I am writing this blog whilst eating some chocolate that has just made its way to me over the channel, getting sucked into the black hole of the Dutch postal system for a while on its way.
It’s quite tasty, even if it does seem to have melted and reformed itself some number of times in the two weeks that it has taken to get here. Post here doesn’t seem to follow any rules of rhyme or reason…one letter might take weeks, and another might be there the next day. It’s mildly irritating, and it does make me somewhat more appreciative of the good ole Royal Mail, but at the same time, each letter received feels like a real victory to be celebrated.
Life for the first few weeks in a new country, even one as accessible and English-friendly as the Netherlands, is full of small challenges in even the most mundane of situations. Take a trip to the library earlier this week, for example. There was I, striding in with purpose, determined to finally make an impact on some of the work that has piled up over these first weeks (where making friends and exploring the city has seemed far more appealing than cracking open dusty law tomes). Armed with my student card, I started making my way up the stairs, only to be halted by a member of staff yelling something at me in Dutch. Vaguely bewildered, I backed away a safe distance to try and figure out the source of his alarm. That was when I noticed that all of the students climbing the stairs seemed to be carried shopping baskets.
Hmm, I thought, that’s strange, to say the least. For a moment, I thought that it might be some new Dutch fashion, but then my brain slowly pieced together the presence of the shopping baskets, and the fact one of the words I had been getting yelled at me had been ‘tas’ (bag).
Naturally, it was only at that point that I noticed the large sign proclaiming, in plain English ‘No bags or coats allowed in the library’. That’s the rule, of course, no matter how obviously conveyed necessary information is, you will never notice it until after you’ve made a complete idiot of yourself. Anyway, this embarrassment was quickly replaced by wonder, because the cloakroom in Groningen University Library has been stolen from at least fifteen years in the future. Hundreds of lockers cloak the walls, all linked up to an electronic system. When you wish to use one of the lockers, you go to a wee keypad and it tells you which is the nearest free locker. You then transfer your belongings to one of the snazzy green shopping baskets that I’d so admired earlier, before placing bag and jacket in your given locker. You then return to the keypad and it lets you choose a password for your locker, before locking your belongings up nice and safe for when you return. Far more impressive than a key and a fifty pence coin, I can tell you. When I walked back out into the main entrance way I half expected the security guard that had told me off before to have turned into Robocop.
Thankfully, he hadn’t, and I finally made my way up the stairs, found the necessary law book and settled down to learn. For all of five minutes, before I received a text from a friend and joined them for a coffee, but still, in the words of Tesco, every little helps!