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Archive for June, 2010

So much is going on that I need to just get you up to date in one fell swoop! So here we go…

1) The elections: the “libertarian lite” VVD party won (31 seats), followed by Labor (30 seats) and then… gasp!… the anti-immigrant, anti-Islam PVV (24 seats, up from 8!). There was no majority, so coalition talks started with the VVD, PVV and the centre-right CDA (that lost big, from 41 to 20 seats). Those talks fell apart last Thursday, opening the door for new talks between the VVD (“libertarian lite”), Labor, D66 (also a “libertarian lite” party, but more left wing) and the Green Party. It’s unclear if these talk will succeed as the VVD and Labor (and D66 and the Greens) have some very different ideas about how to run the economy. But let me tell you, I breathed a sigh of relief when I heard that talks with the PVV were over. For now. But I’ll take it.

UPDATE: Ok, apparently as soon as I posted this (literally… like 2 minutes later) news came through that the talks between the VVD, Labor, D66 and the Green party failed. Now what??

2) The World Cup!!! Netherlands has played two of their three group play games. The first against Denmark was a 2-0 win… one of those goals as a DK own goal, oops. I watched that match in a bar downtown and it was super fun! The place just erupted when the Dutch scored! It was so loud in fact that you couldn’t even hear the vuvuzelas on tv! Haha. The second match against Japan was a nail biter. NL won 1-0, but there were a few scary shots on goal by the Japanese toward the end of the match. I watched this match in the airport in Denmark. I think I was probably the only Dutch fan there (I was certainly the only conspicuous Dutch fan, decked out in orange). A few people clapped when the Dutch scored, but I really let out a “Yeahhhhhhhhh!” with an enormous fist pump. Apparently Denmark was not the place to root for the Netherlands, given the Danes’ loss to NL in the previous match. Oh well. The Dutch are successfully through to the elimination round, but do have another match on Thursday.

Oh, and apparently the US are playing in this tournament as well? I did see the first match against England, but I’ve basically forgotten about them as I’ve been swept up by Oranje fever!

3) Why was I in an airport in Denmark, you ask? Well, last weekend I headed up to Lund, Sweden for the Nordic Demographic Symposium. It was good fun, professionally and personally. I gave a talk that was well received and was able to catch up with all of my friends and colleagues from Stockholm University and Statistics Norway. The only disappointment, the folks in Southern Sweden really weren’t as enthusiastic about the royal wedding as I had hoped. Indeed, on Saturday afternoon Crown Princess Victoria married her personal-trainer-turned-sweetheart. Although the ceremony was private, there were a number of public events in Stockholm and people turned out in droves to see the Princess and new Prince. I had hoped to score a tea-tray or coffee mug with a photo of the royal couple (or something equally tacky… royal china?), but the demands of the conference and world cup watching left little room in my schedule. Tyvärr.


Prolineserver 2010,
Wikipedia/Wikimedia Commons (cc-by-sa-3.0)

4) Nearly 2 weeks until I head to the States for the big move out! OMG, I am hyperventilating. But I am very excited to see friends and family!

5) I saw the Hold Steady at Melkweg last night. Again, a great band in a small venue! These guys are such rockers! Their songs are all about rocking out and being young and living like they’re no tomorrow and loving every moment of it. A typical theme might be, for example: being 16 years old, at a music festival and it’s hot and dusty and everyone’s drinking, smoking and maybe even doing drugs (if that’s your thing) and you’re having the time of your life and you love EVERYONE and particularly that guy over there with the messy hair (wow, he’s cute) and the Hold Steady are on stage totally rocking out and they are singing a song about being 16 years old, at a music festival and it’s hot and dusty and everyone’s drinking, smoking and maybe even doing drugs (if that’s your thing) and you’re having the time of your life and you love EVERYONE and particularly that girl over there who is checking out you (wow, she’s cute). To me, this is the Hold Steady. And I think they’re fantastic.

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World Cup fever is raging here in the Netherlands. I have been totally remiss in documenting the build-up to the first match (NL 2 – DK 0!), but the country is just covered in flags, signs, banners and pendants in red, white, blue and orange. A week ago we went for a drive around Wouter’s old neighborhood… and I mean ooooooold neighborhood, where he was born and lived until he was 3. The houses were totally decked out for the upcoming tournament. After seeing this, it seems funny to me that people would think that Americans go crazy/weird decorating their houses with lights in December. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a camera handy to document any of it.

But, as luck would have it, I am not the only expat blogger to notice how nutty things are getting around here. And so I bring you Isabella’s fantastic YouTube creation “Go Holland Go!”

In the first part of the video Isabella documents some of these “Super Fan” neighborhoods. In the following section you’ll see a wide array of adverts featuring orange products.

