud out.

The flowers are blooming, not just in people’s gardens, but in parks and along roadways.  Many medians have an impressive plethora of daffodil plantings which have been brightening our days even with cloudy skies.

The trees have also been quite beautiful with their pink and white blossoms.

On a recent sunny day, we took a bike ride and came upon many signs of spring blossoming (and one giant sheep!).

Finally, the gardens are starting to come to life as well.

All of these signs of life are a welcome sight here and we can’t wait to see what the coming weeks will bring, but for now, the sun is shining and there are pretty flowers in my yard, so I’m off to enjoy it!

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