Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Expat Life and The Lost Art of Comparison

I have been living in the Netherlands so long now that I can no longer accurately compare life here with life in Britain. I have been walloped with that realisation a few times over the last few months.

Most vividly recently was during an interview for the LiHSK (the Dutch national organisation for Highly Sensitive Children). I was asked about schooling in Britain and the only personal experience I can refer to is my own schooling. And believe me, that was a long time ago. A long, long time ago.

I had it a lot during my three pregnancies too when people asked about the maternity system in the UK. I cannot talk about that from personal experience either. All three of my sons have been born in the Netherlands. I can tell you everything you'd care to know about the Dutch maternity system but ask me about the English one and I will falter.

When I first landed on Dutch soil I spent more time than I care to think about now comparing my new life here to the one I had left behind.

"You wouldn't see that in England," I would mutter time and time again. "THAT would never happen in England," I'd say to the Dutchies in my life.

And then, although I'm not sure when exactly, it stopped. It's not something I consciously did. I came out the other end of culture shock and it just stopped. I started living in the now. I adapted to how things are done here in the Netherlands. I stopped thinking about how it would be done in Britain. I stopped seeing things as 'wrong' here and 'right' there. I just started doing things like they are done here. Except birthday parties - there are always limits.

And now I realise that my life in Britain is so far behind me I couldn't compare it to my life here and now even if I wanted to. I have no idea about the nitty gritty of life in Britain to be honest. I watch the  BBC news regularly (so yes I know there is a general election coming up, that the live TV debates set up was a fiasco and that Nigel Farage is a dick) but the details of real life are lost to me. I can no longer compare the Dutch way to the British way.

Well, except in the realm of health and safety. When it comes to health and safety I can still often be uttering that a (life threatening or at the very least mildly dangerous like this) situation I come across here in the Netherlands would never happen in Britain. But now I don't mean it in quite such a positive way as I did fifteen years ago.......

Do you still compare your passport country to the country you now call home? Is it in a positive or negative way?

Sunday, 26 April 2015

A Super Hero Minion Happy Birthday!

I spent Saturday making a birthday cake for my soon to be five year old. It only took me all day.... literally, the whole day *sigh*. That's my creativity used up for the week!

What professional cake makers charge suddenly seems like a bargain! However, I'm pretty sure all three of my sons will like how it turned out!

And whilst we are on a birthday theme - have you entered the giveaway for a Gadanke birthday journal?


Thursday, 23 April 2015

23 Wonderful Things about England and the English

Today is St George's Day and to mark it here are 23 things that are wonderful about England and all those who live within her.

  1. English breakfast: the best kind of breakfast there is. Sausages. Bacon. Fried bread. Eggs. Tomatoes. Mushrooms. Yum.
  2. Queuing: the English know how to form a good solid queue, and stick to it. None of this free for all nonsense they employ in the rest of Europe.
  3. The sights of London: all the usual tourist traps landmarks make London what it is. Think Buckingham Palace, the changing of the guard, Big Ben and Tower Bridge. There's nothing like it.
  4. Fish and chips.
  5. Gorgeous beaches: whether it's sand, rocks or pebbles you like on a beach or cliffs and coves, England has it along her shores. 
  6. And whilst we are on the topic of beaches the English know how to make a real day out of a trip to the beach
  7. Marmite: England is the birthplace of Marmite, Burton upon Trent to be precise. Love it or hate it? 
  8. Bonfire Night
  9. Quaint: England is the queen of quaintness, littered with little (and big) places that can only be described as quaint. Like Haworth, Grassington, Clovelly and Stratford upon Avon.
  10. Passion for the beautiful game: the English love football. Many people live and breathe the national game, despite there being very little international success on the football pitch since 1966. That's dedication and passion for you.
  11. Pubs: English pubs are like no other. In every nation there are attempts to replicate the Englishness of a good English pub but most attempts can be written off as outright failures. 
  12.  The royal family: what is there not to love about a real life, albeit involuntary, English soap opera?
  13. Regional differences: there are amazing variations in accents, food and customs from county to county across the length and breadth of England. Compare a Cornish accent to the dulcet tones of a Geordie to appreciate what I mean.
  14. English people are bonkers.
  15. Christmas: The English know how to do Christmas in style.
  16. Life is never dull around an Englishman: The English keep you guessing and it keeps you on your toes.
  17. Green, rolling hills: oh how I miss green rolling hills.
  18. Top Gear: I'll stop right there shall I?
  19. Sense of humor: what isn't there to love about sarcasm and self depreciation?
  20. A sense of history: you can bathe in history in England - quite literally in Roman Bath, more literary in Jane Austen's Hampshire and deep down in the abandoned mines of Cornwall.
  21. Downton Abbey: any country that Downton Abbey is filmed in has to be wonderful, right?
  22. Roast dinners.
  23. Benedict Cumberbatch.
So there you have it - what would you add?