No surprise, companies develop all sorts of “Oranje”-themed gimmicks to get people into their stores around the World Cup. The top grossing crap items so far this year are furry little caterpillar-looking things called Beesies at Albert Heijn grocery stores (you get one free for every €15 you spend… we might have two already) and an orange dress produced by Bavaria beer. Apparently the dresses are causing a stir at World Cup matches in South Africa.  FIFA officials had 36 Bavaria-dress clad Dutch female fans ejected from the Netherlands-Denmark match, accusing them of ambush marketing. Never mind that the women didn’t work for Bavaria and the dresses didn’t have any Bavaria branding on them. (UPDATE: Now it’s come out that Bavaria did pay for the tickets, accommodation and travel costs of the ladies! Ooo, scandal! Here’s a link to the story (in Dutch).) A similar incident occurred at the tournament in 2006, when officials forced fans wearing Bavaria-branded orange lederhosen to strip. Well, no matter. You really can’t keep the “Orange Army” down.

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Today is a big day in the Netherlands! The Dutch are heading to the polls to elect their House of Representatives (de Tweede Kamer).

The previous government was a coalition between the center-right (the Christian Democratic Appeal or CDA), the center-left (the Labor Party or PvdA) and the smaller Christian-right (the Christian Union) parties, with a CDA Prime Minister, Jan Peter Balkenende. (It is a commonly held belief here that Harry Potter will look like JPB in 30 years). This government fell in February when the Labor party pulled out of the coalition because CDA broke a promise to withdraw Dutch troops from the NATO mission in Afghanistan. As America has been in the business of bolstering European support for a continuing military presence in Afghanistan, the collapse of the Dutch government even made headlines in the USA!


Jan Peter Balkenende, CDA (Source: Rijksvoorlichtingsdienst)

‘OMG, a government fell!?! What does that mean??,” I wondered back in February, as visions of chaos and soldiers marched through my head. Well, it wasn’t so dramatic. Forgive a brief politics lesson, but in a parliamentary system if a government falls before the end of a term, a caretaker government takes over and calls new elections.  In this case, Balkenende carried on as Prime Minister, but without any power to draft new legislation. Apart from a few projects already in the works, very governing has gone on in the Netherlands since February.

With the collapse of the centrist government, it was quite clear that the two center parties would suffer the greatest losses, with voters on the left favoring the smaller center-left party Democrats 66 and the Green Party, and voters on the right turning to the “libertarian-lite” party, the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), and the anti-Immigrant, anti-Islam Party for Freedom (PVV).  Indeed, earlier this spring there was a surge in support for the Party for Freedom and it’s leader Geert Wilders, with some pollsters suggesting that the PVV would come out on top in the general elections.

As this is a personal blog, not a news or political blog, I feel no shame in skipping the even-handedness to state my views plainly: Geert Wilders scares the crap out of me. He is an immensely charismatic leader, able to stir up and mobilize feelings of fear and anger in his followers. For Wilders there is no room for multiculturalism. He firmly believes that immigrants, in general, and Islam, in particular, threaten the Dutch way of life and the “Islamisation” of the country must stop. The PVV platform includes banning the Koran, halting all new Mosque construction and a tax on head scarves (what Wilders crudely refers to as “Head Rag Tax”). Wilders’ discourse and policy agenda are so extremely offensive to me it’s hard to even know where to start. In the interest of avoiding an all out rant, I will only say that, as someone who values multiculturalism and as an immigrant myself, I am deeply opposed to the PVV.

Geert Wilders, PVV (Source: NRC Handelsblad)

Not long after the fall of the national government, the Dutch held local municipal elections in March. The PVV strategically ran candidates in only two municipalities where they did exceptionally well, coming in first in Alkmaar and second in the Hague. If the municipal elections were a practice run for the national elections, things looked pretty good for the PVV. However, in the wake of these electoral successes came some failures. As a largely one-issue party, it wasn’t clear that the PVV would be effective leaders. Further, the other political parties in Alkmaar and the Hague rallied together to block the PVV policy agenda. While only the Labor party has publicly declared that they will not form a coalition with PVV at the national-level, moves against the PVV at the local level do hint at a broader anti-PVV sentiment.

Mark Rutte, VVD (Source: Fotograaf Nick van Ormondt)

In the last few weeks, things have changed again and it seems that now “it’s the economy, stupid!” Issues of Greek debt, the international economic crisis, and high deficits and unemployment at home now top the list of issues of greatest concern to Dutch voters. And it’s likely that the “libertarian-lite” VVD and it’s leader Mark Rutte will benefit from the attention-shift to economic issues.  The VVD’s platform includes plans for cutting government spending, raising the retirement age from 65 to 67, and replacing university student “grants” with student “loans.” While the PVV will likely gain seats, Wilders is no longer expected to pull off an upset. And, as to the parties on the left, Labor’s popular new leader, the former Amsterdam mayor Job Cohen, may have managed to help the party recover from the set back of the government collapse. (Does the PvdA’s unofficial campaign slogan “Yes we Cohen!” seem familiar to anyone?)

