Tuesday, February 20

On Dutch transport, language and breakfast

28 August 2005

Leiden is indeed a bike city. A bicycle is the most common form of transport here. I mean to say there are a lot of bikes in Leiden. A lot. I love to see the bike parking at Leiden Centraal every morning as the commuters park their bikes and then board the trains and buses for work. It’s hard to explain the sight of hundreds of bikes hunkered together in the garages and racks awaiting the return of their owners. The city's infrastructure supports bike travel as most streets are paralleled by a bike lane. These bike lanes, or in Dutch: fiestspad, wind through the city allowing bicycle riders to get around quite readily. Bikes are king of the road. Right of way belongs to the cycler. Bikes have right of way before cars. Bikes have right of way before pedestrians. I have seen bikes attempt to have right of way before buses. However, this seems to be the exception. I don't know if Dutch driving rules actually reflect that buses have right of way, or rather by default because buses are so much BIGGER than anything else on the road, they win.
As for cars, they are small. There are mini vans and some sedans, but mostly the cars on the road are the compact models. Some are so tiny that they almost look comical. Emma has dubbed the
tiniest of the two-seaters here "Mickey" to go along with the “Minnies”, or Mini Cooper, which are here in abundance. Today while we were waiting for a bus connection we saw a car that looked in shape and style like a minivan, only it was miniature sized. We speculated that it had been washed in hot water and shrunk!
We did spot a Hummer on the road, but that’s a complete rarity and frankly I don’t know where a vehicle that large could park! These roads are narrow and cars are parallel parked on both sides. It’s possible actually that the Hummer we saw last week is still driving around looking for a suitable parking spot!

The chatter around us in Dutch is starting to sound more like a language of individual words rather than a mass of sounds. Every once in a great while, I can actually pick out a word or two that I recognize! Interesting to note is the fact that though we cannot understand the language(s) flying about, at any given time, 90% of the people around us can eavesdrop on our English conversations without a problem! (Note to self: be careful what you say!) Most everyone I have met thus far not only speaks his/her own language but also speaks English with obvious proficiency. It is clear that we are truly lingual slackers! However, when we are stuck (meaning sign language and smiles are not communicating the full scope of our needs) someone nearby will readily switch to using English so we can understand.
I do think we have grown accustomed to the reality that we don’t understand what is being said around us most of the time. The television also offers something of a language challenge. We have channels from France, Germany, and Belgium as well as the UK so there are a variety of choices in feeling illiterate for our entertainment. On the Dutch channels, the programming that comes from outside The Netherlands is subtitled in Dutch. Meaning if it’s a French film, it will have Dutch subtitles across the screen. German talk show? Dutch subtitles. It follows of course that entertainment imports from the U.S. also have Dutch subtitles. But mostly TV is a veritable Babel to us, and we just look at the pictures and try to piece together the story. The other night we were watching TV and clicking around the channels and we stopped to watch a documentary. The subtitles were flashing and after watching for several minutes, Ian said “what are they talking about?” We looked over at him and with a bit of a smirk, Don said “They’re speaking English, dude!” It was hilarious! Our poor overloaded brains can’t process the input sometimes. But we are mutable and we are learning new skills everyday.

Finally, I need to make note of one other reason to “sing praises to the Dutch”. Here is one of the greatest discoveries we have made thus far: CHOCOLATE is for BREAKFAST! There may be a lack of Froot Loops in the country, but in my judgment the Dutch have done one better in their breakfast cereal line up. It is Cruesli with Chocolate!
Cruesli is a granola type cereal that is also offered with the standard additions of raisins and/or almonds but then you have the ultimate chocolate version. Cruesli Chocolade is chocolate granola with chunks of chocolate thrown in. Think "two scoops of raisins" only substitute chocolate chunks for the fruit and you've got the idea. Oh, my, my, my… it is delicious and oh-so-fun! My kids don’t really share my enthusiasm but perhaps that’s just because they don’t have my refined palate.

In addition to chocolate in your breakfast cereal there is also the potential to spread it on your bread with Chocolade Pasta or sprinkle it on your toast with a variety of candy type sprinkles. All of it is totally legal breakfast food.
I’m telling you this is quite a country.

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