Happy St George's Day to all you English out there.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

A Birthday (and a Giveaway) Fit for a Dutch King

Next week it's the king's birthday, the 27th April to be precise, and he's throwing a huge street party to which you are all invited.

The Dutch king's birthday celebrations certainly beat borrowing chairs from the neighbours to make a huge birthday circle in which to eat soggy crackers and drink coffee. His involve everyone dressing up in orange and hitting the Dutch streets - armed with as much crap from your house as you can physically carry in order to sell it from blankets on the pavements. Huh what? I hear you novices to King's Day cry. Yes really, all truth.

Of course the king himself doesn't take part in the vrijmarkten (although that would be rather amusing - him and the family sitting on a blanket selling the unwanted things from their royal residence and princess Amalia playing the flute and Maxima selling homemade cakes to earn a few cents) but he does throw toilets around. Again, yes, it's true, although in all fairness that was to celebrate his mother's birthday and not his own.

Let's face it King Willem-Alexander has the kind of birthday celebrations that are worth recording for prosperity and I have just the giveaway for him - an "It's My Birthday Journal" lovingly handmade by the award winning Gadanke.

It has room for the king to keep a birthday card from his mother (as in the woman formerly known as Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands) and those precious photos of the common folk taking to the nation's waterways in boats adorned in orange from head to toe.

There are embellishments fit for a king and an annual letter that Queen Maxima or one of his three daughters could write to him. There are writing prompts to help him review the year gone by, and a place to record the plans for the coming year - important whether you're king of the Netherlands or a regular person like you and me.

The journal is colorful, comes with a PDF document so that the number of birthdays you can record is endless, as well as 30 minutes of video tutorials full of inspiration and tips. In short, it's fabulous. And I have one to give away - to entrants worldwide. That's right, no matter where you live on the globe, whether in a palace or a humble abode, you can enter.

And so how do you get your hands on one of these wonderful Gadanke birthday journals? I figured I shouldn't enter my own giveaway - morally and ethically not done and all that - so there are three journals winging their way to me as I type and as it's my middle son's birthday next week we'll be getting to work as soon as it arrives! So you can either go order one or three like me, or you can enter to win one here on this blog!

If you, even if you are King Willem Alexander himself, want to win an It's My Birthday Gadanke journal use Rafflecopter below - there's no special treatment king or no king and you can enter until the very end of the Dutch king's birthday.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Leave a King's Day or birthday related comment below for extra entries in the giveaway - I want to hear what you love about King's Day, your experience with the dreaded Dutch birthday circle or what you last took in as a traktatie. If it's birthday related, share it!

Good luck!

Sunday, 19 April 2015

The Dutch Flower Fields

Flowers, bikes. This is the land of the Dutch. What exactly is there not to love living here?


Sunday, 12 April 2015

My Sunday Photo: Harry the Hornet

I may have moved countries but I still follow the 'orns. 

And what a season to be following. For more years than I care to count I was a season ticket holder on the terraces of Vicarage Road. I have only managed to see a handful of games since I became an expat (the last being a year ago when this photo was taken) but my Sunday photo this week, as the football season end comes in sight, is a message to the golden boys - come on you 'oooorns! The Premier League is in sniffing distance boys!!


Thursday, 2 April 2015

16 Must Have Items to Survive a Dutch Spring

Ah yes, the daffodils are blooming and the snowdrops are bursting out of the ground. It must be spring. But what does springtime look like in the Netherlands? What do you need to survive a Dutch spring? Here's the low down.

1. Umbrella - that umbrella you needed in autumn and winter? Don't store it away just yet. You'll be needing that throughout the spring too. April showers are as prominent here in the Netherlands as they are in Britain. The nice thing about rain during the spring season here is that there is an element of surprise to it. One minute the sun is shining and you're thinking of heading to the beach, the next minute you are pissed wet through. Think of it as a fun Dutch game, but without the fun.

