Where are they bringing all that gravel anyway

Is the word “heren” German, and does it mean men or women? Sometimes it’s on bathroom doors, but I can never remember what it means.

Last weekend I was thinking about it as I walked across a bridge, but it was hard to concentrate because there were SO many people screaming. It seemed like everyone around me was screaming, everyone except for one guy, who was holding up a cell phone and videotaping me.

I looked to my right, toward some red flashing lights and a siren, and saw a woman in a raincoat waving her arms all over. That’s when I noticed I was the only person on the bridge, everyone else was on one side or the other screaming at me to move so that the bridge could go up and a boat covered in gravel could go through.

I ran back and stood next to a woman who told me that these bridges take everyone a while to get used to. She didn’t know that last week I moved here from a city that also has raised bridges, and I didn’t tell her.

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Boaz took this photo, in Portland. Don’t show it to nice women you meet by bridges.

When the boat had gone by and the bridge was back down and we all crossed, the videotaping man was still there on the other side and still recording me. He held his phone out with both hands to get it close to my face as I passed.

I winked at him, which would have been a cool and confident way to end an embarrassing (and poorly filmed, I bet) YouTube video, except I’m terrible at winking so it probably looked like I’d just gotten sick. But I think winking is like crossing bridges. You just have to keep trying to do it until enough people scream at you to stop.

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Such a pity

Sure, you can get a social security card and at the social security office in Amsterdam but what they really want you to remember is that they have some incredibly nice complimentary teas.

The office is in a World Trade Center building, next to a lobby full of business people and large elegant planters. If you had to guess how the social security office is decorated and you guessed “like the absolute craziest spread from the children’s Ikea catalog” you would be right, and I would ask what kind of tea you drank during your appointment. Because you’d have obviously been there, and if you’ve been there you’ve had the tea. Not having tea isn’t an option.

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I didn’t know this, so I poured myself some hot water in a paper cup. Yeah water, you heard me. I’d just barely sat down on a red sofa and set my backpack on a red, pink, and orange rug when a woman approached me.

“Are you just drinking water, did my colleague not tell you that we have a selection of teas available, including black tea and mint tea?”

At the social security office, drinking plain hot water is an act of aggression. It attracted nonstop attention, which I guess is fair because there’s not too much else going on. Sometimes your day lacks something that you can make up for with some exciting children’s decor, but other times you just need to watch an American woman drink tea, is that so much to ask? Is it? Is it too much to ask her a few more times?

“Did you know that there is tea in the drawer, just under the hot water?”

“Excuse me but I overheard my colleagues telling you that we have tea, but you’re drinking hot water. Have you looked at the tea choices?”

Just when I was about to go ahead and drink tea, my agent Jan came back with my social security forms and everything was official and I was a legal resident of The Netherlands.

What is the very first thing you would do as a resident? The very first thing I did was sort of twitch my arm and spill my cup of hot water all over my residency papers, the red chair, my pants, and the red, pink, and orange rug. I thought everyone would panic, but instead they did little smiles like the smile you do when you’re watching a funny part of a movie you’ve seen many times.

Jan helped me photocopy the wettest social security papers and dry the salvageable ones.

He said “Such a pity.” softly to himself, and he seemed not annoyed but genuinely sad, as though a storm had destroyed a beautiful field of flowers both of us had loved.  I joked that it was a good thing I’d had just water and not tea after all and he stopped and turned to me.

“Would you like tea? There’s a marvelous green tea over there in the drawer under the hot water.”

Google says calico or maybe jute

Yesterday a man who was helping me with directions started telling me about two markets that I should check out. He said one was a regular market with produce, but when he started describing the other market he pointed to his shirt sleeve and paused for a minute.

“Well, I’ve forgotten the exact word in English, but it’s essentially textiles and fabrics.”

What word is he talking about? There is a specific and unique word for a type of textiles that is on the tip of a Dutch man’s tongue but can’t be found in even the darkest remote corners of my vocabulary.
Not only does my English underperform, but so far I don’t even have to tell anyone that I don’t speak Dutch. Cashiers, tram drivers, and people on the street just switch from Dutch to flawless English when I approach them, the abject terror in my eyes does all the talking. I’m fluent in looking scared.
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