Different Donderdag: Trivia

I was reading a blog post the other day that I’d found through someone’s link on Twitter. It was an interesting look at how living abroad, no matter how short a time, can change you, or at least make you aware of things in a new way. I got to this part and felt a particular recognition:

For me, the second noticeable change was the gradual realization that, as knowledgeable as I thought I was, I didn’t know anything about anything, relatively speaking. Politics, history, culture, personality types, food, relationships, language… I was a rank amateur in nearly every way.

We’ve participated in our fair share of quiz nights since being here. The ones we go to are all in Dutch, although we’re lucky to have translations provided when needed. I can generally hold my own in an American game of Trivial Pursuit and as the writer said, I consider myself a fairly knowledgeable person. However, once you start doing quizzes in another country, you start to learn just how specific to a location your knowledge probably is. I’d had a hint of this when playing G (a native of Italy) in a game of (American) Trivial Pursuit. He commented on how much of the trivia is related to things that are specifically American.

Playing trivia games here makes me realize that while I might know a fair bit about general European history, I’m sorely lacking in the finer details which make up general trivia here. Plus, I’m missing all of the general entertainment trivia: music, books, films, actors, etc. When you no longer have the same frame of reference, it can be harder to relate, be it to the person or to an experience. It’s easy to feel left out or simply stupid. After failing to know something seemingly simple or trivial, I often want to cry out in my own defense that “I’m not stupid in my home country! Promise!”

It may seem trivial to be concerned about a lack of trivia knowledge, but it’s often these small differences that can drive home the fact that you’re “not in Kansas anymore”. Try not to focus on how little you know anymore. You’re not stupid. You’ve just got different experiences and frames of reference. Instead, try to remember at least one little trivia bit that you didn’t know before. We do monthly quiz nights and I often miss tons of questions, simply because I’m not Dutch or even European and don’t have the background to know these things, but I try to remember the answer to at least one question and then go look up more info when I get home. After all, you weren’t born knowing the trivia you do know from your home country. It takes years to gather all that useless information. Don’t expect to know everything about your new country, either. Just take it in stride. Eventually, that random bit of knowledge that you’ve picked up will come in handy or seem impressive someday, maybe when you least expect it!


Woordenboek Woensdag: Zeilen

Plompetorengracht [Day 116/365]
Now that the weather has turned so nice, all of the canals around town are filled with boten (boats), from small kayaks to larger motorboats. With that in mind, I thought I’d look up the word for sailing. It’s times like this that I need help. There are a ton of words for the verb to sail: varen, bevaren, zeilen. Then there are different words for the gerund form, sailing: afvaart, bootreis, vertrek, vertrektijd, zeilsport. It all gets a bit confusing. Looking up each individual word doesn’t particularly help, at least not with my dictionary. I’m hoping someone else will be able to explain if there’s one use that is better than another in certain situations. I’m particularly interested in the right word for describing sailing in a canal, rather than on the high seas.

I did finally remember to look up Plompetorengracht, which is the name of the canal pictured above. From what I gather, it basically translates to Floppy Tower Canal. Even if plomp has some other meaning in this case, floppy tower is more fun to think about. The canal itself is quite old, dating back to around 1392, when it seems to have created along with the Nieuwegracht, the Kromme Nieuwegracht and the Drift canals to help with drainage. At one point, the canal was the headquarters for tradesmen, and around the middle of the 19th century, it was a neighborhood of the nobility. The somewhat grand buildings that line it now are used primarily as offices and the Cathedral Choir school is located there, as well. I think they had an open day recently.

I’ll round out this post with a few more photos of some of the boats you’re liable to see in the canals here in Utrecht.
Tour Boat
Bongo Boat
Grote Boot
Around the Bend
Arts the Beat Doctor

A Newish Experience

Dutch Shell [Day 115/365]
My parents arrived by ferry early Sunday morning at Hoek van Holland and we went to pick them up, rather than make them battle with all of their luggage on the train. Fortunately, we have a station wagon, so plenty of room in the back for the luggage.

As it was early on a Sunday morning, traffic was almost non-existent. No one was around. Unfortunately, no one was around at some of the gas stations, either. We had to stop for gas, and thought that the gas stations along the highway might actually be open, but many that we saw were closed. Even G was surprised that the highway ones were closed, since they tend to stay open in Italy, even on a Sunday. Eventually we found a Shell station that was open. At that point, I realized that although I’ve been here for almost two years, this was my first stop at a gas station here. Living in the city center, I don’t even see them, and the few times I’ve been out in the car to go somewhere, we’ve had enough gas already. I don’t drive here yet — don’t honestly have that much desire to do so, either — so it’s been surprisingly easy to go this long and not stop at a gas station.