Job Cohen, PvdA (source: Wikipedia)

Of course this post barely even scratches the surface of the 2010 elections (verkiezingen), with its hundreds of candidates and 17+ political parties. But hopefully I’ve given you a sense of my enthusiasm and nervousness as I wait to see who will come out on top and, given that it’s unlikely that any one party will have a majority, what the new coalition government will look like. Now that I’m an official resident I feel like I have a stake in things, thus making the elections extremely exciting… but it is also frustrating to watch from the sidelines without the right to vote, especially when issues of immigration and integration are on the table.

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This weekend was Wouter’s grandmother’s 92nd birthday. We celebrated with his mother’s whole family. She was one of 8 children so, as you can imagine, the party filled an entire hall– certainly, including children, the party topped 80! It was heel gezellig, although I had a little trouble remembering all the names!

Alpaca at the kinderboerderij

Next to the party hall was a kinderboerderij or “children’s farm.” These petting zoos are very common throughout the Netherlands and usually include chickens, turkeys, sheep and other barnyard animals. I was very excited to see that this kinderboerderij had two alpaca! After the party, Wouter joined me to check them out.

Wouter meets the alpaca

Wouter: “What’s the difference between an alpaca and a llama?”
Jennifer: “Well, people raise alpaca for their fiber. They are smaller and more of a herd animal than llamas.”
Wouter: “Do they spit?”
Jennifer: “Well, I guess we’ll find out.”

And fast-forward 5 minutes…

Wouter get's spit on by the alpaca

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Today I finally saw a doctor here about my knee problems.

For some time now, I’ve been sorting out eligibility, getting health insurance and finding a doctor. These things haven’t been hard, but they have been a little time consuming. And even though the amount of time consumed was reasonable, when you’re hurt or sick 5 minutes seems too long to wait. Navigating the Dutch health system has not been overly complicated, especially given that I have a local to help me. But even still, that which is new and unknown intimidates me.

But awesomeness of awesomes, we managed to enroll with a doctor’s group practice (huisarts groepspraktijk) only 1.5 blocks away from us. I mean, short of house calls, it doesn’t get much better than this! And given my state of mobility this morning, it was a good thing I only had to manage 1.5 blocks.

The doctor came highly recommended by a friend of Wouter and he was everything I could have hoped for: friendly and funny, attentive, thorough and extremely capable in English. (This last thing was not a surprise, but a relief, none-the-less.) But… and here we arrive at our major our cultural difference of the day… he was very conservative and non-interventionist in his approach.

Dear readers, I don’t intend to pooh-pooh this approach right from the starting gate. Nor was this an entirely unexpected turn of events. I often get shocked looks from friends when I mention my affinity for Tylenol PM on long-haul red-eye flights or when I confess to taking NyQuil for a cold or when I suggest that Wouter pop an ibuprofen or two for soreness after one of his indoor football matches. So it was not a surprise when, after an intensive and painful examination of my knee (I may have whimpered), Dr. Dutch sat me down, made a diagnosis, showed me some exercises to loosen and strengthen things up, wrote me a prescription for stronger pain/anti-inflamatory meds and sent me on my way. And you know what? Part of me wonders if the prescription was an afterthought, thrown in at the last minute just to ease me into the Dutch way of doing things.

This experience stands in stark relief to the treatment I received for these same knee troubles just a few weeks ago in the US: X-rays and MRIs were ordered, surgery was discussed, referrals to an orthopedist were made, all without a diagnosis. (When I mentioned the orthopedist referral, Dr. Dutch exclaimed: “Oh no! Please don’t go to an orthopedist!”)

Interventionist or not, I don’t care as long as I start feeling better. And while the physical problems remain, I am extremely relieved that surgery is not looming. At this point I don’t really know which approach to medical care I prefer:  Dr. America’s “let’s get this fixed NOW!” or Dr. Dutch’s “well, let’s just see how this goes first.” While I would prefer to feel better NOW, having a diagnosis and a plan of action makes me feel so much better than waiting in limbo for the surgeons. So for the time being it’ll be “when in Rome,” I suppose, and I’ll be sure to keep you posted.

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Some fun facts:

Hm… while this last one may be statistically accurate, I didn’t feel that way the first time I cycled in Dutch rush hour.

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