Orange and olive salad

My best friend in middle school hated salads.

Most people have a food they hate. But, a salad can look and taste a million different ways: fruit salad, caesar salad, potato salad, tuna salad, taco salad, pasta salad, bean salad, cole slaw, plain lettuce with dressing, niçoise, she hated them all.

“I wish I could do salads,” she’d say, the way people say they wish they could pull off a center part. “They seem so healthy and easy and fresh. But, I hate them.”

I never bothered her about it. In 7th grade I was just happy to have a best friend, salad-hating or otherwise. I wasn’t her best friend, she had a best friend named Becky who went to a different school and was supposedly amazing. “UGH I wish you could meet Becky,” my best friend would say. “She does the best voices and is crazy about pink jewelry.” I wished Becky would get hit by a bus, not one that would kill her, just one that would hit her hard enough to require her family moving to Switzerland for physical therapy.

This week at work there was a leftover salad that was just orange slices and black olives. Like something a very busy parent would make their kids for Halloween, if their kids didn’t have taste buds.

A typical Dutch salad, I said to myself.

Everything I see here becomes one of the most important and common things about Amsterdam, and this salad was no exception. Here are the most famous things in Holland: windmills, clogs, cheese, the huge bedside lamps in our temporary apartment, a woman named Kelli who does reception at my office, and a sad-looking salad with oranges and back olives.

It’s not the smartest way of thinking but everyone does it: the second-most popular thing to say when you find out I’m from Minnesota (the most popular thing being to repeat MinnesoOoota back to me in an accent) is to tell me about a layover in the Minneapolis airport.

“I wanted to buy some mixed nuts, and all they had was chips and crackers. No nuts. I could never live in Minnesota because I love nuts.”

Minnesota has nuts, I’m sure of it. Twenty minutes in the Delta concourse might feel like a lifetime but it’s not long enough to be knowledgable about the cuisine of the entire state. But when you’re sitting in an airport looking at a wall of not-nuts or sitting in a breakroom looking at the weirdest salad you’ve ever seen, it’s hard to be sure.

On my first day in Amsterdam a little old man was walking down my street with a little white dog on a leash, when teenager biked between them. The leash got caught in the wheel and the bike fell over, and both men started laughing hysterically. They were on the ground trying to get the leash unstuck, and introducing themselves. The dog started licking both of their faces.

I hoped this was a classic Dutch thing that would happen every single day, I hoped Holland was a country where people several generations apart were constantly tripping each other in complicated ways and then giggling about it in the middle of the street while cute dogs danced around tangled in bicycles. But it hasn’t happened again yet, so it might have just been random.

Maybe it’s possible to have a sense of what’s random and what’s important but so far I’m just as bad as the people looking for nuts at MSP.

It was hard to say if the salad was an every day thing or something I’d never see again, so I ate some of it just in case. It tasted exactly how you’d expect orange slices and black olives to taste. I guess I hate salads.


I looked up the salad to find this photo and maybe it’s Italian. It didn’t really look like this.


Short play in one act.

Scene: The most popular market in Amsterdam (not the textile one). A man stands behind several crates of the largest carrots on earth. Brooke walks up wearing the same thing she has worn the last few days, ready to chat with people.

Brooke: Hello!

Man: Hi there.

Brooke: (pointing to a carrot) What is the word for this in Dutch?

Man: Vortel.

Brooke: Wogtern?

Man: Vortel

Brooke: Goltenp.

Man: Vor…

Brooke: Wem…

Man: V…

Brooke: Nevermind, thank you.

Man: Don’t mention it.

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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.


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.”