Monthly Archives: November 2013

NO RESERVATIONS

One of the first things that I noticed upon moving to The Netherlands is that customer service was a little different from what I was used to. I can best explain by sharing what happens in an American restaurant.

When you sit down at a table, the waitress automatically brings you a tall glass of ice water. She greets you and sometimes will even introduce herself.  She will tell you about the specials of the day and then leave you with menus. Okay, you have placed your order and are now eating the meal from a large plate that accommodates the very large American portions. During the meal the same waitress comes back to check on you. She wants to know two things: are you enjoying your meal and do you need anything else? And without you even asking, she will fill your water glass. Some restaurants have free refills on soda, and if that is the case, she will take away your glass and bring you another one. Also, there are napkins at each table setting and the waitress will bring a pile of extras if needed. Once your meal is over, she will take away the plates and ask if you want tea or coffee and dessert. You will get free refills on both tea and coffee. When she sees that you are done, she will bring your bill to the table and thank you for coming. Most times you can pay the bill from the table. And now you can go home.

Now, we are in The Netherlands, and you might notice some changes. The wait staff are friendly, I have rarely met grumpy or rude waitresses or waiters. You will immediately be asked what you would like to drink and once the drinks are delivered, you get a menu. There are no glasses of water and there are some places will not give you a free glass of water. By the way, the Dutch are not too impressed with ice. If you ask for ice with your soda, then you get an ice cube, maybe two. But it is rare to automatically get any ice. You also notice that there are no napkins, if you ask for one you will get….one. Some places do have napkins with the silverware and it is always a nice surprise to find them. The meals come on more reasonably sized plates with much smaller portions. There are no free refills on any drinks, including tea and coffee. Let me prepare you, in case you visit, there are no free refills in The Netherlands.

The biggest shock for me is that you do not get the same waiter during the meal. You could literally have four waiters as they all share the tables. I think that is part of the problem with their customer service, that the wait staff do not feel a bigger responsibility for their tables. Once you have your food, you will rarely see a waiter. They do not come back to check on you, and of course there are some exceptions, but it is rare. Also, they are not coming back to fill your water glass, so they have less reasons to return. Once you are done, you have to wave and wait for the bill. Once you get the bill, you go up to the front and pay. You do not do it at the table, unless you have cash.

I am writing this blog today because I recently went to a Chinese restaurant called the Jade Villa in Maarssen. We not only had a perfect and fabulous meal, but the service was so…American. They gave such excellent customer service I thought I was back in the USA. The experience stood out to me as it was so different  from what I have had for over two years. I cannot wait to go back just because of the way I was treated. This is what is all about. For Americans, I think great customer service is taken for granted. Here, the Dutch could use some lessons on improving their business. I think the best way to describe the major difference is that the Dutch are more reserved with the way they treat customers and Americans are looser and want to give you more. And that is what I felt that night at the Jade Villa, they could not do enough for you.

Now the other big difference is that the Dutch workers are mostly bilingual and most Americans are not. It is rare to go into a café or restaurant and have a waiter not know English. Not only do they know English but they are very welcoming to non-Dutch customers. I have amused many wait staff with my attempt at Dutch and have gotten lots of encouragement from them. Each time I order something in Dutch, they answer me back in English. For some reason, they know I am not Dutch. Maybe I should start wearing wooden shoes….

To my American friends, I wish you all a fabulous Thanksgiving. Whether you are going out or staying in, I hope it is filled with great food and that you show lots of gratitude to those who made and served the meal!

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JFK

November 22, 1963

I was seven years old. We were living in England, but I was an American. Because we had left the United States when I was very young, I did not have too much knowledge about America. So on this day, I was alone in the kitchen and the television was on. My mother was taking a bath. All I remember about this historic moment was that the news interrupted whatever show was on and I knew that I had to tell my mother. I went into the bathroom and said that someone in America had been hurt and that it was bad news. My mother wrapped herself in a towel and came into the kitchen. I looked up at her and saw how upset and shocked she was and I knew that this was a very bad thing.

It is the one thing that is asked of Americans (of a certain age): where were you when Kennedy was shot? Sadly, there have been many more memorable days to ask about, including 9/11.

President Kennedy’s death was obviously international news, but I must admit being surprised at how many memorials there are for him throughout the world. In Europe there are just too many to mention. In the Netherlands, there are streets, town squares, bridges and schools that bear his name.

