Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Nudity in The Netherlands

Nudity is much more excepted in The Netherlands as well as the rest of Europe. The beaches are the first place you will notice this. On our first few trips to our local beach, we saw many little children running around naked and a few topless young girls (up to age 8-10 I would guess). There were also a some topless women sunbathing and a few even changed into their suits right on the beach. You will also find a nude beach just a few kilometers south of the main beach in our little village. Because of this openness, there is less curiosity so there were no stares or awkward glances.

This leads to a story I recently heard at a program that I attended at the American School. The presenter was a Dutch woman who works for the school and was there to help us all learn a bit about the Dutch culture. She spoke a bit about the European openness in general which lead her to tell us the following story. The middle school band had recently gone on a trip where they were competing with other schools. There are young boys and girls from all over the world who attend the American School and are members of the band. Upon arrival at the competition they were to change into the uniforms in which they would be performing in. The boy's dressing room was just as you entered the building and the girl's was a bit hidden upstairs. In their hurry to change, a group of girls (who were from European countries) went right into the boys changing area and started to undress (keeping their undergarments on). The european boys thought nothing of it. However, for the young boys who were not, this was quite a treat. Their mouths were hanging open and their eyes were glued onto what was occurring in front of them. Unfortunately for them, this was cut short as a teacher came in and quickly told the girls there was a room for them upstairs. The girls popped their tops back on and headed upstairs much to the disappointment of these young boys. There were a few moms at this presentation whose boys had been on this trip and they had not yet heard this story. These moms were looking forward to their dinner conversation that night.

Another place you will notice a difference is the Doctor's offices. I was recently talking with a friend, "Laura" who is an expat from Canada, about the health care here in The Netherlands. She has not been overly pleased with the visits she has had over the past few months, and the last was the icing on cake for her. Having not lived in the Netherlands very long Laura is still battling with the ridiculously steep Dutch stairs and one morning the stairs won. She fell down quite a few of them. Laura quickly made an appointment with her doctor, who in turn told her she would need some x-rays, which would be done at the local hospital. She scheduled her appointment with the hospital and off she went. When arriving at the hospital she was taken by a nurse to a small dressing room and was told she would need to take all of her clothes off (including undergarments). After the nurse left and my friend had taken everything off, she looked around for a gown. There was none to be found so she waited for the nurse to come back hoping she would be bring the gown. A few minutes later, there was a knock on the door and the nurse asked "Is everything alright in there?". Laura peeked out and told the nurse there wasn't a gown. The nurse smiled and explained that they don't use gowns and that the x-ray room was just in the adjoining room. Laura was not comfortable with this but really had no choice, so she followed the nurse to the room where another nurse and a tech joined them (who happened to be male). Laura managed to complete her x-rays without making eye contact with anyone in the room and hurried back to the changing room to cover up.

My personal experience with the health centers here so far has only been at The Jeugd Gezondheids Zorg Centrum (Youth Health Care Center). This is where all well-baby checks and Immunizations are done for children up to age 4. Your appointment starts in the main waiting area where simple things like weight and height are checked. It is requested that your child then strips down and waits to be seen by the nurse. At the time of our appointment there were a few children running around in the buff (or in a diaper) waiting to see the nurse. I am hoping there are actual rooms in the health center I am registered at!

And last but not least... the family dressing rooms at the pool. Just this last Monday, I attended a mommy and me swimming class with a few friends from our playgroup. Since there were five of us, we decided to just use one of the family changing rooms. After we had our little ones changed into their suits and were getting ready to head for the pool, an older gentleman and his grandson opened the door to our changing room. I didn't think much of it and figured he would find another room so off to swim lessons we went. We had a lot of fun and before we knew it swim lessons were over and it was time to leave. The only other American, "Ellen" and I were the last of our friends to get to the changing rooms after the other mommies had changed and were on their way out. Ellen and I then got into a conversation about how Americans are a bit more reserved about nudity in public places. She was quite uncomfortable changing in front of everyone else but since it was just the two of us and she had a towel to stay covered she started to change. As we are changing, in walks the little boy and his grandpa. They walk over to the hook where their bags were hanging and both drop trou. Ellen and I look at smile each knowing the other is thinking something along the lines of "Welcome to Europe".

Wordless Wednesday

Monday, November 7, 2011

Champions League - Ajax

In order to understand the culture you have to appreciate the games they love and play and there is no more important game to the Dutch than Voetball (Soccer).  Soccer has been called the ballet of the masses and is truly an art form when played at the highest level.  There is no higher level in the world than the Champions League so I purchsed tickets to all 3 of Ajax's (the Dutch champion) Champions League matches.  The first game was against Olympique Lyonnaise and the game ended 0 - 0.  The second game was against Dinamo Zagreb and Ajax prevailed 4 - 0 with some spectacular goals.  The final match is against Real Madrid.

