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The Netherlands and the failure of the Stereotype

by Ben

all seasons in one day 14 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

Windmill just outside of Baambrugge

Windmill just outside of Baambrugge

We will be staying for the next 11 days in the village of Baambrugge. It is a neat, compact and picturesque village of about a thousand people surrounded by a network of canals. It is about 18 kilometers south of Amsterdam and a little further west of Utretch. Since we have only been in the Netherlands for a day, I can’t say with any authority that Baambrugge is a quintessential Dutch village, but the white drawbridge over the canal, the church in the centre of town with a bell that rings the hours, the brick streets and brick houses with dark green shuttered windows and doors and tile or thatched roofs, and the abundance of cyclists all seem to put it in the running. The cows and sheep in the surrounding fields and the windmill just outside the village would seem to be the bow on top of the package that says, at the very least, this is the stereotype we have for the typical Dutch village.

The barn shaped three bedroom house we are renting is right on a canal and we can see the comings and goings over the village drawbridge from our living room. From the outside, our house looks to be cut from the same cloth as the rest of the village. From the pictures we had seen online, we already knew the inside of the house was going to be more of an Ikea meets Pier 1 Imports and 30 shades of white. When we entered, we still weren’t prepared for the level of enthusiasm the owners would have for candles, lamps and African wood carvings featuring prominent female busts. None of that really mattered except that it distracted us from the more serious shortcomings. As we were being shown around we learned in passing that the house is the principle residence of a doctor,her husband and their three children who are all under the age of five. This family may be auditioning for a place on the TV show called Hoarders having stuffed every available nook and cranny with belongings. Why they even thought of renting out a fully occupied home that is overflowing with all manner of infant and toddler apparati is beyond us. There isn’t even room for us to store our toothbrushes. Even the vast amount of stuff (aka junk) would not have been as hard to take if the adult owners weren’t cleaning disabled. The aforementioned decore does not mix well with dirty young kids running amock. The whole place has shattered my long held conception that every native Dutch person is born with a compulsive cleaning gene.

Our House in Baambrugge

Our House in Baambrugge

Unfortunately for us, these details were not evident in the online pictures. The true extent of the dirt and grime and overstuffed closets and cupboards did not come fully to light until after our doctor hostess had flown the coop. The oven will likely catch fire if we try to use it due to the grease inside and the fridge appears to be an experiment on how long you can go without cleaning such a device before the contents inside can open the door on their own. Yes, the fridge was still two thirds full of their old food. As I already stated, we were totally mystified why our medical doctor hostess had packed her entire family off to her in-laws at least six times this year to rent it to travellers. We have rented over 20 such places from the Airbnb website and have never come across such a poor interpretation of the basic requirements for house letting to travellers. We did have a nightmare in Barcelona and our bizarre digs in Kinvara, but even these places were largely empty of personal contents and rotting food in the expectation that guests would actually like to use the place.

One big risk with Airbnb rentals is the very hands-off dispute resolution mechanism it offers. Since we can’t find other self-catering accommodation in this area and neither can we afford forfeiting our 12 days of rent we need to stay. Fortunately, we have been able to make the place liveable for the moment and have negotiated a 25 percent rent reduction. Our hostess also offered to come in on Saturday to clean and empty some dressers for our use and hopefully fix the slow draining shower (we don’t expect she will get the toilet on the main floor working).

It all makes for a good story. I definitely would not recommend Airbnb to everyone. If you are travelling for a long period of time and are not staying in one place for overly long periods of time it is great way to save money and have more spacious and homey accommodation. If you are on a short vacation the risk that one bad rental experience could blow the doors off your whole vacation is perhaps a bit too high. You really need to be honest with your own abilities to roll with such developments. I will leave it up to our readers to decide for themselves whether or not I am deluding myself as to my ability to roll with the punches. Abby and Hannah are travel hardened in this respect and can settle in quickly no matter the circumstances. The fact that this happened to us in a picture postcard village in the Netherlands was a complete surprise to me. I had let my guard down partially because of the stereotypical assumptions I made about Dutch people in general.

Area around Baambrugge

Area around Baambrugge

I would like to think it was the distraction of the house, but my kids and wife think it is just old age, that caused to me for forget to take my wallet out of my pants before I put them in the washing machine this morning. I don’t advise anyone to engage in money laundering either figuratively or literally. But if you are curious, Euros wash quite nicely (although the next day the clerk at the grocery store did give me the look over when I bought groceries with some still slightly damp bills) as do credit cards and driver’s licenses, but a leather wallet?; not so much. I didn't know you could wash the grain right off the leather. My wallet looks like something one of the 1500 year old bog men we saw in a museum in Britain would have been have been carrying when the archaeologists dug them out of the swamp.

