Monthly Archives: February 2011

Grievances

We’ve all had crushes, right? You see someone from far and s/he’s totally dreamy. You get close enough to exchange the appropriate contact information of that era (facebook, phone, p.o. box), allowing you to confirm that the attraction is just as strong up close. You go out once or twice with starry, glazed-over eyes. L.L. and Boyz II Men sing in the back of your mind…”this is more than a cruuusshh.”

And then round about the third date you notice he ends most of his sentences with prepositions? Or her inside voice is not clearly distinguishable from her outside voice? Or he checks his work email more than once while you’re out? Not so much deal-breakers. But enough to raise an eyebrow and think, “really?”

Yeah, that’s where I am with Amsterdam right now. Please know that I’m not complaining. I’m still totally crushing. In fact, I see long-term potential here. I just uhhhh, have a few grievances.

It starts with the bank account. Hardly any stores accept the debit card that we hold so dear in the united states of america. And even though the visa sign shows up on various windows and cash registers, they don’t mean any kind of visa card that I’ve ever had. Unless you have a bank card that has one of these chip thingies, you need cash. Cash for everything. So I quickly learned that I would need a bank account in order to fully function here.

But I couldn’t apply for a bank account until I had an immigration/registration intake appointment with the university. 2 weeks – fine. After that, with a passport and student i.d. in hand, I walked over to ING, thinking I would walk out with a special place in the back to keep my money, like a bank account. But instead, I walked out with a one-page form letter explaining that it would take up to two weeks for them to review my application. I was instructed to wait for a letter in the mail that would provide further instructions.

Meanwhile, classes started and life continued to expect me to function. And as you may remember from earlier, existing in Amsterdam without a bank account is quite difficult. Professors expected multiple articles to be printed, which would require use of any of the printers in university buildings. And that would be fine, except those printers require one of those damn chip thingies found in bank cards. Another option would be to spend a bunch of money on a special card (with less value than what I would have paid) just for the priviledge of printing.

And as I’ve navigated around my lack of printing abilities, I’ve come home every night to an apartment lacking in both cable and internet (and a tv, but that’s clearly irrelevant). Although I found it to be annoying to be without the internet for a couple of weeks, I’m finding it harder and more irritating each day. Why haven’t I just contacted the cable/internet people and told them what I want? I tried. But without a local bank account number, I couldn’t even ask for an appointment. No one cared how much money I may have had in my U.S. account.

A letter and bank card arrived in the mail about a week later. I rejoiced. It was official, including a bank account number and everything. Since the guy at the bank told me I would take this letter to the nearest ING bank/post office (not sure why they’re often combined) as the next step, and since I couldn’t read any of the letter written in Dutch, I went to the post office first thing the next morning. I even had an extra pep in my step. But with a blank stare, the lady looked me up and down and said, “did you get the second letter telling you to come here for your pin code?” I thought she was joking. But she wasn’t. And it wasn’t funny anyway.

I walked home in defeat – yet still happy that the bank/post office was in short walking distance. I would have to wait a few more days for the next set of instructions to arrive. In the meantime, I went to an internet cafe to sign up for internet and cable. With a bank account number, I could at least get one thing accomplished. Going back and forth between their website and google translate’s version of it, I managed to get through 4 or 5 pages of the online form, ending with a confirmation page indicating I would receive an email. Well, I didn’t get the email until several days later – in my junk mail, and only after I had submitted a brand new request. Both follow-up emails basically said “thanks” and listed what I requested. Okay, now what? Do I get an appointment? Can you give me the internet now?

Meanwhile, the second letter from the bank did come. So three days after my first attempt, first thing in the morning, I was back at the bank/post office. The guy did something mysterious that may or may not have involved a machine. Then he handed me a bizarrely sealed envelope on what seemed to be carbon copy paper. This, he assured me, was what I needed to make my account official: my four-digit pin code. Okay, thanks and all. But why couldn’t I have just chosen my own pin code about 2 weeks ago?

Great, with a bank account, I was on the road to normalcy. Now I just waited for information on when/how the internet would arrive. I couldn’t call because the customer service charges 10 cents per minute, and I’ve been holding off on settling my phone matters until I had a bank account, of course. Then just yesterday (Friday), I received a notice from the post office that I had a package. I tracked it from my phone to learn it was from the cable/internet company. What could be in this package? A letter explaining what to do next? Are they just sending me the stuff to install myself? I was instructed to be at home between noon and 6pm today (Saturday) to receive the delivery. I planned my day around receiving this package. I refused to miss it. Yet, when I walked by my door this morning, around 10am (obviously before I was on alert), there was another notice that I had missed the delivery. My whisper of a doorbell and the lies of the previous notice conspired to leave me without a clue for at least another weekend.

