The Easily Amused Expat

Franse Fries
It’s usually the fresh-off-the-boat expat who finds fascination with every little new thing, but even when you’ve been in your new country for years, little things — even things you’ve seen on a regular basis — can suddenly jump out at you and remind you that “we’re not in Kansas any more, Toto”.

I’ve been having one of those moments recently as I’ve been passing some of the local McDonalds restaurants. There’s one on the main street through town (the street that seems to change names ever three meters, but that’s another post) and one on the Oudegracht. The picture is of the one on the Oudegracht, but it was the one on the main street that first caught my eye recently.

Sure, we get the occasional market-specific dish, which is usually something to do with kip sat√©, but it’s not that kind of poster that stood out this time. This time, it was something as simple and normal and ubiquitous as the French fry. In Dutch, fries (or chips, for my British readers) are usually known as patat or friet (or patatjes or frietjes, because the Dutch love adding the diminutive to everything. It’s adorable.) The choice of word tends to be more regional, with patat seeming to be more northern and variations on friet are typically more southern. As an expat, I say both, because I don’t know where I live any more.

French fries is a fairly American term, resulting from American troops eating fries for the first time in Belgium but associating them with the French language they heard at the time. Or so the story goes. In fact, here in the Netherlands, I don’t really remember seeing the “French” addition to the name. I’m sure the occasional restaurant might use it, such as an American-style diner or something, but otherwise, the only place you’re more likely to see “Franse Frietjes” is at McDonalds.
Franse Fries
And that’s what is amusing me. The posters for “Franse Frietjes”. Perhaps it’s standing out since I don’t see the “Franse” addition often, or maybe it’s just amusing to see such an American term translated.

Or maybe it’s because subconsciously it reminds me of this scene in Better Off Dead:

Foto Vrijdag: Utrecht at Night

Winkel van Sinkel
The Winkel van Sinkel beautifully lit at night.

We went to Broadway restaurant on the Oudegracht to celebrate my birthday last night. The food was excellent, as always, the service was extremely quick and friendly, and in all, I couldn’t have asked for better.

I had made the reservation online — in Dutch — but realized when I got there that I wasn’t actually sure how to properly pronounce the word for reservation. I must have gotten it right, because the waitress understood me and even continued to keep speaking in Dutch, instead of the usual automatic switch to English. We made it through the whole dinner giving our order, ordering more drinks, asking for mayo, all in Dutch. The only slip-up was when we asked for a doggy bag. I realized I had no idea what term to use, since it’s not something you usually ask for here. For one thing, it’s just not really done; for another, you don’t get ridiculously huge portions here, so there’s usually no need.

After dinner we walked around town a bit, since it was a surprisingly clear and pleasant night. Even in the city center, we could see lots of stars in the night sky. We saw a few of the Trajectum Lumen light art displays that we’ve already seen, and we also saw a new display that was unveiled on Monday. I’ll post a couple of photos of it this weekend.

In all, it was a nice way to celebrate my birthday. Thanks to all for all of the birthday wishes!

Mix and Match

This is a grab bag of a posting; random things that have crossed my mind but most aren’t enough for a whole post to themselves. So, in no particular order …
House Made of Boat
Kiwidutch has an interesting post up about house boats (woonboten) in Amsterdam, so I thought I’d post a photo of one of the house boats near us here in Utrecht. They’re not as common here as in Amsterdam, but there are a couple of them around.

Irish Pub
Today is St. Patrick’s Day. Not being Irish, it’s not a big deal to me, but I figured it was worth a posting on Trippist, since we’ve got two Irish pubs here in town. Hopefully, they don’t turn their beer green, though. That’s always seemed like an abomination to me. I knew I had taken a photo of Mick O’Connells in the past, but it turns out I hadn’t uploaded it to Flickr, so I spent a lot of time digging through my photo files to find it. I could have sworn I’d also taken a photo of O’Leary’s Pub at some point, but damned if I can find it. So, since I spent so much time finding this photo, I figured I’d share it here, too. Happy St. Patrick’s Day to any of you with Irish connections.

