Tuesday, February 14, 2012

86% of Dutch Folk Not Impressed With Valentine's Day

There was an article this morning in the local Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf that states "Currently only 15% of the Dutch population participates in St. Valentine's Day."  Why am I not surprised?  In the U.S. and England the day of love has been celebrated for several hundred years, while in Holland it only made its entrance in the 1950's.  Eighty-five percent of people from the Lowlands say they show enough love to their partners throughout the year and need no special day to remind them.  Yeah, right, okay.

I predict that the percentage of Dutch people actually doing something for their sweetheart on Valentine's Day will never go above 25% even 150 years from now when the influx cycle of influence from the US has reached its max.  Why?  The Dutch are the first ones to call themselves koude kikkers or "cold frogs," claiming they don't need to be romantic like the French or the Italians.  Although most Dutch have a hard candy coating with a soft chocolate center, getting to that center can be pretty tricky as most don't wear their heart on their sleeve (part of this knowledge comes from personal experience having been married to a Dutchie for twenty years now.)

Of the very small percentage of people who actually "celebrate" Valentine's Day in The Netherlands, here is the breakdown of the sort of gifts they give:

38% take their loved one to the movies or out to dinner
24% give a bouquet of flowers (SUPER cheap in Holland keeping in line with the Dutch frugality)
18% give chocolate
6% give a bottle of perfume

Another interesting statistic: more than 58% of the Dutch public is turned off (scared off?) by a secret admirer while 17% wouldn't mind having one.  This too, matches up with the Dutch level of love sobriety in society.  One of the most quoted phrases in The Netherlands is doe je normaal dan doe je al gek genoeg which means "if one just acts normal then they are already being crazy enough." Therefore, why does one need to do something special on a particular "love day" to prove something their partner already knows?

Quite rational, quite down-to-earth, VERY Dutch!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Not Happening: The Eleven Cities Tour

I get the same question from my fellow Americans all the time: "Do you ever skate on the canals in Holland?"  Me personally?  No, I don't.  I'm not crazy about falling and breaking something I vitally need on the hard, unforgiving ice.  However, many of my friends and in-laws do skate whenever the opportunity arises and I say more power to them.  The Dutch call it ijskoorts or "ice fever."  Funny enough, there always seems to be a direct correlation between the number of employees calling in sick and the thickness of the ice. Hmm....

Whenever we experience extended periods of chilling weather in The Netherlands with the temperature remaining below 28 degrees fahrenheit, the Dutch begin to long for the Elfstedentocht or the "Eleven Cities Tour."  This is a world-famous ice skating tour organized by a club whose sole purpose is to organize the race. Problem is, it really has to freeze for several days in order for the ice to be thick enough to permit the vast numbers of skaters gliding over its surface.  The last race that was organized happened back in 1997, so you can probably imagine just how exciting it is to be a member of that club.

In recent weeks, weather conditions have been cooperating and Holland began to experience a real "ice fever" once again.  The tour takes place in the Dutch province of Friesland which is so over-full with provincial pride they even have their own flag and language. ("I'm not Dutch, I'm Fries!")  This is something akin to the same pride I've experienced while being amongst my Texan buddies, but I digress.

The eleven cities that are part of the tour look on hungrily with euro signs in their eyes as the race approaches. For example, the Fries company that distills the alcoholic Beerenburg drink which is synonomous with the tour experienced a tremendous boost in sales as the people ran out to buy a bottle.  The result?  Hours later, there wasn't a bottle of the Dutch gin in the country to be had and we didn't even know yet if the race would take place.

To the disappointment of many, the tour club held a press conference this week to announce that there would not be a race held this year due to the inadequate thickness of ice.  People publicly twittered their despair in record numbers and the sales of Nordic skates dropped dramatically.  The country began to descend from its ice "high" and people got on with their lives.  The good news is that there is now plenty of Beerenburg again for those still wanting to warm themselves from the cold!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

GS Cookie Time!

It's that time of year again.  You know what I'm talking about--that crucial, three-week benchmark after you've set your New Year's Resolution to lose that extra weight. That just so happens to be about the time when those cute little girls in their adorable brown and green costumes show up to persuade you to buy a box (or sometimes a case) of those delictable treats to help them earn their badge.  You can't help but help them out, right?

If you are living in the U.S., Girl Scout Cookies can be found everywhere -- at the grocery store, school, workplace, and just about every other public gathering place you can imagine. If you live in Europe, however, it's a VERY different situation.  I call it "Girl Scout Cookie Fever." People will step over their own grandmother (so to speak) to get their hands on a piece of Americana that takes them back to their youth.  Boxes of Thin Mints trade on the Dutch black market. I kid you not.

