Moving to Holland is not easy, but it's worth the effort. This blog tells the story of shifting from American life in Pittsburgh to Expat life in the Netherlands,
and all of our European adventures that follow.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Christmas 2009

For Christmas this year, stayed in Rotterdam, because we had a trip planned back to the US for January. Last year it was really nice to be able to go up to Norway and spend Christmas with Vegar’s family. This year would be nowhere as adventurous, but it was a great time nonetheless.

We found a little Christmas tree at the grocery store across the street. It was cheap, and small enough to carry home, so it worked for us. We placed it on the end table and wrapped a red blanket around the bottom, since we lack a proper tree skirt. It sort of resembled the Charlie Brown tree, but we liked it.


One small difference I noticed is that the candy canes in Holland (and Belgium, so maybe more countries as well) are all strawberry flavored. In the US they are traditionally peppermint. Though now they have tons of flavors (as with most things) including even Starburst or Sweet Tart flavors. Also, because the Dutch celebrate Sinter Klaus on December 5, they do not start decorating for Christmas until the 2nd week in December. It seems a bit late, since in the US we usually decorate just after Thanksgiving Day.

It is tradition in Chad’s family to cook a cured ham on Christmas Eve, along with potato salad, so you have something good to eat during the day on Christmas while you cook, and for leftovers. They also make this fabulous food called treca, which is pickled beets and horseradish. It’s a spicy sort of sauce that you eat with the ham, and we both love it.

Thanks to my boss, Juan (pronounced like the French Jon), we found a British man who owns a butchery in Rotterdam selling typical UK meats, sausages and pies. His website is called sausages.nl, haha, I love it. We ordered a 3 KG ham from him, which he delivered free of charge. On Christmas Eve we cooked it, and made the potato salad & treca. It was our first time for making each of them, and they were all delicious, especially the ham.

We were happy to be able to share Christmas dinner with our friends Andrew (Toyer) & Dayrina. We ordered a turkey from the same butcher we had used for Thanksgiving. On Christmas Eve we picked up the bird, and again carried it home in a backpack on a bike. We also made the bread stuffing again. Chad is really getting the hang of this, and it tastes great. We also had cranberry sauce and crescent rolls, and we made gravy from the turkey drippings. Toyer also made mashed turnips and carrots, & sage and onion stuffing, which are typical in the UK. Both were great.

Toyer also brought a typical Christmas thing from the UK, Christmas Crackers. They are paper tubes that have a small gift inside. Two people “compete” and one holds each end of the tube, sort of like a wishbone. They you pull it quickly and it makes a cracking sound. The person who has the end with the toy gets the price. Inside, there is also a small paper crown that you must wear the rest of the night.

For desert, we had a whole spread of tasty options. Chad and I cooked another pumpkin pie (we can’t get enough!). Dayrina made a delicious chocolate cake with chocolate icing. Toyer brought Christmas pudding from the UK, which is a dense cake with raisins and other fillings, sort of like a fruitcake. It comes in a bowl shape, & you turn it upside down on a plate & slice it and serve it. You can put chocolate syrup or another topping over it if you like. He also brought some other small pastries which are round with a filling, and reminded me of fig newtons. Everything was delicious!

After dinner, we went to relax on the couch with full bellies. Ironically, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation movie was on TV at that time. So, we watched it for old time’s sake. I don’t think Dayrina found it too funny, but the rest of us were laughing.

Chad and I called to Skype with our families. My family was in Houston this year, so I also got to see my Texas relatives, and Christy and Vegar, which was great. It was nighttime in Holland, but in Houston they were just preparing their dinner, which included smoked turkey and cornbread stuffing; a true Texas feast. We also got to Skype with Chad’s family, in Wheeling. It was nice to be able to both see and hear our families, and made us feel not so far away. Toyer and Dayrina also popped in to say hi and meet our families.

We really enjoyed our Dutch Christmas, though we are also looking forward to our trip home to the US in January. This is when we plan to celebrate and spend time with our family in person. Mmmm… I can already taste the Fat Heads sandwiches now!

-S

Pics from Christmas: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kanickmoses/sets/72157623103490626/

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Dutch Self-Defense

I was aware that it is illegal to own or carry a gun in Holland. Guns are, of course, controversial issues in most countries, and most US states for that matter. I also knew that you cannot carry a pocket knife, or any kind of knife, in Holland. Furthermore, you cannot have large knifes over a certain size in your home, even for display purposes, such as Samurai swords.

However, I was surprised to learn that it's also illegal to carry pepper spray in the Netherlands. I was talking with a female colleague about how she heard a noise at her front door the night before, and she went to inspect because she thought someone was trying to break into her apartment. Luckily, it ended up being nothing but some noise on the street, but it made her realize at that moment that she didn't have anything in her bedroom to defend herself with if someone actually did break in. I suggested that, for starters, she could simply get a can of pepper spray to keep with her, since she lives alone. But, she said it was illegal! What?

