Sunday, October 19, 2008

Wheelin' and a Dealin'

Well, I've been here just over a month now and so am starting to get to grips with the place, the language and the new job.

Groningen is the provincial capital Apart from being a very popular student city, it is also known for its gas, sugar and tobacco fact, you can sometimes smell the sugar and tobacco in the air. Luckily, I haven't smelt gas yet! Or have I?

The city is not far from the coast and so has quite a lot of sea-faring boats in the harbours and along the canals. There's also a lot of lovely old buildings from the Golden Age and a thrice-weekly market on the two market squares - the Fish Market and the Big Market. There's a great cafe just in front of the 'famous' Martini Tower where I sit and watch the action if it's sunny. I got lucky the other day and scored a free lunch...a traditional Dutch herring...which must (apparently) be eaten as demonstrated in the picture and is usually accompanied by chopped onion. Put it this way, it's an acquired taste!

I like the buzz and the atmosphere of the market...but then I always have loved markets. The produce is great and it's a good chance for me to get in a bit of Dutch conversation over my wortels (carrots!) with the stallholders - just about all the practice I get as I'm in an English-speaking environment most of the time.

I'm starting to watch a few Dutch TV programmes but, to be honest, the draw of BBC1, BBC2 and the National Geographic Channel is sometimes just too great. My current favourite Dutch programme, however, has to be the 'The Irish Matchmaker' where a boatload of Dutch ladies appear to have been shipped over to Ireland, travel around in a campervan and go on dates with a bunch of Irish guys. It's half in English and half in Dutch so I just about cope. Alternatively, there's the Dutch version of 'Any Dream Will Do?' - I can't yet work out if the Dutch Joseph wannabes are singing in Dutch or are just really, really bad. So, as you can see...lots of quality telly! Mind you, it's a step up from the radio...I'm really struggling to find anything other than Europop, heavy metal/rock or 80s hits...played again...and again!!

Work is going OK. I've now got three advanced-level groups. One group of Pre-Masters students and two groups of first years. Their mastery of slang amuses me highly although they still need to work on their academic English. The first years, in particular, are an entertaining mix of Dutch, Germans, Bulgarians and Ukrainians. They invariably arrive completely hungover and proceed to drink gallons of Red Bull which usually means they are completely wired in the second half of the lesson. I gather there are various fraternities here and so a few of them appear to be taking part in initiation ceremonies...wearing a sticker on your forehead for a week is one of the tamer 'challenges'. I start teaching a group of university administrators soon...heaven only knows what antics they'll get up to!

I'm teaching on a different campus from the one where my office is based so my bicycle's getting lots of outings. I'm enjoying being a 'fietser' although I tend to be somewhat less enthusiastic when it's chucking it down. I've had to get myself sorted with the right rain gear...waterproof jacket, waterproof trousers and a really rather silly waterproof hat. Wearing the hood up on my raincoat simply didn't work as it kept blowing off and I couldn't hear the cars coming up behind me. I'm not yet able to do as the Dutch do - cycle with a brolly in one hand whilst rolling a cigarette and chatting on their mobile phone with the other.

I've actually had my first cycling disaster or should I say 'Dutch christening'? I was happily cycling along on my way to class when the next thing I knew was I was face down in the mud! The cycle path was being dug up so the workers had laid some giant metal door-type covers over a big hole. I went over them OK but hit a patch of mud on the metal, skidded and came off. Fortunately, there was no major damage to me or my bike apart from the fact I was rather shaken, red-faced and covered in mud!! Still, it made me feel better when a 'professional' Cloggie cyclist came through just after I'd picked myself and did exactly the same thing - he didn't quite go over but there was a lot of swearing as he tried to right himself. Wonder if I can sue the council??? They take enough tax off me. Maybe I could use my compensation to renew my membership of the Tufty Club?

Car-free living is very easy in the Netherlands as the public transport system is so good and there's so much provision for cyclists. We have a special underground bicycle park at work and, as I found out last weekend, the one at the station is a sight to behold - there are just soooooo many bicycles.

Amsterdam is two hours away by train and as the weather was so lovely last weekend I decided to have a day out there. The city was in its element. The autumn leaves were falling gently into the canals and the sunlight made the water sparkle. So romantic. Just a shame I had no-one to share it with, really.

Ah well...on that note...I guess it's time for a beer!