Monday, December 05, 2005

Sinter Klaas & Zwarte Piet

In this new age of political correctness its often hard to distinguish candour from crudity, or fun from foibles. Be that as it may - its always amusing when one gets into these discussions with other expats, with most decrying what they describe as the lack of political correctness in the Netherlands.
With Sinter Klaas arriving in different towns over the last few weeks, and little Zwarte Piete running here and there, its time for heated arguments yet again!
'What dreadful characterisation, how do i explain to my 7 year old that colour doesn't define 'helpers' fumed my oh-so-correct American friend aka S. She soon found rebuttal in in J's reply - But darling , they are merely dark because they came down the chimney!
S responded with - But what about the hair!
Which actually takes me back to Oeteldonk last year - when a couple of women were walking down the street, with Afro hairdos - that supposedly being their costume. In the meantime, a South African friend who couldn't stop staring at them, and remarked to me with a wry grin - is looking like me entertaining? I responded with - "probably you'd be as entertaining in a blond wig and blue contact lenses!"
One does have to admit that once we've lived in a culture of political correctness ´- many things can seem rather odd here. Like the time my Uncle's Dutch business partner - remarked that his wife had gone on holiday to Turkey with her sister, and was probably getting robbed by all the 'black people' there! This coming from a well travelled, cosmopolitan businessman with work and social interests in many countries in Asia!
But for many expats to generalise based on a few specific instances is probably as dangerous as political incorrectness itself. After all , isn't being pc about not creating stereotypes?
On that doctrinaire note, I must rush. I am not about to miss out on my gevulde speculaas in my little friend -Amelia's school - and get a hug from the Zwarte Piets . Being a sucker for traditional fun - am happy to forget political correctness for today.
Wens je fijne kerstdagen en een gelukkig nieuwjaar ! (Merry Xmas and Happy New Year for the uninitiated!)

Friday, December 02, 2005

Depths of Despair

It's been the best of times, and the worst of times. The best of times since there's all this excitement of a little person soon to arrive in our lives. Not the best of times - thanks to all the horrible sickness and stuff that goes with having little rug rats arrive - like worshipping the porcelain goddess several times a day. That coupled with some of the idiosyncrasies of the Dutch system -make for entertaining times.

First, there was this business of finding a Huisart - (aGP or primary care physician) since a sprog was on the way. Having lived here for close to 7 months, and not having signed up with one was probably quite silly. All this lady of leisure business with holidays every other week - made me believe I was on a holiday ( albeit extended) and would soon return to my crazy, wonderful (through the hazy film of time) job back home.

After spending a couple of days trying to find a Huisart not too far from the centre of town, I found a practice and made an appointment to go see them. After the usual apologies for my rudimentary Dutch, I found the lady behind the counter rather effortlessly slid into English as well. After getting our personal details (B's and mine), I explained to her we possibly had a little rug rat on its way. After congratulating me heartily, she gave me a note to see a doctor at the Jeroen Bosch Ziekenhuis .

I was much relieved since I was used to a cultures of Doctors, for some irrational reason, midwives and home births seemed awfully frightening. Esp. after all the horror stories from the women's club about midwives (turns out even the male ones are called midwife), placentas that refuse to emerge (what's a placenta you may ask), and almost giving birth in the woods, with no pain relief (and you were wondering what that yelp two doors away was - probably a woman, not a cat in labour)! It's always interesting how no one mentions the good stuff, the Kraam care, the Verloskundigen visiting you at home and making sure all's well with you and the wee one. Anyway - I am diverting.

I was rather surprised and pleased the lady at the Huisart was sending me to the doctor. I said as much to her when she responded with - 'At your age, its best if you see the doctor instead of a midwife'. I must confess I was rather squashed and didn't feel so kindly disposed any longer. So I was 30, i know it's old, and people do feel touchy about it, but must she remind me? Also - I was concerned, I didn't realise being 30 put me in a high risk - too old to have a baby category. Ok, so 30 wasn't young, but my friend in NY city had just been told that at 31 she was amongst the younger people having a baby in New York.

Oh well - I would just cope with being an old mother, etc etc, I mumbled and stumbled to the Ziekenhuis. After crawling through the labyrinth that was the hospital, i arrived at the front desk to get a hospital card made. The lady at the desk looked at me rather quizzically, and asked if I was sure I was pregnant! Told her I was as sure as can be - needed to see the Doctor to confirm the same! She asked for id just to make sure she got my hospital card right - when she exclaimed. 'It says on the Huisart's record that you are born in 1957, but your passport says 1975!'

DUH. Now that explained everything. Despite having gone through this several times at stores etc, I forgot to check! The Dutch system of repeating numbers is different from English - where the units number is mentioned 1st , and then the tens no. For e.g.- the time I thought I had spent 'negen(9) and veertig'(4) , so 94 euros at the body shop on 3 little jars, and was thinking, hmmn, the products are sort of expensive in the Netherlands. Turns out the shop assistant meant 49 euros, they merely say the 2nd no. 1st!

One would think they would apply the English no. logic when conversing in English , but not quite. So the girl at the Huisart's assumed I was born in 1957 when I told her I was born in Nineteen Seventy Five! No wonder she thought I needed to see a doctor! At the age of 48 it would need to be pretty close to a medical miracle.

English - Dutch - Semantics apart, the hardest blow was the fact that she thought I looked like I was born in 1957. Hmmn. So you are 30, unemployed currently since you decide to follow the lord and master on yet another expat assignment, find yourself in yet another foreign country, and the lady at the Doctor's thinks you look 48 years old.

Find me a corner quick, I need to curl up and perish! Just like Anne (of the Green Gables, one of my favourite books), I have finally reached the depths of my despair.