We didn’t have school this past week, not because of snow, not because of administrative days, but because of a traditional carnival that literally takes over the city. It is absolutely crazy from an outsider’s point of view, everyone dresses up like Halloween for 5-6 days, and the otherwise modest Dutch people throw most rules and responsibility to the wind. Young and old people from the South of the country gather in the cities to party, but the northern part of the country looks down on this practice. It is simply called carnival, pronounced like carnivaal. The week festival is based partly on catholic tradition and partly on pagan rituals. As you may or may not know this past Wednesday was Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent in the Catholic Church. Lent is a time of fasting, and will last 40 days and nights until Easter. In preparation for fasting, the people decide to go crazy for the week leading up to Ash Wednesday. In the US we have a similar celebration during this pre-Lenten time called Mardi gras! Both Carnival and Mardi gras end on Fat Tuesday. On Tuesday night in Breda the whole town gathers as two puppets dressed as a traditional Dutch farming couple are hoisted via crane over part of the canal. Once they are hoisted they are set a flame, this ritual is said to be left over from the pagan traditions that existed before Catholicism came to the Netherlands. Today most Dutch people do not follow any religion, and the churches have all been converted into public areas or school buildings, and even office buildings. Here in the Netherlands during the Carnival everything closes for about 6 days, Thursday through Tuesday. Future students, be careful to go to the grocery and stock up before this time. The stores here already have insanely short business hours; it’s easy to get caught without anything in your fridge if you are not careful. I had to pedal my bike clear across town to find a convenient store that was still selling bread, milk, deli meat, and cheese, but I had to pay a pretty penny too.
In school the week before, my task group and I completed a 20 page report in which we researched business opportunities in Russia, China, and India to determine where Dell’s direct business model would be the most successful without looking at previously existing sales statistics. The project was very interesting for me especially since my part of the task was to write about India, a country that I didn’t know much about. I learned a good deal about the similarities and differences of the Indian business culture and economy and that of the US. Since I am a native English speaker, my group was really excited to have me revise each part for errors in English. When I revised each part I could hear their accents in their writing. In my group I have a new member, she is a Dutch student. She has the best English out of the group with exception of me, so she is nice to talk to. It’s pretty funny because she sounds like she has an accent from Minnesota or Wisconsin, but she has never been to either. One thing I miss more than anything is having a clear conversation. Most people I encounter can speak and understand English, but it isn’t the same at all. I find myself simplifying my vocabulary, and slowing my speech down to get the content of my conversations across more effectively. I am lucky my group and I get along so well, their English is pretty good overall so it isn’t difficult with them.
I have met a few more Americans while I have been here too so that is always nice. When I hear someone speaking clear English across the room, I always make my way over to introduce myself. The weirdest part of being here is probably the language issues. I only understand a few Dutch phrases so far so I never know if people are talking about me or the weather. I try to blend in as much as I can by not opening my American mouth. Customer service is much better when everyone just thinks I’m from Holland, and that’s fine by me for now. Don’t get me wrong though the people are helpful and nice, but there is just a different etiquette here for everything. Definitely will still take some getting used to, but I’m adapting well so far I guess.
If you’ve made it this far reading my blog I appreciate your support and I hope it is interesting and informational. Feel free to leave me comments and even questions and I will respond in my next blog post to your questions.
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