(Not including the people, of course. If I could sweep you up and put you in all the empty real estate around here, you’d wonder what hit you.)
1. The mail comes in English.
I can’t tell you how hard it is to get what looks like an important piece of paper and have NO CLUE what it says. I once got a dark purple envelope in the mail. This is significant because this is what the department of transportation uses to send you those dreaded speeding tickets. There are traffic cameras EVERYWHERE here and the speed limits off the major highways are ridiculously low. (The speed limit ON the major highways is close to 80 which scares the snot out of me considering I do most of my traveling at bike speed). Anyway, I got this purple envelope and I’m trying to figure out where I could have been speeding. I’d been so careful going my 25 or 35 miles an hour on these four lane divided highways. I open the letter and it’s, of course, in freaking Dutch, and for €950.00! This is like $1,500!!! I FLIP out. I couldn’t have been going that fast! Ok, maybe once we were late for school, but €950???? Hyperventilating, I try to jam Dutch sentences in to Google Translate. Thirty stress-filled minutes later, I realize that this is the bill for our annual road tax, the tax on people who own cars.
2. The men wear swim trunks.
This probably does not need too much explanation, but going to the beach here is like a subtly disguised anatomy lesson. The women are occasionally topless, which does not bother me. I’ve nursed my babies. The kids have seen all that before. But, men in Speedo’s is just a little too much information. Not many guys have nice enough tushes to justify wearing lycra with the coverage of sausage skin. Then there are the guys who have to drop their drawers right in front of you to “change their suits”. Hmmm. In the States this would be called indecent exposure and with good reason.
3. You can buy a steak for less than the cost of a yacht.
When I moved here, I brought a HUGE bottle of A1 Steak sauce, since I knew I would not be able to find it here. Little did I know, the beef would be the limiting factor. Beef here is not sold in the grocery store. You have to go to the butcher. The butcher will sing the praises of his beef, so tender, so juicy, guaranteed to make you thinner and better looking. At €4.99 per 100 grams, it had sure better make me better looking. I’d have to do the math, but I bought four 8 oz steaks for a small going away party and paid almost $70.00! Needless to say, my A1 sits unused. And I sit wishing for a nice piece of filet.
Ah, Wawa, the perfect store: nicer than a 7/11, good hoagies, great selection of drinks or snack foods, they even sell bananas for the health conscious mom. Public bathrooms! An ATM machine! Gasoline! Need a good cup of coffee before your big road trip? No problem!
Here in Holland life is “BYOC”, bring your own coffee. Forget about a hoagie for that picnic lunch or hungry husband. The gas stations here sell tulips and a large selection of salted licorice, which is poor consolation for a mother with whining children. A bathroom? An ATM? Not likely. I guess the good thing is that the kids have learned to expect less from pit stops on our road trips. Sadly, so have I.
5. Large capacity washers and dryers.
I couldn’t write a top five list and not include the washing machine. Laundry here takes a LONG time. Ask my mom who came to visit and gave me a little laundry to do. She got it back three months later when I came back to Philly to see her. If you really push and shove, the washer capacity here is about ¼ the size of a standard American machine. That does not bother me so much. What really hurts my feelings is the 3 hour cycle time. Every time I have a minute of peace, I have to switch around the laundry or it will be spilling out of the closet sized laundry room and take over the whole hallway floor. Coming home from a laundry intensive vacation is the worst. When we came home from skiing we had two huge duffle bags of dirty clothes, long underwear, and ski pants. It took three days of non-stop laundry to clear the hall. (I felt bad about this until one friend confessed that two months later, her ski pants were still on the laundry room floor waiting to be washed)
At home, the washers are cavernous! They echo when you open them! You lucky women, throwing all of your dark clothes into a machine at one time! I am green with envy!
You know, living here is a good fit for us. On most days we feel very privileged for this opportunity. But there are those days where you realize living in the States was just EASIER. You start to miss home the way you miss a broken in pair of slippers. Because, at the end of the day, Dorothy Gale had it right: “There is no place like home.”