Finally, if you have any interest in the Netherlands, you really should read the blog Amy in NL. She always comes up with really fascinating topics. One of the most recent ones is on the Dutch connection with Japan, a surprisingly old connection. It turns out the Japanese word for coffee is derived from the Dutch word koffe as a result of this long-standing connection. She also includes some links to relief sites to help after the horrible disaster that continues to unfold.

I would also like to recommend that you stop by the Handmade Europe shop on Etsy right now, since they have a Europe for Charity shop set up with all proceeds going to Japan via Architecture for Humanity.

Living the Fairy Tale

Swans in the Oudegracht
Look! Those big white birds in the canal are swans. Honest-to-goodness swans! And yes, that’s a 13th century castle, Stadskasteel Oudaen, in the background on the left. (Sorry it’s not the best of photos, but it was done with the camera phone rather than my real camera.) It’s all a bit like a fairy tale setting, and yet this is what I passed by on my way to one of the tokos (Asian market) to pick up some black beans and okra for tonight’s dinner.

The morning had started dark and rainy, with the threat of snow in the forecast. By 9:30 this morning, it was still quite dark out and I was wondering if my plans for dinner might have to change, since I didn’t feel like heading to the other side of town in the rain just for two items. Fortunately, the weather cleared and I had a nice little walk to do my shopping. I like to cut through Neude and across the Oudegracht, and down Zakkendagerssteeg to get to Vredenburg, where the toko is. It’s a scenic walk and on a Wednesday morning, it wasn’t crowded at all. That’s when I saw the swans. We see swans occasionally in the various canals, but it’s just rare enough that it’s still fun to stop and admire them when they do make an appearance.

I still had to visit the regular grocery store after picking up my harder-to-find ingredients at the toko, so I headed back the way I came and this time, I finally stopped at the oliebollen kraam (oliebollen are a sort of sweet fried dough that’s sold mainly during the holidays from special stalls). I’ve been wanting some for ages, but kept resisting when I’d pass the stall at Neude. I had hoped to get some at the Christmas market we went to this weekend, but they were sold out when I finally decided to get some. So today, I decided it was time. No more resisting. I would give in to their fried siren song!
Oliebollen
The first winter we were here, I didn’t really know much about oliebollen, so I never tried them. The second year, I’d heard about them, but just bought the ones from the grocery store. This year, I finally bought some from an actual stall, and I managed the entire transaction in Dutch. Simple though it was, there were a few unexpected moments, but I understood! I think that was almost as pleasurable as the warm oliebollen themselves. I’ve still got a long way to go with the language, but positive moments like that are an encouragement.

By the time I eventually made it home, not only was it not raining or snowing, but it was actually sunny! Almost blindingly so at times. I couldn’t resist this quick shot of that glorious Dutch light glinting off the wet brick pavement, while casting shadows from the bushes. All in all, it was a surprisingly nice outing.
Dutch Light

Cheese, Sausage and New York

File this posting under random thoughts and observations.

I’ve noticed this year that I’ve seen a LOT of people here (usually student-age) wearing the famous I [Heart] NY t-shirts. It seems too prevalent and too much of a fashion thing to be just the result of a lot of tourism to NYC. The other night, while pointing out to G yet another person sporting one of the shirts, he reminded me that the Dutch do have a special connection to NY. I guess those early Dutch expats were sending back t-shirts to their relatives here in the Netherlands with an I [heart] NA(msterdam) logo, the same way American expats now send back wooden clogs to the family members back home.

Yeah, the whole conversation was much funnier in person.

Speaking of jokes getting lost in translation …
Going through my Twitter feed this morning (I finally got the new Twitter!), I saw a link to this humorous “grilled cheesus” t-shirt. Funny stuff, but I realized that I kind of missed the joke about “The Goude News” upon first reading. Sure, if you pronounce Gouda the English way (gooda), it makes sense and it’s funny. If you pronounce it the Dutch way, you miss something. (If you go to the Wiki page for Gouda, you can listen to the Dutch pronunciation.)