The weather today has been a mix of cloud, rain and sun, so I tried to time my neighbourhood walks between downpours. Fortunately, the sun came out for longer appearance late in the afternoon allowing me an opportunity to sit and drink coffee on a bench in front of our house overlooking the canal. It was great to watch all the coming and goings. I had two kids from the neighbourhood stop by to show off the young duck they had caught on the edge of the canal. They quickly lost interest in me when I used up all nearly all my Dutch in two sentences. I met the mailman who gave me a strange look for speaking English when I was clearly was a Frenchman. The bench was right next to my car which has unusual bright red French license plates. I was also asked directions by a lost cyclist. It was a short and unhelpful interchange that left the cyclist shaking her head as I had insufficient Dutch and knowledge of the area to be of any assistance. By the time I left my bench to go inside, I recommitted myself to encouraging my kids and students back home to keep up their language studies and tell them about the opportunities and rewards that are missed when one is unilingual.

Posted by KZFamily 01:26 Archived in Netherlands Tagged netherlands holland baambrugge

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oh no... not the right introduction to the homeland of your parents Ben. I hope that soon things will look a little brighter... as you move around the small country, I can assure you english will abound... in the meantime just keep using the two dutch sentences you know as a starter... best of luck.

by Helen Koning

....sorry about your house challenges. It seems you were able to negotiate some gains in an obviously disappointing situation. I marvel at how well you have done with housing thus far! I hope the 12 days in the Netherlands will make up for it. Your trip to Belgium, France and reflections on Dover stirred up great memories.

by Fred Koning

Sorry to hear about your challenges as you begin your stay in The Netherlands. I hope this all did not cause too much distress - I did enjoy reading about it. Anyway, I hope you enjoy the rest of your time there.

by Harvey Roosma

Oh Ben where have your mother and I failed you. We never told you that all Dutch women have these refined cleaning genes. Your grandmother had a very big cleaning gene and I think your mother had two cleaning genes. And then there are some Dutch women that have no cleaning gene at all. Now you have the honor to meet one.

In all your misery your kids say that you are old because you laundered your money. Life is not fair. Look on the bright side, you negotiated the rent down 25 percent. That means a lot to a good Dutch man.

Ben try to make the best of it and I hope that all the commentators are very kind to you. I know the area where you are staying very well, I do not know the doctor she is unique.
I hope that Abby will at least write half the chapter of this story in the travel book you intend to publish. Ben things will get better. Your dad.

by G Koning

16:18 pst 05/25/2013 or the Dutch way of 25.05.2013

Your being mistaken for a Frenchman, God forbid and not even for you might be child of Dutch parents. Cud dear
Reminds me of being in London in my single days and a person thinking I was from Australia and here I was born in England.

Not to worry those will pass. A lot of my best friends overtime have been Dutch and when I first was in Amsterdam always found someone who spoke some English and were helpful. Some tales I will not tell though , the Internet will come to haunt me down the road.
Not all people are spotless in their houses, be kind to the good Doctor, she probably has many crosses to bear and cleaning is not one of them.
Why not surprise her and hire some local folks to clean her house for her, a good Christian deed and you will be remembered for a long time.
Cannot remember if Euros are part plastic, you are blessed, must have been the soap you used to not clean it fully.. I guess you need to buy a good Dutch wallet now.
Perhaps you have been spoiled over the years by Muriel keeping a clean house and expect the same when you travel.
As you say though , it is an adventure and ones persons junk is another's treasure's.
Cheers / Rob

by RobBar

Your ongoing candidness is appreciated my friend. Even the challenges bring a smile as I see you wrestle with the culture, circumstances and yourself. All of which, by the way, you are managing very well. You can rest assured, particularly now, each new day can be counted on to bring a new adventure, and the challenges of yesterday will fade, or be framed by the positive light of further reflection. You continue to live a dream and it is very appreciated that you and the women in your life are so willing to share it. Very cool indeed. Take the words as a hug my friend. Thanks for staying in touch! Gordon

by Gordon

The scenery looks like something off a chocolate box or the book Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates. What can you say but picturesque?

I hope the kids let the duck go...

by Jane1

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