Today is Wednesday, January 18th here in Zwolle. As I am about to finish my day, all my friends in the US are right in the middle of theirs! It is my sixth day in the Netherlands, and I'm still getting used to that idea.
Being here for a semester has already made my cross-cultural experience so different than any others I've had, because in the back of my mind I know I have to make it here for four months! So I don't get to try little tastes of the culture and then leave. And these unfamiliar places have to become home to me for a little while. It's made me uncomfortable several times these past few days, but already I've appreciated being forced out of my comfort zone and into experiences that I may not have experienced otherwise.
I'm excited to share more as the semester goes on, but here are a few of the things I've experience that shout Dutch! to me:
The first was, literally, Dutch, although not shouted at me. I live with a (wonderful) host family, and they have two little boys: JissÍa and TobÍas, who are five and three. On my first bus ride to our house (and multiple times since) little TobÍas looked at me and started talking, talking, talking in Dutch. I smiled and nodded and he kept talking. Oh wow, even the little kids here speak Dutch.
The second experience was the bikes. I knew that we would have to ride our bikes in Zwolle, but it really hit me when I was riding in a bike lane on a round-a-bout and a huge bus drove next to me, not more than a foot away, and I just had to pray it didn't hit me, but I couldn't close my eyes because I still had to steer. I also had to learn that the Dutch bike everywhere, so "biking" clothes are any clothes. Wearing nice clothes to school? Ride your bike. Wearing a dress to church? Not a problem--ride your bike!
Actually, I have really enjoyed the biking here so far (I'm told I'll get tired of it before I learn to love it). Part of my route to school goes along a bike path that has old brick houses on one side and a canal with occasional boathouses on the other. Today, everything was covered in frost, which made it extra beautiful! And yes, extra cold.
The third experience was the coffee. As an enthusiastic coffee drinker myself, I was thrilled when I found out that Dutch people drink lots of coffee. My first day here, my host mom made me a little cappuccino drink, and my host dad drank what I thought was a shot of espresso in a little espresso-sized mug. I found out the next day that it was regular coffee in a regular-sized mug! And every cup I've had since has been in a little mug. The lack of size in each cup, however, is made up for in the frequency of cups had throughout the day.
The fourth experience was when we had a short tour of Zwolle's city center. Our first stop was a building called the peperbus (or pepperbank, in English). It is a huge red-brick church with a very tall tower, from which we had a good view of Zwolle. As we climbed the spiraling steps, I asked my host dad how old the building was. He shrugged (cue Dutch accent): "I don't know, maybe a thousand or so years." Actually, it's only about 600 years old. Not a big deal, at all.
The fifth experience is an ongoing experience, as I have learned only a few words in Dutch and learned how to pronounce even fewer of them: accepting the fact that people from the Netherlands will always tilt their heads and raise their questioning eyebrows when I try and say things in Dutch. Vowel sounds are unpredictable and it's impossible for me to say more than one guttural "g" in one word. I did try to learn the street names on my route to school, but soon gave that up. Here are some samples of street names around Zwolle: Tesselschadestraat, Wethouder Alferinkweg, Van Wevelinkhovenstraat, and Burgemeester Drijbersingel.
These are only a few of the many experiences I've had, but like I said, I'll keep sharing throughout the semester!
Doei! (okay, I'm done with the Dutch)