As the famous saying goes, a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. I know just enough Dutch now to ruin certain jokes for me. Don’t even get me started on this season’s first episode of The Simpsons and their references to Den Haag (The Hague) and such. I guess it was a bit like the Flight of the Conchords‘ joke in that episode when they referenced the Wellington Botanical Gardens. Sometimes jokes work best when you’re not so well-informed! (And in the case of this whole paragraph, if you don’t know what the person is talking about, the whole thing gets confusing. Apologies.)

On the other hand, Dutch pronunciation, when heard by an English-speaker, can be both eye-opening and amusing. We learned about Vocking sausage/meats/liverworst the other night. One of our Dutch friends had a bit of fun with us on that one. Let’s just say that the V in Dutch often has more of an F sound, and leave the rest to your own imagination. I do try to keep this blog somewhat clean. My parents might be reading. ūüėČ That said, I do recommend Vocking if you’re here in Utrecht. Very tasty! I gather it’s only really available in the Utrecht region, though, as the owner wants to keep it strictly an Utrecht thing.

Language At The Table

Help!

I’m trying a new interactive website to help with my Dutch lessons, and I’m starting from scratch to try to get a review of some basics as well as learn some basics I haven’t covered before. Today I’m working on prepositions, as well as the concept of stuff/people sitting at the table or being on the table (among other examples). I’m getting nit-picky and confused, though.

Question #1:
De bloemen staan op de tafel.

Het eten staat op tafel.

Why is de used in the first example (op de tafel), but not in the second (op tafel)? Is there a rule that explains this?

Question #2:
When do items stand on the table versus sit on the table (or any other surface)? E.g.,
De koffie staat op (de) tafel.
vs
De koffie zit op de tafel.

Are both correct? Is one used more than the other? Do I use “de” at all?

I’m trying to look up the answer in some of my other sources, but sometimes it does help to have a person do some explaining, as well. Any explanation will be greatly appreciated.

Spice Trade

Kruiden
I love to cook and I’m always adding herbs and spices to just about anything I cook. They may usually be dried and preground, which proper chefs would say is a no-no, but I figure this is less of a waste, not to mention easier to track down. When I moved here, I had to rebuild my spice shelf. That meant learning some new names for old favorites. Most are fairly easy to figure out, but I thought I’d share a list of some of my mainstays in case anyone else suddenly needs a translation.

Kruiden | Herbs/Spices

Kerrie | Curry
Kurkuma |  Turmeric
Kardemom Poeder  |   Cardamom Powder
Knoflook Poeder  |   Garlic Powder
Koriander  |   Coriander
Kaneel  |  Cinnamon
Komijnzaad  |   Cumin Seed
Kruidnagel   |  Clove
Uienpoeder   |  Onion Powder
Basilicum |  Basil
Peterselie  |   Parsley
Nootmuskaat  |   Nutmeg
Gember   |  Ginger
Salie  |   Sage
Tijm   |  Thyme
Rozemarijn  |   Rosemary
Paprika   |  Paprika
Laurierblad  |  Bay Leaves
Oregano   |  Oregano
Serehpoeder (Gemalen Citroengras)  | Lemongrass Powder
Zout    |   Salt
Zwarte Pepper  |  Black Peper

Student Un-Greening

Quadrant
I had a bit of a eureka moment last night as I was discussing the student societies here in town with a local and he described the initiation as ontgroening. I was happy to realize that I had both properly heard the Dutch word and that I was able to understand the meaning of it. Ont is a Dutch prefix similar to the English un- prefix. Groen is the Dutch word for green. So ontgroening literally translates to ungreening. When you consider that someone young/inexperienced is considered green, an initiation process makes sense, because they are un-greening this person.

All of that is a long way of saying that the students are back in town. Today begins the UIT2010 (Utrechtse Introductie Tijd/Utrecht Introduction Time). We’ve been watching parent/child combos unloading cars all weekend as they move in to their new homes. Now the parties begin. I’ve been hearing music and a lot more voices all afternoon and they’ll be continuing all week. The various student organizations near us have been dropping off various explanatory letters to let us know the full schedule of events. Forewarned is forearmed, I guess!