My colleagues went on to explain that it is also illegal to have a baseball bat in your car unless there is also a glove and baseballs present, as it can be used as a weapon. The same goes for having a golf club in your car without golf balls. You must also show that you have intent to play the sport, and in certain circumstances have the accompanying clothes on hand.

At the tone, please state your emergency:

I asked them how people were meant to defend themselves, then. They said by calling the police. Hmm… I think they misunderstood the question. Calling the police won’t stop someone from continuing to attack you. Furthermore, if you call the EU emergency number in the Netherlands, 112, you will get an automated system where you first have to listen to a recording (in Dutch, of course) and enter a number to select your city from a list of choices, and then select if you want the police, ambulance, or fire department. By the time you get through to a person the crime will already be over.

I asked my colleagues if they agreed with these laws, and they both shrugged their shoulders and said they weren't sure where they stood. They do feel that criminals have more rights than law-abiding citizens, and that makes them upset. Maybe that’s why the Dutch wear wooden clogs, so they have something legal to hit their attackers with, like Jackie Chan's great Rotterdam scene in 'Who Am I' (check it out on YouTube... classic).

Anyway, the point of this post was not to take a stance on weapons one way or the other. I just found it shocking that you cannot carry pepper spray, which is a major means of self defense for many people in the US. It also does no permanent damage, but simply provides necessary time to escape the situation until help arrives. After doing some light research, I found that pepper spray is considered a weapon in most of the EU. I understand that it can be seen as a weapon, if it is used with malice intent. But using that argument, almost anything can be used as a weapon if you get creative, including keys.

I believe that if a criminal is going to attack or mug you, then they are already breaking the law, so why do they care if it is also illegal to carry a weapon, too. So, only the law-abiding citizens have no means of protection. That is where the law can sometimes miss the point.


- S

*Update:
Ironically, just the following week after my conversation with my colleagues about the above, this article was posted on DutchNews.nl:

Woman fined for bread knife in car; Monday 04 January 2010
"A woman from the staunchly religious town of Staphorst has been fined €60 for carrying a bread knife in her car, just hours after picking it up at her local bakery through a coupon reward program, the Telegraaf reports.

The knife was spotted by police in her car glove box during a routine check when she was asked to produce her car papers. The woman had placed it there for safe-keeping while she went shopping.
Baker Willem Ubak told the paper he considers the police action childish and that he will pay the fine.”

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Chad's 30th birthday

December 3, 2009;

The big 3-0. Wow, have we gotten this old? ;) For Chad’s 30th birthday I made 30 cupcakes for him to take into work. Well, he took some into his office, I took some into mine, and we still had plenty left over. I was proud of myself, though, because I made the chocolate cupcakes from scratch, along with both chocolate and vanilla icing. They were yummy.

I wanted to do something special, so for a surprise, I planned a weekend trip to Cologne, Germany. I didn’t tell him where we were going, just what to pack. It was a quick 3.5 hr train ride. The nice part about going at this time of year was that they had the famous German Christmas Markets all over town. I think we heard that there were seven different markets in all.

We did not go to a restaurant once for the whole weekend. Instead, we “grazed” on all of the delicious foods from the vendors at the Christmas markets. For example, we had, bratwurst with bread & mustard (of course), a dumpling (dumpfel) with vanilla sauce & cherries, potato pancakes with applesauce, smoked salmon sandwich, brick oven pizza with bacon and onions, pork sandwich, grilled pork on a stick, mac & cheese, and even a crepe. There was also a nice warm dish with sauerkraut, pork, seasonings & sour cream on top.

The most popular vendors by far at all of the markets were the Glühwein stalls. Glühwein is a mulled red wine with honey and spices that is served warm. Perfect for a cold day. They had these booths spread throughout each market, and each one had their own unique mug. We collected a few of these mugs to take home. You have to be careful, though, because a couple mugs of Glühwein can sneak up on you really quickly!

Aside from the seasonal Glühwein, the Germans of course love their beer. The typical beer served in Cologne is a light pilsner called Kölsch. It is usually served in small, long, thin, cylindrical glasses. A waiter can carry several of these small glasses in a special round tray that has holes to hold each glass. Another interesting observation was that they serve the beer out of small, traditional kegs. The kegs were kept on the counter and had a tap at the bottom. When the keg got low, they would place a wooden board under the back end of the keg to tilt it forward.

Cologne is best known for being the birthplace of the fragrance of the same name, Cologne #470. However, today, it is also well known for having the largest cathedral in Germany, the Dom. It is a beautiful, ornate, stone Gothic cathedral right in the center of the old city. The city of Cologne sustained severe damage during WWII, however the Dom miraculously remained unscathed. The old city, or Altstadt, is also an interesting area, because it has nice small brick streets and historic buildings.

We both enjoyed being back in Germany again, and it was a nice weekend getaway. I loved the German Christmas markets. They were beautifully decorated, especially at night when all of the lights made for a nice festive atmosphere. Each vendor’s stall looked like a little wooden hut in the theme of that particular market, and each market had a different theme. Next year I’d like to go to another city and see more of them.

-S

Pics from Cologne: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kanickmoses/sets/72157623035267084/