A very long story just to say I’m annoyed. With so many things figured out, balancing the fine line of freedoms and regulations in a way that seems to mostly fall on the side of the people and happiness, how can this place tolerate such frustrating absurdity? I’m comforted by the fact that these are one-time issues. Once they’re resolved, I shouldn’t have to go through any of this again. Or at least I learned enough about these Dutch processes to have clearer expectations in the future.

And don’t worry. Although I’ve just noticed this minor flaw, when I think of Amsterdam, I still hear Dwele singing, “I know it’s early…I know it’s soon…but truth be told…I think I looove you.”

Moments in a Week

Monday. On the evening of my (and the Queen’s)birthday, I sat at the cafe across the street from my apartment, sipping red wine and eating pasta with fancy mushrooms and a light cream sauce. As in most Dutch restaurants, the lights were low and candles were on every table (a general and cosy approach to life that the Dutch refer to as “gezellig”). I sat between two large groups, one a family including a baby and perhaps a grandparent, the other a gathering of about six friends. The mood was quietly festive. Jill Scott played in the background. And the woman who helped me with the menu (who I assume is also one of the owners) periodically checked to make sure I was enjoying everything. Although she and I didn’t discuss that it was my (or the Queen’s) birthday, she and her sweet cafe certainly contributed to my private celebration.

Tuesday. Due to a somewhat spontaneous appointment to meet my new favorite contractor to get started on the garden makeover, I found myself in a gigantic home depot-type of store early in the morning, sleepy and freezing. But since this was our third shopping trip together, the almost three-hour process didn’t seem quite as painful as it could have. We discussed the vision for the space, which started out as a dead and unattended garden and has plans of becoming my outdoor sanctuary. As I chose a water pump for the fountain (I’ve been so serious about this fountain), a cat in the store casually drank water from one of the big model fountains. Even the gigantic home depot-type stores can be gezellig at times.

Wednesday. Cold sweating and on the verge of tears at 9am. I was up and ready to go by about 8am. Since I had no clue where my 10am class was located (I had a building name with no address), and since I still could only use very basic internet on my phone, I needed to act first thing in the morning. At 8am, the university information center was closed and wouldn’t open until 10am. There would, however, be a phone line opening up at 9am. This meant it was pointless to go anywhere on campus if people wouldn’t be around until later. So although 9am put me a little too close to the time of the class, I waited. And at 8:59 I spoke with a man who knew nothing of this mysterious building. He gave me a vague idea of the location of the complex it was likely a part of. In the end, he wished me good luck.

I was panicking, picturing myself in front of the academic probation board explaining why I hadn’t shown up to any of my classes – shrugging, “I just couldn’t find any of the buildings.” But then I finally thought to call my department. After a couple of tries, I finally found someone who knew. It was nowhere near that complex the first guy mentioned. And it also had nothing to do with the building listed for the class. So fortunately, by 9:15 I was out the door, and the woman from the department was just emailing the rest of my class.

After much confusion, by 9:45 I was in the lobby of yet another building, along with about 40 percent of my classmates. None of us could find the damn class. And once the professor joined the search crew, we knew it would eventually be gezellig again. The class didn’t fully start until about 10:30. Some people came about an hour late. And some never showed up at all. But in spite of the drama, it was a great class. I’m looking forward to going straight there next week.

Thursday. Meeting two new professors, my classmates and I introduced ourselves. Many of us had already met. But a few were new. And since I’m shameful with remembering names, the re-introductions were helpful. Dutch, German, French, Costa Rican, Greek, American, Chinese…people in the program are from all over the place. Pretty diverse academic backgrounds as well. But the things that stand out to me the most: I’m the only black person and (I’m pretty sure) the only one in her 30s. I need to get over my issues, I know. But they’re being nice to the old black woman. And I find them to be quite charming. That also goes for the professors who seem to be quirky and intense smartasses. One an anthropologist and the other a sociologist, they each described research interests and general backgrounds that made me want to grab a beer with them. Sitting among colleagues and beginning to learn from some pretty dope academics on subjects that directly relate to my life plans – in spite of the awkward seating and terrible lighting, I would still say it felt pretty gezellig.