It was interesting seeing all the different gas options. Multiple diesels available, as well as the compressed gas stuff that I gather some cars use here. Certainly more options and types than I was used to in the US. I feel sorry for American tourists being faced with all of these options for the first time. I think I would have been hard pressed to figure out which one to use! I would hope that any car rental places would be very specific about what to use in the car.

They did have a lovely selection of flowers available, though. The ones in the photo are only a fraction of what they had.

Big Yellow Birdies and Buildings

Friday I gave you a bit of a challenge to recognize where in Utrecht the big birdy could be found. Since I took the photo, I kind of knew, but to be honest, I was cheating a bit and hoping someone else could give me some more information about the specific location, because it’s more than just birdies. It’s part of a whole building complex.
Willem Arntsz Huis
I knew I’d seen photos of it before in one of the Flickr Utrecht groups, so eventually I did track down some more information by finding some photos other people have taken of the big yellow building. It turns out to be the Willem Arntsz Huis, a mental health institution. The modern yellow building is just part of a larger and long-standing complex, but it’s certainly an eye-catching and interesting one. It might not blend, especially in the museum quarter, but it’s still attractive. The more recent addition of the budgerigars adds a certain whimsy to the intense geometry of the building.
Geel Huis
For the record, it’s on Vrouwjuttenhof, just off Vrouwjuttenstraat, which in turn is off Lange Nieuwstraat.

Foto Vrijday 2.16

In honor of the fact that I won today’s round of Waar in Utrecht, I figured I’d play my own version with one of my photos. Anyone who lives in Utrecht or knows the city might know where this bird is located. It’s here in the city center. Do you know? Put your guess in the comments. I’d offer a prize, but I can’t really think of anything at the moment!

Remember Hay-Zoos? The hairdressers shop where he’s located was the mystery location in today’s Waar in Utrecht game. I won the WiU title and an ice cream. Yay!

Am I Growing?

I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned before that Dutch people are pretty darn tall. A friend of ours is 2 meters tall, which is pretty tall, but he’s hardly the only Dutch guy to measure in at that height. As a result, after a lifetime of feeling pretty tall in the US, I’ve suddenly started to feel kind of short here, despite the fact that I’m around 5’8 1/2″ (around 172 cm).

Today, however, I finally felt tall. We were in our local AH discussing roze garnalen (small pink shrimp) when a woman stopped me and asked me to get a bag of julienned carrots for her from the top shelf. Awesome! And I could reach!

Seriously, it’s the little things that amuse me. I should retitle this blog A Flamingo in Utrecht: Entertained by Inconsequential Things. Now excuse me while I go bask in my tallness. I think I’ll go hover over the cats.

Woordenboek Woensdag: schoonmaken

Mijn ouders (my parents) arrive on Sunday, so this week ik ben een schoonmaker (I’m a cleaner). Fortunately, the gemeente (city council) seems to be joining me in cleaning things up a bit for their arrival. City workers were out today with weed-whackers to clean up the dandelions and other weeds that have sprouted up all over the place.

So yes, I’ve been doing a lot of cleaning. De grote schoonmaak (the big clean, aka, spring cleaning). It’s that time of year, and having visiting parents is an excellent reason for giving the whole house a thorough cleaning. Schoonmaken, the infinitive form of the verb to clean, is one of those Dutch verbs that splits up and rearranges itself. The first person, singular conjugation of the verb is: Ik maak schoon. On the surface, it seems a bit confusing, but really, when you break it down, it makes more sense. Basically, it translates literally to “I make clean”. Maken is the verb for to make and schoon means clean (in this case).

My question for all of you who know Dutch better than I do is this: If I want to identify what I’m cleaning, does schoon then come after the object or before? In other words, would it be “Ik maak het huis schoon” or “Ik maak schoon het huis”?

In doing my bits of research for this, it reminded me that schoon is also the word for beauty. Cleanliness is beauty, I guess! Also of interest and vaguely appropriate, since all of this cleaning is because of my parents’ arrival: the Dutch word for in-laws is de schoonouders. Depending on the length of the visit, I suppose that schoonouders are either a beautiful thing or something that you need to clean the house of. 😉


Pretty Clouds [Day 109/365]
So, yes, if you’re trying to get in or out of Europe, you’re probably not having much luck unless you’re going by boat, as my parents wisely decided to do (for unrelated reasons). There seems to be an unpronounceable volcano spewing masses of ash (es in Dutch) all over Europe. I must say, though, the name of that volcano suddenly makes Dutch seem downright makkelijk (easy)!

