Cultural Learnings Of A British Burger

I have arrived.  Not quite in the sense I would like it to mean.  I find myself in an apartment on the 9th floor of Amsterdam with remnants of my life including my fiancée, my dog and a solar-powered buddha.  On Friday morning I was a human being.  This very morning I became a British Burger.

My first impressions of Amsterdam are positive.  So far we haven’t ventured into the city, instead we have tried to acclimatize to our home.  Our apartment is in a quieter district with no hookers, drugs or windmills in sight.  So far it has been nothing like I imagined.  My passport has been bureaucratically violated and now carries a mark declaring me as an officially ‘undutchable’.  I have a burger number even though the only burgers happen to be British and American.  All around me I keep hearing people making noises like cats struggling to dislodge hairballs from their windpipes, each of them capable of speaking better English than me whilst the vast majority of them are so tall that they can replace the blades on windmills without using a ladder.

The key discoveries so far is that gravy has been invented, nobody actually wears clogs and a single vowel sound in the word ‘hallo’ marks me out as a foreigner.  Eye contact is good, smiling is better and not all Amsterdammer’s arses are welded to bicycle seats.  The supermarkets are super, lamb exists, salt and vinegar has arrived and the quality of meat is such that my dog would struggle not to make something awesome from the contents of my refrigerator. Interestingly banks don’t need to be open to get an appointment in and official bureaucracy comes with smiles, free bags and newsletters.  So far the only place I have failed to get an appointment is the supermarket.

Despite my best efforts I have failed to humiliate myself in typical fashion.  The closest I have come so far was by buying non-alcoholic beer and then complaining that it tasted flat.  The transition to life here so far has gone as smoothly as a vindaloo’s transition from the human stomach to a sanitary waste receptacle.  I only hope it continues. For now goodbye, or as they say in Windmill Land ‘Dag

7 Years On

Today is my 7th anniversary in Poland.  I thought I would try to note down some observations on the changes I have witnessed here.  However that is proving to be much more difficult than expected as I haven’t actually seen that many.  What I have experienced are lessons.

The first lesson I learnt here was that despite the fact that Poland looks much the same as any other country, albeit with a higher proportion of tower blocks, cars which drive on the wrong side(which now peculiarly feels like the right side) of the road and signs in a funny language it isn’t.  It is impossible to say that Poland is diverse in its culture and its beliefs because it isn’t.  If anything it is a country still in the process of finding itself and figuring out its place in the 21st century.

The second lesson I learnt was that a grieving Pole is an unpredictable Pole.  It is somewhat typical here to lament your lot in life and look to assign blame.  Rarely do people just move on.  Sadness here can quickly turn to anger.  In the 7 years gone I have witnessed Poland grieve a Pope and a President(with many other poor souls).  Sadness here is a bitter pill.  I have seen miners riot, football hooligans riot and most surprising of all, Old people fight with the police.

The third and final lesson I wish to mention is that bureaucracy is a cancer with always remains.  The remnants of history here are hidden in plain view to anyone who has to visit a tax office, a doctor or apply for anything at all.  The average Polish government office has to cut down the equivalent of 62.7 percent of the amazon rainforest every year in order to have enough paper to ensure that every form is signed and dated in quad-duplicate.  It is as if the advent of computers is kept in the same part of the Polish psyche as the enlightenment.

These are just a few observations in my time here.  Poland is my adopted homeland and in truth trying to love her is like loving your least favourite cousin.  You have to see beyond her rough edges to get to the good stuff.  Now it is my home.  And like any home it needs a few repairs.