Sunday, December 19, 2010

A big move

I just moved back from the US to the Netherlands after more than seven
years. It's been quite an experience. There are a lot of subtle
changes in culture. For example: being reawakened to the fact that
although many Dutch people are very nice, some of them are quite
rude. While biking through the city, some random girls were shouting
'bitch' at me. Bikes themselves are quite another thing. I am very
happy I can bike everywhere again. Even when you go to IKEA, there is
a bike path that leads you right to the entrance. Because people do go
to IKEA on bikes! It took some getting used to the sheer volume of
other bikes--navigating the group dynamics that arise from that (e.g,,
needing to pass the slow bikers, people biking all over each other at
an intersection...)

Other things that struck me were garbage disposal policies, rules in
general. You actually have to walk 100 m or so to get to an
underground container where you can deposit your trash bag if you use
an electronic card to open it. And then there is paper and glass
recycling in another place. Quite complicated compared to simply
putting it outside your house in the US! And then the amount of little
rules, e.g., you're not allowed to have a water boiler in your office
(but there is no central water boiler either!), not allowed to hang
things on the wall of your office except on the rails provided by the
university, etc etc. It also struck me there are quite a few smokers
in the Netherlands compared to the US (luckily they are not allowed in
buildings anymore, but that's actually quite recent). Speaking of the
office: to my astonishment my office at Zernike science park turns
pretty much into a ghost house at 5 pm. This is quite different from
my office at Princeton, which is buzzing with activity until about 7

And then the trains: what I love is that there are so many of them,
and some of them even have free wifi! What sucks though is that
because of the complexity of the railway system, things can go
dramatically wrong. Like this past weekend, after 25 cm of snow in
Amsterdam: almost no trains were running and I spent *a lot* of time
in a packed train, shuttling from Amersfoort to Amsterdam and back
(including an amazing experience of taking about one hour to get from
Amsterdam Muiderpoort to Amsterdam Centraal). Having said that, the
camaraderie between the travellers was wonderful.

I am sure I will discover many more funny little differences as I am
getting settled more in the Netherlands. It's quite an interesting experience!