Archive for January, 2007

trying to practice

Saturday, January 27th, 2007

I give myself a 75% for language use today.

We had been considering a day trip to Delft, but ended up putting it off for another week. Instead, I did a bunch of errands. At a few places, I didn’t try to speak Dutch, because I didn’t know the words I needed. Often, of course, you can buy things with no other converstation than the price and “Alstublieft!” (Literally “If you please,” but used when someone gives you your change and purchase to mean “There you go!”) At the wine store, when the man asked “For zelf of cadeautje?”) I understood him but reflexively answered, “It’s for me, not a gift” in English. At the post office, I carefully said, “Ik heb nodig een boek van buitenland zegels”, which is literally “I have need [of] a book of foreign-land stamps,” but the woman looked blank until I repated it in English. I’m sure that’s not quite right – it probably ought to be zegels (or zegelen, maybe) voor buitenland, but I still think that ought to have been good enough to be understood! One thing that’s very tricky is that in English we are so accustomed to turning nouns into verbs (I can say “computer parts” instead of “parts for a computer”) that we forget it doesn’t universally work that way.

Later, when I picked up the boots I’d dropped off for new heels, I didn’t understand the words the woman used to ask if I wanted a bag, but was able to ask “een zaak?” and be answered in Dutch and sign language, and then at the chocolatier, when I asked for “een klein doos” she understood me, even if she did answer in English. So, not too bad all around.

Also, this morning I was able to visit the tailor to pick up trousers I’d had relined, the supermarket for beer and cookies (we’re having guests, US business travelers, for a drink before dinner tomorrow and want to give them some typical Dutch cookies), the bakery, the cobbler, the winery, and the post office all within an hour and a half. I walked. I don’t think I could have done that in the same time in Arizona, even with a car.


Tuesday, January 23rd, 2007

The snow flurry lasted only half an hour. As expected, it left no accumulation. It was nice to watch, though. Last night we had our first freeze of the winter. On our way home from class last night, we saw something so typically Dutch that Ted reminded me to blog it. The salttrucks were out, but they weren’t salting the roads … just the bike paths.

It does make perfect sense. There wasn’t likely to be enough ice to trouble cars at all, whereas a frozen puddle could be enough to make a cyclist skid. But still – how much more characteristic could you get??


Monday, January 22nd, 2007

It’s snowing!!!

It won’t stick, but still … how long is it since I looked out a window and saw that drops had turned to white flakes?

storm watch

Friday, January 19th, 2007

We’re still not really integrated into life here, in some ways. For one thing, because we don’t speak Dutch, we don’t watch Dutch news, only international news. As a result, we tend to be insulated from events that to other people are saturating the news. For instance, I didn’t know that yesterday’s storm was anything special until I arrived at the office and someone told me there was a storm warning out. It was quite a storm, too – the news said that winds were up to Force 10 in parts of Holland (48-55 knots, “Seldom experienced inland; trees uprooted; considerable structural damage occurs”). I think it was higher, though; when I left work my boss looked up the windspeeds on the aviation reports. It was blowing steadily at 55 kt here, which means gusts would have been higher, and winds by the ocean are likely to have been much higher than here inland. 55 knots is 63 miles per hour; for comparison, a cyclonic storm is called a hurrican when it reaches 74 mph. This may not have been a hurricane but it was at least like a bad tropical storm.

It covered the UK and northern Europe. Over the whole area 30-some people were killed, mostly from having trees and things falling on them. Buses and trains in germany and the Netherlands were shut down, and both Amsterdam’s Centraal Station nad Berlin’s new train station were damaged. Damage here wasn’t that bad, mostly branches or signs blown down, though I think a lot of that is largely because the Dutch are – have had to become – very good at engineering things to deal with wind and water. There was more water on the road yesterday morning than I’d seen before, but it was nothing like what Houston gets from comparable amounts of rain. (Also, the soil here is sand rather than gumbo, which must help.)

