When you’re going to be studying in a country during your college years, you’re bound to get merely one side of the story. You see the canals of Amsterdam and the crowds at Leidseplein as just being there for students from abroad to enjoy. What you don’t usually get, however, is the “typical” Dutch experience.
I went to Eindhoven, a city in the South of the Netherlands, for a weekend homestay that CIEE arranged for me. Staying with Frank and Jackel, a gay couple who lived in the centre of the city, I was just looking forward to being out of Amsterdam and seeing a different pace of life. I stayed for two nights, Friday and Saturday, and had no idea what to expect when I arrived.Appeltaart_ via Compfight cc
Arriving at Eindhoven was a bit of a shock. Not because things were so vastly different from how they were in Amsterdam, but because I had unknowingly fallen asleep on the train. Panicking, I got out of the train, bumping into everything humanly possible, and tried to get my bearings. Luckily, Frank was waiting for me nearby, and after a cautious “Frank? Chase?” we left the station and cycled to his apartment. Or, more correctly, he cycled while I rode on the back sitting sidesaddle like Princess Peach. The apartment was schitterend. Frank and Jackel were an urban planner and architect respectively, and so their house naturally had a fantastic design. After a coffee to wake myself up, Frank and I went on the task of getting me a bike for the weekend. The weather was LOVELY on that Friday, and so we spent the whole day cycling around the city. Frank described one of our first locales as Eindhoven’s “Forbidden City”. Up until a couple of years ago, Philips Company had literally walled off a section of the town where they had offices/buildings/manufacturing centres, which could only be accessed if you had the correct permission. The “Forbidden City” was completely different from the rest of the city because of all the open space inside, as well as the industrial feel that still encanpsulated the area. With lunch at a quaint, but lovely restaurant at the Piet Hein showroom area on the West side of town, we enjoyed the sun, the warmth, and the gezelligheid of the day. That night, Frank made us a Dutch Pompoen Soep, and my envy for his ability to cook skyrocketed.
The following day, Frank, Jackel, and I went to some exhibitions of Dutch Design Week. Dutch Design Week was a showcasing of Dutch artists and ideas for the future that took place all over the city. Notably I watched this animation twice because it was just gradual enough that it captivated my attention.
After that instalment of Dutch Design, we went around the city’s shopping district just walking around and exploring. Post-city walk, Frank and I began preparing dinner for the dinner party with Frank and Jackel’s rowing team later that night.
The dinner party was undoubtedly the best part about my weekend in Eindhoven. After having prepared myself for the level of Dutch I would need to speak earlier that weekend, I felt somewhat prepared to tackle the new accents and vocabulary I would come across. The topics at the dinner table began innocently enough, but by half way into the dinner the debates began when the man sitting across from me, whom I later deemed “the man who can drink like a fish” or, more simply put “Fish Man”, asked me, “So, are you a Democrat or Republican?” After that I was coerced into explaining how and why the American government works as it does, with my lacking government-related Dutch vocabulary, and ended up trying to explain the concept of a filibuster to the Dutch. Later, Fish Man explained the entire history of Port to me as I tried to come to grips with a history lesson in Dutch.
You learn a couple things about the Dutch after having a dinner with a large group of them. One is that, true to form, they are blunt; just get used to it. The second is that they have an expression for everything. At one point in the night I had rounded off a conversation about foreign language learning in America, when Fish Man looked me in the eyes and said, “Ah, now the monkey comes out of the sleeve.“ Now, I’m not exactly sure of the historical context where that phrase came into use, but damn that must have been an exciting day.
~ C. G. Huff