There is a Girl Scout Neighborhood here in the The Hague, and when they set out to sell cookies, they don't even break a sweat because they're gone in no time.  Like, no matter how many boxes the Girl Scouts have shipped in, they can always sell them.  It doesn't even matter how much they charge per box for these golden nuggets as the American expat community of The Hague will buy them all.

Luckily, I happen to work in one of the places where the girls always sell their cookies so I manage to get first crack at their inventory.  I was pleased to find my favorite Samoas still available and had no problem with paying three Euros a box.  If you have ever lived overseas, I promise you, you will never look at a GS cookie in the same way again!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Upcoming pitch contest with Tricia Lawrence of EMLA

Here's your chance to submit your story to a literary agent:


I am very excited to announce that Tricia, a shiny new agent, is willing to read any/all entries in a query/250-word submission window from Feb. 13-17. Erin Murphy Literary Agency does not accepted unsolicited queries so this is your in, folks.

Go here to read a recent interview she did with another client.

Go here to find out about her literary taste.

And stop by NEXT Monday to read an interview I'll post for even more info. Tricia has been in publishing for quite a while and, while Erin Murphy Literary Agency is well established in YA/MG, there's not a lot of online stuff about her yet because she's such a new agent.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Our 20th Anniversary

This past weekend my husband and I packed up the kids and drove the half hour from our house down to Rotterdam, the largest port city in The Netherlands.  Why you ask?  Well, this week we are celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary and since we met each other for the very first time on board the SS Rotterdam, we thought it would be fun to show the kids the recently renovated ship converted to a hotel and conference center.  The ship returned a few years ago to its home port of Rotterdam from traveling the world.

In March of 1989 I stepped on board the SS Rotterdam in Port Everglades, Florida with my family for a 10-day Carribbean Cruise.  Little did I know that my future spouse had also just stepped on board ten days before.  On the third day into the cruise, we met each other in the Smoking Room on the Holland America Line's flagship, had our first date on Barbados, and the rest is history.

Anyhow, back to this weekend.  We were welcomed on board, got our keys, dumped our bags in our rooms, and set out to show the kids the ship where Mom & Dad got to know each other.  In spite of the fact we had paid for two rooms for one night, we soon discovered that we could not venture anywhere in the ship without paying for a tour ticket.  Say what??  The ship where we lived on board for months on end had become a tourist attraction that must be visited on a paid tour.  We could not even show our kids the Smoking Room where we first met because there were four people standing guard to check people's tickets.  Fine, we moved on to dinner.

The Lido Restaurant, where my husband and I ate all of our meals with the rest of the crew during the months we spent on board had been completely gutted and looked nothing like the beautiful restaurant we once knew.  Where we had once enjoyed Mexican-themed dinners, Midnight Buffets, and Dessert Extravaganzas for free, we now spent mucho $$$ in an overpriced bistro shelling out thirty-five dollars a person for a hamburger, french fries and a coke.  This left (pardon the pun) somewhat of a bad taste in our mouths.

All in all, it was an interesting experience and we were glad we could show our kids a little of our past.  Unfortunately, walking down memory lane is never the same as the first time you took that stroll. At least we we able to sneak into the Smoking Room to take a few pictures on the morning we checked out -- I guess this counts as our one freebie.

Jan and Cheryl on board the SS Rotterdam -- back in 1992 and now in 2012

Saturday, February 4, 2012


Yesterday it snowed here and I just had to laugh.  In a country famous for Hans Brinker, its world champion skaters and winter sport Olympians, The Netherlands just can't cope as soon as a few flakes fall covering the nation's roads.  Being the smart cookie I am, I left work early yesterday since I knew the normally crazy Friday evening commute would reach the level of total insanity by 3pm.  Confident I could beat the system, I left at 1pm and what should have been a 25 minute drive took nearly two hours. By the time I got home (at my regular time) I was ready to strangle the first kid who walked in the door and had a killer migraine to boot!

Since I drive one of those little funky European hybrid cars, the costs of a new set of snow tires is enough to feed a family of four for six months.  Yeah, that's what I thought, which is why I didn't get them this year. On the bright side, my kids are finally able to skate on the canals -- something they look forward to all year.  Me? I'm content to sit inside next to the fire with a glass of Lambrusco and peck away at this keyboard creating my NY Times bestseller! Cheers!

Amsterdam, The Netherlands       AP Photo/Margriet Faber

Oregon Girl Abroad

I said I'd never do it, but now I am.  Writing a blog, that is.  If you have never traveled or lived abroad, you're in the right place.  I am ready and rarin' to educate anybody who has an ear to hear. 

Here we go.....