Driving to class last night, and then home from there was interesting, but never actually scary. We were astounded at how high the waves on our little canal got as we drove past it. And we knew it was bad because it was too windy for people to ride bikes. In most countries, you would know that because people were not riding bikes. Here, it was because they were still trying to ride bikes but having trouble getting on, or getting blown over, or even getting blown backwards (though I didn’t see that part). They did seem to be enjoying the extra speed once the wind was behind them, though!

learning Dutch

Wednesday, January 17th, 2007

We’re now three classes into our Dutch lessons. There are definitely some sound distinctions neither of us can hear, like the difference between ‘v’ and ‘w’ or ‘u’ (you) and ‘uw’ (your). There are also several vowels that are difficult to mimic because they just don’t exist in English. Ted is having some difficulty with where stresses fall in a word; that and the pronunciation of odd sounds are a bit easier for me because of an interest in linguistics and a better ear for accents and memory for words. This divide makes us hard to teach as a team, but he stays patient when I ask the teacher about odd grammatical points and I bring my knitting (having asked permission of both instructors) so that no amount of repetition gets annoying. We agree than one of the teachers deals better with both of us than the other; I think she likes linguistics herself (useful for a language teacher!) so she enjoys answering my questions, and her methods of explaining sounds and stresses seems to work better for Ted. The other one is a bit more impatient, but is also not as good at remembering that though I may pick this us faster I still don’t know much and need a lot of practice too. Still, he’s not bad, just not as good.

Of course, this would all still be much harder if our coworkers didn’t all speak English. They keep threatening to speak Dutch to me but it never lasts long – conversation would be too limited!

Dutch also has some concepts that don’t exist in English. It’s not so bad as to formality as some languages, but there are actually THREE words for “you”: ‘u’ (formal), ‘jij’ (informal, stressed), and ‘je’ (informal, unstressed). As I understand it, u (pronounced something like a German ‘u’ with umlaut) is now used mostly toward older people, to one’s customers or on first meeting. It’s an informal and un-hierarchical country, so not much call for formality otherwise, and I don’t think people are easily offended by less formality than expected.

The difference between ‘je’ and ‘jij’ is the difference between “I want you to go the the store” (je) and “I want YOU, not him but YOU to go” (jij). The analogy I used to Ted is that it’s like the difference between “I want a [pron. “uh”] dog”, meaning I want a dog, and “I want a [pron “ay”] dog”, meaning I want just one dog, not two or three. I think the je/jij distinction is probably easier to learn in Dutch than ithe two forms of ‘a’ would be in English, because in Dutch they’re spelled differently and recognized as morphemes (units of sound with a distinct meaning), whereas in English the meaning is distinct but we don’t really ever talk about it.

Ted and Paula on TV

Monday, January 15th, 2007

Way back in May, we were filmed and interviewed by the Arizona Highways TV show (a spinoff of the magazine) for a piece about rowing on Tempe Town Lake. It was supposed to be broadcast in June or so, but we never could find any indication that it had been shown. Today Ted got an email from someone in our Tempe office saying that he’d seen the interview last Saturday, so I did a web search and was able to find the episode. You can view it by clicking on this link and then scrolling down to “Tempe Town Lake crew team”. (You’ll need either the Realplayer or Windows Media Player to view the video, but there are links to download either for free.)

(This one is very much worth watching – you can tell it’s professional editing because they made us look and sound so good.)

some local photos

Saturday, January 6th, 2007

Here are some pictures we took around the neighborhood back in November, that I haven’t gotten around to uploading before. The leaves have finally all fallen now and it looks like winter, but the air smells like we skipped it and went straight to spring – it was about 50 degrees when we rowed this morning. Anyway, here they are. Click on the thumbnails to see larger versions.
In order, that’s the canal we row on, looking toward the city; the river that runs by our flat in its autumn plumage; me, obviously; the St. Catherina Kerk down the street from us; another church that was an 18th century abbey; the Centrum looking toward the St Catherina Kerk (this road, the part nearest us, is all bars, actually); and Ted, with our apartment balcony behind him.

Because I’ve just figured out how to do this, here’s some video of my race last month – it’s just under five minutes, but it’s all fairly similar. This is excerpted from a race that lasted over 20 minutes, though. The quality’s not great – I’ve only just learned how to convert a video to MPEG, so that could be part of why, though the original was also largely taken from farther away than optimal (and with Ted riding a bike while filming).