One of the jokes is that this is Iceland’s revenge for the UK and Netherlands trying to get their money back after the IceSave disaster. I’m sure all the people stranded aren’t really seeing the humor in the situation at the moment. For the rest of us not effected, the only immediate impact is that the skies are now free of airplane vapor trails, leaving the clouds to flit and feather their way across the sky unimpeded. With the bonus of the beautiful weather we’ve been having, it’s really quite gorgeous outside.

There might have been a very thin coat of ash on the car when we went out today, but it could also just be normal grime. Hard to tell, since we don’t use the car much. We headed out to Gamma to pick up some materials to fix the holes in our living room wall and ceiling. On our way there, we passed the windmill in town, so I decided to get a shot, especially since they seem to have rotated the twirly bit around to the opposite side. With the feathery clouds in the background and the beautiful blue sky, it was an easy choice as my photo for today in the Project 365.

Some Win and Some Fail

Yesterday, or perhaps this morning, I had a great idea for a blog post. Now? I have no idea what it was, nor even when I had the idea. Fail.

The sun is shining, the temperature is 17C, and it’s Culturele Zondag (Cultural Sunday, a monthly Utrecht event). Win!

Pippo and I went for a long walk today around the Nieuwegracht, Nieuwestraat, Oudegracht, and lots of smaller side streets. Win!

We were originally aiming for Twijnstraat, so I could get a photo of a building that has “De Olifant” painted on it. Unfortunately, I didn’t end up going the route I had originally planned and it got too busy with people and dogs, so that Pippo was getting overexcited. Fail.

We did get to the Domplein, which was my other goal for the walk, since I knew that there were some Culturele Zondag events going on there. Win!

I thought there was supposed to be some sort of sculpture installed for the day, but either it wasn’t up yet, or it was just a bunch of doors lying flat or propped against some stuff. Fail.

There was some music being played, though, by some people singing and playing guitar. Quite pleasant. We also came across some at Pieterskerkhof, which we passed on our way home. Win!

I didn’t get any photos of any of this, because toward the end of the walk, realizing I hadn’t taken any photos at all, I decided to at least get a shot of one of the side doors of the cathedral. When I turned on my camera, I suddenly found out that I had forgotten my memory card at home. Along with my brain, it would seem. Fail.

Pippo and I still had fun and he got a few compliments along the way and we generally had a gezellig time. That outweighs any minor failings. Win!

I hope your weekend is full of win!

Hangover Hankerins

First off, apologies to my vegetarian readers. 😉

This morning I had one of my rare moments of really missing something I can’t get here. Biscuitville. It’s the best hangover cure. Ever! For those not familiar with it — and that would sadly include a lot of Americans, as well — Biscuitville is a fast-food restaurant chain located in some of the southern states and they specialize in breakfast foods, specifically biscuits. You can get all sorts of variations of breakfast meat, egg, and/or cheese slapped between a fluffy buttermilk biscuit, along with sides such as grits, hashbrowns, home fries, gravy, honey buns, and pancakes. It’s not even remotely healthy, but it’s absolutely delicious.

I didn’t eat out all that often when I was living in the US. I liked to cook and figured I could make something just as nice, but for less money usually. When we did go out, it was usually to a smaller local restaurant, so I don’t really miss a lot of chain restaurants living here. In fact, today is the first time that I’ve really been craving Biscuitville, so I figure that’s not too bad after living here for close to two years. But this morning I woke up hungry and really wanting a fry-up with bacon, eggs, sausage, hashbrowns and grits. Then it struck me that I really wanted Biscuitville. They have a drive-thru, making it even easier to throw on some random clothes and have a quick fix for your craving. Sadly, that’s too big and wet of a drive for me now. I can’t even fly!

The Netherlands isn’t big on breakfast in the American and British fashion. They’re more like the French and Italians, I guess. I can’t think of any restaurants that I’ve seen here that would really even be open early in the morning, much less serving a full-on breakfast. Tell me if I’m wrong, because I’d be curious to know about any places in Utrecht.

So this morning I did the best I could with what I had on hand. I could have made some biscuits, but that was more work than I wanted. Fortunately, I had eggs, bacon, cheese and bread on hand, so I made myself a sandwich with a slice of gouda melted on toast with a fried egg and a couple slices of bacon. It was good, but it just wasn’t Biscuitville.