Saturday, 20 September 2014

To buy or not to buy a parking ticket

Tomorrow is Theo's Mothers Birthday.  I decided I'd bake a cake for him.  I'm not the best at baking, I must admit.  Well that's not quite true, as my cakes taste delicious.  The problem is that they look like a child has made them, and then they've been mauled ten times over by the family dog (and possibly all his doggy friends too) as I can't get them out of the tin in one piece.  I have no problems with packet mixes though, so my brainwave was to simply cheat!  Yes, that's right, I was going to buy a cake mix and pass it off as my own baking.  I do it all the time, well, when needs must!  Still sounds straight forward?  Think again!  As an expat, I can't just walk into the supermarket and choose a mix.  Oh no, that would be too easy.  Forgetting the language barrier (Theo can help me with the instructions, surely), all I want is the right quantity to make a victoria sandwich.  I can do the buttercream/icing etc myself.  I just need the mix.  You can buy mixes for every type of tin loaf shaped cake, ring cakes and muffins even.  But if you want just a very basic mix.....not a chance!  Of course maybe one of the tin loaf ones would be fine, but would I use 1 pack or 2 for a victoria sandwich?  Oh the choices!  Or plan B, especially now as we're cutting it fine time wise.....go to the expat shop and buy and English mix.  Of course, problem solved!

Only it isn't exactly problem solved.  Well, it is in that I now have the cake mix, but it turned out to be rather expensive.  No, I don't mean the expat shops prices, I mean this:

What happened was, once I was in the shop.  Theo had parked where he always parks.  The road signs are all double dutch to me anyway, so I never take any notice.  We hadn't even been in the shop for more than about 2 minutes when he started mumbling.  (Once again, I didn't take much notice, as thats a common side effect of taking him shopping.  In fact, he usually looks for the nearest escape route, or finds a seat somewhere and waits for me to finish shopping alone).  He rushed off outside, leaving me to shop in's never a simple 5 minute grab what I want kinda shopping trip when I go there, as I tend to drool at all the things I miss from home.  Theo came back in a few minutes later and announced we'd just got a parking ticket.  I must admit I didn't really believe him.  After all, we'd always parked there.  Nobody else buys tickets!  (Unless there's a barrier to leave a car park, then paying here is seen as optional quite often, I've noticed).  I am always nagging him to get a ticket though, but now at least I know what that sign actually says....metered parking!  Grrrr!  The piece of paper they kindly stuck under the windscreen wiper could so easily have been mmisinterpreted(by me) as a 'welcome to Hilversum kind of note.  Dutch traffic wardens don't stick it on to your window like English ones do.  If it had been raining, that would have illegible.  No plastic seal.  Nothing.  I am assured it's the real mackoy though.  Theo now has a bit of a man sulk thing going on too.  So, our cake mix errand turned out to be rather an expensive one.

I'm not exactly faultless either.  I did used to drive, and I had more than my fair share of tickets.  Most were my own fault, and all except for one were completely non deliberate.  I see a shiny object and am easily distracted.  I'd get out of the car, sometimes even remembered to lock it, and just wander off in chase of whatever shiny object I'd seen.  Nowadays, I've adopted the favourite Dutch mode of transport....the bicycle!  You may laugh!  In narrow streets, with little or no parking in towns, a bicycle is the only sensible way to get about.  I am lazy though, and I have an E-bike.  All that pedalling doesn't appeal to me.  On all of the expat sites I frequent, blogs etc.....they all say the same thing.  You cannot call yourself Dutch, or even integrated unless at least one (preferably all) of these things apply to you:

1.  You own at least one bicycle
2.  You have had your bicycle stolen
3.  You have stolen a bicycle
4.  You're not shocked at any of the above
5.  You have been caught committing a cycling offense
6.  You can ride with NO hands
7.  You can fit your entire family (including your dog if you have one, if not, get one!) onto your bicycle and still ride with NO hands
8.  You even use your bicycle to move house.  Removal vans are not needed
9.  You own an orange t-shirt, and wear it proudly while riding your bicycle.
10.  Last but not least, the locks (yes, plural) are more valuable than your 50+ year old bicyle which was probably stolen anyway

Three of the above things apply to me.  I own a bicycle.  I have been caught committing a cycling offence, and I own an orange t-shirt (an M&m's chocolate branded one, which says 'I'm surrounded by nuts - I wear it on Koningsdag).  So I think I classify (only just) as being integrated into Dutch society.  Owning a bicycle is really no big deal here.  If you don't own one, that can be fixed with a set of metal cutters.  Dutchies I swear were all born wearing orange t-shirts anyway, so us expats are required to go out and buy one.  No problem, they're easy to find here!  But my real claim to integration lies in my big grand cycling offence!  Yep, that was in a strange way, a proud moment!  For the first time, I really felt like one of 'them' (Dutchies).  Not being 6 feet tall, I seem to stand out as a foreigner.  But that day, I blended in beautifully.  Theo and I had gone late night shopping.  Once a week, most towns have a late night shopping night.  Usually on a Thursday, but it can vary between different towns.  This was the first time we'd ventured into Hilversum town centre on our bikes though.  We'd only just moved to the area from Utrecht.  I love cycling here, but Utrecht is scary!  It's so busy (comparable, and even busier than Amsterdam at times).  The shop we wanted to go to was the other side of the pedestrian area.  Even in my very poor Dutch skills, I'd seen the big 'geen fietsen' sign and understood it (proud moment!) and Theo who was riding in front of me, turned to confirm my suspicions and suggest we dismount and walk the rest of the way (about 50 yards).  At seeing another cyclist just carry on through the pedestrian street, I shrugged at him and said 'that's only a guideline anyway', so he laughed, looked pleased at me even (I'm starting to fit in), got back on his bike and off we went again.  We weaved in and out of pedestrians like pros.  I'm still feeling proud here.  I saw Theo a bit further ahead getting off his bike.  'Wimp' I thought.  Then suddenly two big Dutch men blocked my path.  They were not going to let me pass!  It started to dawn on me that what they were saying was something official - but only when one of them looked down to the chest area on his jacket showing what I first thought was some kind of sports team logo or something.....nope, they were local traffic wardens!  I was getting my first real warning!  As a Dutchie (or wannabe!)  I have been assured (by Theo) that I was very lucky to have not got myself a fine that evening!  In all fairness, the two wardens might have asked for my details, but I didn't have a clue what they were saying, so it was all wasted.  I do now behave myself, of course, but nonetheless, it was still a proud moment.  In a weird kinda way!

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