public service announcement: you should go on exchange

“I miss being a student,” a 27 year old Dutch guy told me at a party a few months ago. “When you’re a student, if you have to go to the dentist, that’s the thing you do that day. You can go to the dentist and when people ask you what you did that day, you can say that you went to the dentist and that’s accepted as an accomplished day! Now that I am not a student, if I have to go to the dentist, I have to fit it in on my break and still work from 9-5. Man, I miss being a student.”

This conversation was early into my exchange to the Netherlands, so I didn’t entirely relate to him. Back home in Calgary, I’m used to volunteering 5-15 hours a week, waitressing 10-20 hours a week, and studying with practically all the time I had in between. When I first got here, I felt a sense of guilt when all I did in a day was read some articles and go to the supermarket.

But now, after 5 months of living in Amsterdam, I can understand what that Dutch guy meant. I think it’s a bit of a cultural thing – Europeans seem much better at chilling out and enjoying life than us North Americans. The Dutch work fewer hours than any other EU country, with an average of 30 hours a week. They are also ranked as some of the most productive in the EU, which suggests something about their mindset about working is, well, working. The Dutch have a pretty good work-life balance, with perhaps more of an emphasis on the life part.

This can be frustrating at times, such as when you’re waiting to be served and end up waiting over half an hour for a coffee. But this doesn’t happen often, and it tends to not bother me when it does, as I am happy to spend hours in a cafe. I have no job, six weeks off from school, and feel no need to really do anything that I don’t want to do.

It’s pretty ridiculous.

Today I went to a cafe and read a book. The day before I went to a museum and watched American Beauty. Tomorrow, I think I’m going to do laundry. And I’d say that it’s been a pretty successful week.

I am learning in all sorts of ways that can come from being able to do whatever I want with almost every day. Today I learned heaps bout the history of Istanbul and read far too much about bike lanes in different cities. On Friday I learned all about Keith Harring’s artwork and that a McDonald’s in Rotterdam has won an architectural award as the “worlds fanciest McDonalds.” I’m also getting pretty good at creating delicious chickpea curries. 

It’s going to be hard to go back to the responsibilities of work and school and all that lame stressful time consuming stuff back home, but luckily I still have 7 months to live like a Dutch student and perfect the beautiful art of doing a little less while enjoying a lot more. 

 

smiles in the city

I’m amazed by this city. It’s a beautiful, stimulating and fantastic place. Every day, I see something in the streets that makes me laugh.

Yesterday, it was a woman who set up her easel in the middle of the sidewalk to paint a picture of the autumn afternoon. The day before, I couldn’t help but smile at the group of elderly people who set up a table on the street next to a canal to eat their supper. There was a white tablecloth, candlesticks, wine and everything else you need for a proper dinner party. A week ago, my laughter was sparked by an American tourist sitting on a patio wearing a shirt, that barely fit over his protruding stomach, and read “POWERED BY PIZZA”. On my way to class the other day, the loud sound of someone in a houseboat banging away on their drum set caught my attention, and once again, I couldn’t help but laugh. Speaking of houseboats, there is one on my street and on hot summer days, the people who live there fill up a kiddy pool on top of the boat, and lounge in the pool. Another one of our neighbours is an old skinny man who, on a hot day, is guaranteed to be contently sitting shirtless on the sidewalk reading his book. Every time I see a puppy in the basket of a bike (which is more often than you might think), my heart melts a little bit more.

This city is pulsing with eccentric energy, and it makes my days a little bit brighter every time I walk out my front door.

impressions about canada, from around the world.

I haven’t met any fellow Canadians since I’ve arrived in Amsterdam. I have, however, met heaps** of people from all other corners of the world. As a result, the weather is no longer the go-to topic of small talk when you first meet someone, and instead, conversation seems to concentrate on where we are all from. The most common responses when I tell them I am from Canada seem to be: “Are you from Vancouver?” or “Do you speak French?” To these people’s disappointment, neither are the cases for me. The second most popular questions are if I ski or “ice” skate, and I tell them I am a poor representative of my country, because I am not particularly talented at either.