Photos from my seat.

A photo of what I would call the "student" section.  These diehards sang and jumped the whole game. Very much like the Cameron Crazies.

At halftime the whole crowd sings Bob Marley which is rather surreal being in Amsterdam :)

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Sacre Coeur and Moulin Rouge

Sacre Coeur is a popular landmark in Paris, the basilica is located at the summit of the butte Montmartre, the highest point in the city. It was also home to our first encounter with the slot like donation machines.  It was very odd to go inside this historic building and see slot machine looking contraptions where you could make a donation and then see Nuns surrouded by security emptying them.  It was quite the hike to get to the Sacre Coeur but it was well worth it.

A view of Sacre Coeur from the center of Paris.

Sacre Coeur up close

A few views from Sacre Coeur

Giuchie, Giuchie, ya ya dada (Hey hey hey)
Giuchie, Giuchie, ya ya here (here)
Mocha Chocalata ya ya (oh yea)
Creole lady Marmalade

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Rome was Burning

Our recent trip to Rome happened to coincide with the Occupy Wall Street protest that was going on.  Unfortunately a group of anarchists took the opportunity to get involved as well.  We were on our way back from Ostia Antica (more on that trip in a follow up post) we were unaware anything was going on, when we had to wait and wait for a bus.  We decided to hop another bus that was going in the same general direction the bus was supposed to take us.  During the ride we found out why the other bus was not running.

This was our first view of SWAT teams lining the streets, further in the background were about 10,000 people coming this direction.

As we traveled further we saw the dark smoke cloud in the distance.

This is the view from the backside of Palatine Hill. At this point we thought someone may have bombed the Colloseum as it is located in the direction of the black smoke.

We subsequently learned of the protests and that the fire was from the burning of a ministry building and cars beyond the Colloseum.

SWAT teams were out everywhere.

Most of the main thoroughfares were closed as well.

A few days later we saw some of the damage that went on for blocks and blocks.

Friday, November 4, 2011

What's in a name?

There are many interesting looking and sounding Dutch last names. Over the last few months, I have heard and seen quite a few funny ones! There is a good story behind these names. It begins in the 1800's when Napoleon was occupying The Netherlands. At that time many people were just adding "_____'s daughter/son" or "from (insert hometown here)" to their first name to identify themselves. Well, Napoleon did not think this was enough so he signed a law requiring all Dutch to choose and register a last name. So when chosing the last names many chose something descriptive. These include Van Buren (from Buren), Bakker (Baker), Visser (Fisherman), Vandenberg (From the hill), etc. Then there are the unfortunate names like Kip (chicken), Goedkoop (cheap), Beenhakke (leg chopper), Kaasenbrood (cheese bread), Aarsman (ass man), and my favorite Naaktgeboren (born naked). It is said that these less attractive names are around because people didn't think the last names would stick around after Napoleon was gone and they could go back to their way. Ooops!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A Politically Incorrect Christmas

In The Netherlands, Sinterklaas Eve (St Nicholas Eve) is celebrated on Debember 5th, the day before Sinterklaas' birthday, with much celebration. Sinterklass is an older man with long white hair, a beard, and dresses much like a pope. He is also said to be a fairly serious man. The Zwarte Pieten on the other hand are a bit more whimsical. They dress much like a jester, with the addition of an afro and blackface (yep, blackface). Zwarte Pieten jump around and act quite silly (even in the middle of a church service).

Weeks before his birthday Sinterklaas travels to The Netherlands from Spain (where he lives) by boat with his helpers (slaves), the Zwarte Pieten (Black Petes). Below is the announcement from our local paper letting everyone know when Sinterklaas and his Zwarte Pieten will arive in our little town.

For the next few weeks, he travels the country by horse to find out if the children have been well behaved or not. During this time children put their shoe near the fireplace with a bit of hay or a carrot for his horse. In the morning the good little children will find a small treat in its place. The treats are usually similar to the following: peppernoten (small spice cookie), chocolate formed into the letter of your first name, or pastries. This can continue each night until the 5th. Now, if you have been naughty watch out because the Zwarte Pieten will spank you with a stick and might even toss you in their burlap sack and take you back to Spain (I couldn't make up this stuff if I tried!). In adition to these treats there are also gifts received but only on the 5th The gifts for the children are delivered by Sinterklaas to your front door, but of course he does not have time to wait and hand deliver them so he rings the bells and leaves them on the stoop. Gifts are also exchanged by adults on Sinterklaas Eve. Names are drawn so only one gift is brought by each person. Your present must be wrapped creatively (anything but wrapping paper) and should have a poem attached. The poem cantains hints about the gift and lyrics making fun of the reciever. This poem is read aloud before opening the gift.

 To view better pictures of Sinterklaas and his Zwarte Piet, click HERE.