In the summer of 1937, a twenty year old Jack Kennedy was on a Grand Tour of Europe and he visited The Hague. Here he is with his dog Dunker. He had to give the dog away to a Dutch family as his traveling companion was allergic.

JFK 1937 The Hague

Because I lived in Massachusetts, I was lucky enough to meet people that had known Jack Kennedy. They had great stories of him as a campaigner when he was just starting his political career. This skinny young man going door to door to introduce himself to the voters. Everyone who personally knew him said the same thing: that he was so charismatic, so charming, smart and very witty. They remembered him in glowing terms and it seemed like everyone felt so fortunate to have known him, even if it was for a brief time.

To all my friends in America, as you face this 50th anniversary of the assassination, I want you to know that there are people all over the world who are marking this day as well.

I asked a Dutch man what he remembered about that day and he said “it was like the world just stopped. We were all in such shock and just could not believe it happened.” Feelings shared by so many.

JANE’S BOEKENTIPS

WE ARE WATER by WALLY LAMB

If I hear that Wally Lamb has a new book out, I know I will read it. I don’t even have to know the plot, if he has written a novel, I know I must read it. Wally Lamb is a great storyteller and I have always enjoyed his novels: SHE’S COME UNDONE, I KNOW THIS MUCH IS TRUE and THE HOUR I FIRST BELIEVED. He has also written a short novel that is full of charm and very different from his other works: WISHIN’ AND HOPIN’: A CHRISTMAS STORY.
WE ARE WATER is the story of one family and the many years that secrets are held onto. After 27 years of marriage, Annie and Orion divorce. This has a great impact on their three children and the surprise gets bigger when they find out that their mother is going to marry a woman. In this novel, we hear from all the members of this family, as they each tell their story and the novel moves from the past to the current day.
The strength of Lamb’s writing has always been his creation of characters. They are believable and feel very real. The only weakness I found in this novel, was that it could have been a little shorter, maybe a little more editing. But his books are always long and that is not a surprise. Overall, it is a gripping and entertaining story and it kept my interest to the very last page.

I finally saw GRAVITY and can say that it certainly matched the hype. It has a great script, great cast and fabulous special effects. I don’t think there was one second where my mind drifted or was distracted. Very compelling.

JANE’S BOEKENTIPS

THE GOOD HOUSE by Ann Leary
Hildy Good has lived her whole life in this small town in the North Shore, near Boston. She is a successful realtor but she is feeling the pinch of the hurting economy. Hildy is a divorced woman with two grown daughters who recently staged an intervention for their mother. They think Hildy has a drinking problem, and Hildy disagrees. But to quiet her daughters, she goes to rehab and pretends that she has stopped drinking.
In this novel, we meet the townspeople who Hildy has known all her life. We also meet her new friends, her wealthy clients who ask quite a lot of her. But ultimately this is such fabulous story about one woman who is in complete denial about most things, including herself. Hildy is not your typical fictional heroine and that is what makes this book so refreshing.
This book is a fun read and yet it has many surprises and the bottom line: it has such wonderful writing.
HEADING OUT TO WONDERFUL by Robert Goolrick
Goolrick’s first novel, THE RELIABLE WIFE, was quite a sensation and a hit with readers. I have eagerly been waiting for his next novel, and HEADING OUT TO WONDERFUL is simply wonderful.
Charlie Beale arrives in a sleepy town in Virginia and he has only two suitcases, one is full of butcher knives and clothes and the other is full of cash. It is 1948 and he is a man of few words and many mysteries. He gets a job as a butcher and becomes friends with the butcher, his teacher wife and their young son. The story slowly builds for us this small town life and the reader wonders about Charlie and what will he reveal about himself. By the end of the book, we don’t have all the answers.
But we meet some fascinating characters, including the young woman who will change Charlie’s life. As you read this novel, you know that things are not going to turn out well. You know that this is not a happy little love story, but you are invested in all the relationships that Charlie has. It is a story about redemption, betrayal and love. And Charlie Beale. Robert Goolrick had me on the first page.
FORGIVE ME, LEONARD PEACOCK by Matthew Quick
I have often talked about the power of words and what a talented author can do with a story. This is a powerful young adult novel for teens and adults. Do not dismiss this book because it is marketed to teenagers
Leonard wakes up knowing two things: today is his birthday and that he will be dead by the end of the day. He plans to shoot someone and then himself. We go through his day and feel and see his life.
I am not going to say anymore just that this is superbly written and is a constant page turner from beginning to end. Leonard is someone worth getting to know.