Two different people asked me in one night if we are like the head-bobbing animated Canadians in South Park. I’ve also been told at least three times that I am like Robin Sparks from How I Met Your Mother. I’m tall and Canadian, and so is she, so, I can understand the connection, I guessml5ocjttfoabsivkjs2n.

A few Brits were really excited when I said I was from Calgary, because they knew all about the Jamaican bobsled team in the ’88 Olympics. A couple of people have seemed to recognize the name of my home city, thanks to Bon Iver and his track Calgary, or from Death Cab’s I Will Follow You Into the Dark.

My Swedish friend asked if we actually eat peanut butter and jam sandwiches in North America (hell yes!). An American immediately asked if I was a Belieber (hell no!). A girl from LA got fed up with the terms toque and tobogganing and told me that she refers to Canada as “America’s Hat”. I had never heard that one before.

At an Oktoberfest party with a Calgarian friend who was visiting from London where she’s on exchange, we sat on the ground and started eating hummus and melba toast from my backpack. We had been a lot of places that day and had figured we’d save money by bringing a bunch of snacks. Two Dutch boys in lederhosen turned around and joined in on the late night picnic in the bar. We had talked about bears and beers and other random things and as I took out my 1 litre Nalgene bottle, the lederhosen boys said, “Wow, you Canadians are really resourceful.” Sam and I liked that one, and decided to roll with it. The conversation then led to us talking about how Canadians have got to always be prepared, because we’re so often out in forests and on top of mountains and other outdoorsy things like that.

The same night, a German post-grad asked me if it was true that Canada’s government is as scandalous and dishonest as he had heard it was. He said he was surprised to hear such a thing, and had always assumed that the USA would take the cake on our continent for being the politically messed up ones. After all, to some, we are just “America’s Hat.”  Who knew a hat could be so shameful and anti-democratic!  I told him about the upcoming election and that people are so incredibly fed up*** with our current leader, that things ought to change for the better after October 19.

I certainly hope they do, so we Canadians can go back to wearing our toques with pride wherever we go in the world.

-J

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**I’ve been spending a lot of time with Australians, who use the term ‘heaps’ so often that it has naturally entered my vocabulary.

america_canadashat
I like this one better than “America’s Hat”

***One of my favourite stories regarding the whole “anything but Harper” movement was when a woman passed away and her obituary read: “In lieu of donations, Catherine would want you to do everything you can to drive Stephen Harper from office, right out of the country, and into the deep blue sea if possible. Also, she would like you to fix the CBC.” You go, girl.

evanescent days

The streets in this city have a sense of ordered chaos, with perhaps more chaos than order. Any traffic rules appear to really just be guidelines, with mopeds speeding in the bike lanes, the bicyclers leisurely criss-crossing paths at the uncontrolled intersections, and tourists stopping dead in the middle of the street to check their map, or maybe use their selfie-stick for a group photo on a picturesque canal bridge.

sk8r-bwdal-bwbikes-bw

The pubs and café’s are filled with all sorts of people enjoying the final August moments of sun and relaxation, with a Juliper in one hand and a rolled cigarette, or maybe an Amsterdam guide book, in the other. Colourful flower baskets hang from windowsills and families have picnics while floating down the canals on their small, wood finished boats.
On an almost daily basis for the past two weeks, I’ve seen Dutch frat boys with their combed hair and coordinated navy blue blazers and khaki pants participate in initiation fraternity rituals throughout the centre of the city – drinking beer in the morning, yelling chants, struggling to transport couches in shopping carts to who knows where and setting off flares in the wee hours of the night.

As many say, the streets are the arteries of the city, and Amsterdam’s streets are surely pumping with energy. Even the quieter streets have a gentle, charming buzz, with young girls perched on the side of the canal eating lunch, and even younger boys biking home over the uneven cobblestone road, causing their bike bells to softly jingle.

There is something special about the fleeting days of summer in any place, but here, in the lively mixed streets of Amsterdam, the end of August seems to be particularly wonderful.

-J

lady