2. Sunglasses - as I mentioned above, the sun shines in spring. Just be sure to carry your sunglasses case with you as the sunshine can be short-lived (see above).

3. Camera - springtime in the Netherlands is a feast for the eyes so be sure to carry photographic equipment around with you. It's the time when flowers cover the ground - and the Dutch are not known for their blooms for nothing. Exploring the flower fields at this time of year is a must if you are in the Netherlands.

4. Winter coat - don't dump it yet, the mornings snd evenings are surprisingly nippy well into April. It's tempting to look at the sun out your bedroom window and think you can pass up your thick coat for that lovely springtime jacket but don't do it. Not yet.

5. Orange clothes - April means King's Day. Which means orange. If you ain't in orange on the 27th of April I suggest you leave the country.

6. Tickets for the Keukenhof - spring means flowers. Did I say that already? And flowers can only mean one thing - the annual spectacle that is the Keukenhof. If you have never been it should be on your bucket list, no matter where in the world you live. Yes, it's busy. Yes, it's jam packed with tourists. But wow, it's beautiful.

7. Food for brunch - spring brings the paas haas to the Netherlands (that's the Easter Bunny to you and me - to the Dutch it's a hare) and on Easter Sunday it's traditional to sit down with family and eat brunch together. It's something driven by the supermarkets I'm sure.....

8. Waterproofs - did I mention it rains a lot in spring here? So you'll need protection. All over rain protection.

9. Pedalling power - spring storms (like the one this week) are not unusual and the wind blows over this flat land with nothing to stand in its way. However, do not think for a minute that winds gusting at 70km per hour stops any real Dutchie from getting on their bike. Depending on whether you are cycling into the wind, or have it in your back, your bike journey will either be done in record time or you'll need every drop of pedalling power you can muster to make it to your destination.

10. Long pants and a jumper - at least that is what Trip Advisor tells those planning on visiting the Netherlands in spring. I would listen to me, and not Trip Advisor - you'll usually need a damn sight more than a jumper and long pants (presumably they mean trousers and not underpants) to stay comfortable in April but hanging about in May in your pants may work.

"The spring months of April and May are also great times to visit during, even though the cooler daytime temperatures may require long pants and a jumper to stay comfortable." Trip Advisor

11. Suncream - having said what I said for number 10 we have had some remarkably summery weather at the end of April in years gone by so sun cream should be at the ready.

12. A favourite strandtent - that's a beach cafe to non-Dutch speakers. At the end of March the cafes are rebuilt on the beach and the terraces and doors open once more. It's THE place to hang to enjoy a drink and a bite to eat with friends and loved ones. With a jumper and long pants on of course.

13. Wellington boots - did I mention it rains in spring? If you like wet feet put on your summer footwear, otherwise keep those wellies on hand.

14. A garden centre - spring is when the Dutch move outside and the garden gets a spruce up. Garden furniture is replaced, renovated or uncovered. Signs and pictures go up in the garden. Candle holders and ornaments appear on patio tables. The garden centres across the nation are buzzing with a capital B (although having said that our local Groenrijk has gone bust so that's a little less buzzing this spring time).

15. Holiday plans - the meivakantie falls, surprisingly, in May and the nation heads off for anything from a mini-break to a two week long vacation. You should too.

16. A car or a bike - if you are in the Netherlands in springtime you'll want to visit the flower fields. Did I mention flowers already? Online there are lots of touring routes to get the best views of the spectacular blocks of colours that cover the Dutch landscape. And if you do it in a convertible with the top down then you'll blend in a treat. And one free tip - a family photo session in such a location is a great idea for the memory treasure trove - something that Vinita Salome can help you with but be quick because those blooms are gone before you know it.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

1 April Kikker in Je Bil

Some played along. Some were oblivious to the fact that it is 1 April today. In any case entering the school building this morning was amusing! The teachers all had their own toilet roll tied around their waist too or prominently on their desks......

We also played a few jokes on the children this morning (frozen milk in their beakers being the best) so everyone has gone off to school in good humour.

If you want to know a little more about April Fool's traditions around the world Trilingual Mama has written just the blog post for you.

Have a great April 1st but watch out for that kikker in je bil, die niet meer uit wil!