All sorts of inflatable figures, pools and stages are going up over on Lucasbolwerk. The photo above is from our first year here when they had a ferris wheel. I’ll be heading out tomorrow to get shots of the latest fun and games. Hopefully it remains just fun and games. Every year, a few students die as a result of the unofficial hazing. Some of the student associations here, although often mixed-gender, are similar to the fraternities and sororities in the U.S., with many of the same pros and cons of each. I enjoyed the open parties when I was at university, but never did like the idea of actually joining. Some of us had a running joke about a fake sorority, using the Greek letters to serve as an acronym for something along the lines of not giving a damn about joining. I’m hoping some of my friends will remember what the pseudo sorority name was, because it’s starting to drive me crazy.

So if you’re heading off to your first year at university, congratulations and good luck, and don’t do anything stupid! Oh, and buy used books and use protection if you’re having sex. That was the advice I received (and followed).

Woordenboek Woensdag: Maaltijd

Zucchini Tart [Day 178/365]
While we were out shopping last week, G asked me if I knew what maaltijd meant. He said he’d seen it quite often on restaurant signs, but didn’t know what it meant. He was doing better than me; I hadn’t even noticed the word! For me, it was a bit confusing, because when I think of mal/maal, I think of something bad, thanks to the Italian and French that I know, not to mention their somewhat negative connotations in English. So to think of a “bad time” (tijd=time) in regards to a restaurant, I knew my Italian and French weren’t helping any here. It turns out, though, that it’s not really that far off of English. Maaltijd means meal, as in meal time. Ah! That makes much more sense!

I still hadn’t noticed the word, though, until today, when I was checking the latest Waar In Utrecht game and saw that the prize for a correct answer is now a maaltijd from Stamppot To Go. Hopefully, I’ll be able to win one of the prizes soon!

Speaking of maaltijden, I thought I’d share a recept (recipe) for the maaltijd I made last night. It was a hodgepodge of recipes — some tried and true, some new — that turned out heerlijk (delicious)! The main dish was a zucchini, ricotta and feta tart, which I found the recipe for here.

I think there is some sort of frozen pie crust available here, but it’s not in the ready-shaped form that you can buy in the US, not that I have room in my tiny freezer to keep pie crusts in any size. Fortunately, Lizzy posted a recipe last year for a very easy-to-make pie crust that doesn’t require the cutting in of shortening/butter that makes me hate making crust from scratch. This one uses oil instead and it’s so fast and easy and quite delicious. Since I was going to need only one crust, I simply halved the amounts without any trouble. I also played around a bit with the oils, since I knew I was going to be making a savory dish. Instead of 1/4 cup of vegetable oil, I did a mix of olive oil, a smidge of sesame oil, and then finished it off with regular vegetable oil.

Finally, as I was cooking the zucchini, I was worried that it would all be a bit bland. I like spices and I love spice blends, especially the ones I make myself, so I sprinkled a bit of one of my latest favorite spice blends, Kayotic Kitchen’s ras el hanout, over the zucchini as it was cooking in the pan. I didn’t use a lot, but just enough to give it a nice depth and warmth of flavor.

I was really happy with how the whole dish turned out — we paired it with a nice side salad — and I’m so glad there are leftovers for my lunches!

Eet smakelijk!

Woordenboek Woensdag: Rust

Just a quick posting that sort of follows up on last week’s discussion of rustig vs. stil. While walking down Nachtegaalstraat the other day, I saw a sign in front of a store offering massages. At the top of the sign, it said, “Even Rust“. Having recently learned the phrase for “just looking” when shopping — Ik kijk even rond — I took that bit of info and combined it with my familiarity with rustig, and decided that even rust means something like “just relax”. If I’m horribly wrong, let me know.

Appropriately, my dictionary also lists rust as being a term for a sport’s half-time/interval. Since the rust of the football matches I’m watching are over, I’ve got to run. It’s hard to feel any rust when the US needs to win its match against Algeria if the team is to go through to the next round.