I COULD GO ON SINGING

This was a historic week for me as I went to my first Dutch concert. Since I moved here, I have been a fan of singer Caro Emerald. Her music is hard to describe, as it is a mix of jazz, hip hop, Latin, and lots of songs from the ‘40’s and ‘50’s seem to have inspired her sound. She is one of the most successful Dutch pop singers in this country and in England. She is from Amsterdam and naturally speaks Dutch, but she sings in English. All of the songs on her two CDs are in English and there is no trace of an accent. She is extremely popular here, and she has now widened her fan base. This year she did a sold out European tour and it was hugely successful. We bought our concert tickets about 6 months ago, and could not believe that we were going to see her live. The other good news is that she was performing just minutes from our neighborhood. Utrecht is building a new music center and a local venue is being used while construction is going on. The theatre we went to was wonderful, it had 1000 seats and the  front of the stage has space for another 1000 people to stand. You can imagine that I was very determined to get to the sitting area.

All I can tell you is that the concert was beyond brilliant. Caro Emerald’s voice was perfect and her 8 piece band was fantastic. It was a glorious night in celebration of music. I am not going to give a music or concert review, but I will share some observations as an American at my first concert in this country.

First of all, I had heard that the Dutch are very quiet in concerts. That they are pretty reserved and don’t scream and shout too much. At the start of the show, which started right on time (this is such a Dutch thing and she was true to her heritage), Caro came out on stage and I thought the sold out crowd would go crazy. They were polite and friendly, but they did not seem that excited. Caro sang all of her familiar songs and each song has a distinctive beat. It took the crowd awhile to get into the music, or maybe they just needed to loosen up. I looked to see if the people in the pit were dancing or moving around, and they hardly were. But after a few songs I noticed heads swaying and nodding and that people in front of us were moving just a little. They loudly applauded after each song, and now they were making more noises. Was it the beer or wine that relaxed them or did they finally realize it was okay to show some emotion and have fun?

Second, this was a crowd of two thousand people and we can safely assume that most of them were Dutch. I am sure I was not the only English speaking person or non-Dutch person there. But once the audience got into the concert, I heard them singing along to the songs, as I was. Remember that all the songs were in English. Imagine that you were an American and how would you do at a concert in a foreign land where you had to sing along? It gave me goose bumps to hear all of us singing the songs together. During the few times that Caro spoke to us, she spoke Dutch, and that was weird for me as I have only heard her use English words.

When the concert was getting toward the end, she was doing her bigger hits and she encouraged the audience to stand up. The song I had been waiting for (A Night Like This) my personal favorite, was starting and the crowd went crazy. We all stood and sang the whole song while clapping and moving to the beat. And from then on, no one sat down again. For all the other songs, everyone stood and danced and swayed, and sang. I thought the roof was going to blow. The Dutch can certainly party, but it takes them awhile to warm up.

Finally, this is just an American observation. Caro is pregnant and if you did not know this, you would know once you saw her. She never mentioned this during the concert. This was the very last night of her concert tour, as she had to end it early because of the pregnancy. I know that if she was an American singer, she would not only mention the pregnancy, she would have sung a song to her unborn child. There was no way this was NOT going to be mentioned if this concert was in America, a big deal would have been made of it. But this is about the Dutch culture and this was an educational moment for me. Here is this amazing woman who is so beautiful and so very talented. She stands on the stage for two hours and fifteen minutes and gives a fabulous performance. She is the center of whole night, she is why two thousand people came on a rainy night. And yet, with all of this deserved attention, this Dutch woman did not speak about her first pregnancy because…it is not that big a deal. The Dutch don’t expect parades and applause for things like this, the Dutch get pregnant all the time, and why should she make an announcement about hers? She is not hiding her pregnancy, it is just the way it is. The Dutch are not good self-promoters and they do not like people who brag, so this is consistent from what I know. But it still surprised me as it was a reminder that I was not in USA.

But the bottom line is that I was completely entertained, this was one of the best concerts I have ever been to. And the crowd was so friendly and diverse. The age range was 8 years to 75 years (I am guessing on that). It was an gezellige evening.

This is the video that introduced me to Caro and I was hooked. Enjoy!

http://youtu.be/74LXx0wSqMI

Recommended reading: The Light of Amsterdam by David Park. A really good novel about people coming from Ireland to Amsterdam for a long weekend. You get a great sense of the city, but ultimately a good story about a variety of characters.