Tellus

Tellus: (tel’us), n. 1. [Latin] earth, soil, and the land; a country; the world. 2. a collection of Willamette University student’s insights, stories, photos and thoughts from their experiences studying abroad.

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Things that are the same

It’s taken me a little bit, but I think I’m starting to handle myself better here in Amsterdam. Barring the fact I don’t speak the language, which still embarrasses me slightly every time I walk up to a café and immediately launch into English, I’m finding everything a little less difficult. I really am fitting quite nicely along the archetypal curve that every exchange advisor ever talks about (Warning, soon comes my depression I guess).

Previously I’ve been talking and thinking about the ways this city is different and new and exciting to me, a list that contains a near infinite number of little things. Nevertheless, in the midst of all this cool new stuff are cultural constants, aspects of life that are (thankfully) exactly the same in this country as in mine. Beyond the obvious (shared anatomy, tendency to wear shoes, etc.), let me list some:

People drive on the right. Thank Allah and the baby Jesus for this. When I started riding my bike here I had trouble enough not getting hit by other cyclists while merging into bike lanes or by cars when crossing intersections. By the way, I loooooove the fact that automobiles are pretty much second-class citizens here. They have to yield to pedestrians and bikes, and any accident involving a car and a bicycle is immediately assumed to be the car’s fault from a legal standpoint. This may explain why cyclists are so damn ballsy. Anyway, including bicycles, Vespas (et variants), old people in power chairs, and these weird nano-car things that are also somehow allowed in the bike lanes, there are a whole load of vehicles one has to look out for. So yeah. I’m glad everyone drives on the right.

Ritz® Crackers. A staple food. Especially when paired with cheese and laziness. Though their physical form has been changed by the thousands of miles from a Safeway, their eternal soul survives in TUC crackers, by LU. I think this is because LU is owned by Kraft, which also owns Nabisco which makes Ritz. And all of them are a happy family owned by Philip Morris, meaning every cent you spend on them goes to giving kids cancer. Hope you’re happy because you’re all going to hell. Next!

Microsoft Windows. The other day I defragmented a Dutch guy’s hard disk (wow that sounds dirty winkyface). His system language was in Dutch, there was an angry mob trying to break down the front door, and to top it all off the ceiling was slowly descending to poke us all to death with big spikes. Even so I got it in one try. Grace under pressure.

People (generally) line up automatically. I remember hearing from someone once that Americans tend to form lines without having to be excessively encouraged. To everyone still in the US, take notice of this next time there are a bunch of people in a room waiting for the same thing. Here as well, they tend to coalesce into a queue pretty well. This is great for me because it saves me having to yell at people be in any way assertive in public.

H&M. I’ve been able to pass as a European many times because a large part of my wardrobe is from this wonderful Swedish retailer. The downside is that I swear I’ve seen like three different douchebags wearing one of my blazers. I’m pretty sure H&M is like the Abercrombie of Europe though, so I may have to branch out if I want to continue feeling in any way superior to everyone else. Luckily I saw an American Apparel here the other day so if I get really desperate I can be trendy AND tasteless. Zing!

White people with dreds. This settles it. They exist on every college campus where there are white people and marijuana.

For honorable mention, some near misses, things that aren’t quite the same but might as well be.

Pop music. This has happened way too many times. I’ll be in a mall or something and hear a terrible song come on that for a few bars I’m sure is Kelly Clarkson or Rihanna. But then the melody diverges just enough and I realize I can’t understand the lyrics about a girl and a boy and unrequited love/their breakup/other girls and boys/bars out in Mars. Also, every time I’m out partying here, I’m so glad American pop songs pretty effectively dominate all other forms of music. This means I can drunkenly yell lyrics and have a blast sharing my culture with everyone around me.

Through all this, I find myself constantly being thankful that this is just a different country, and an affluent, western, developed one at that. The Netherlands is much older and has very different history than the US, necessarily meaning a different culture, and there’s definitely a lot to get used to. But it could totally be worse. I could be on a different planet, with an entirely different evolutionary history, where the ways I’m different are more numerous than the ways I’m similar. I’m just glad that smiling or waving mean essentially the same thing here, and that the way my culture has taught me to look and act is roughly analogous to the way people look and act here. That’s all I got. Next time, we eat Gandhi.

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