Geplaatst in Personal

“Where there’s blame, there’s a claim.” 

Until about 15 years ago, many people would sue over futility’s. The defendant would file an insurance claim and the insurance company would give a small compensation to the plaintiff. This way the plaintiff would go away and the defendant wouldn’t have to take the time and trouble to deal with the trouble of the judicial system. On account more and more people would scam the system with the consequences that insurance rates sky-rocked and people no longer could afford to just “roll over and pay”. Since then people decided to protect themselves by documenting all applicable policies and terms. The best way of preventing a lawsuit is to put to ink all applicable policies and terms. A well-drafted regulation that records critical terms of an agreement or event can prevent a misunderstanding from devolving into a lawsuit.  

Now that I am better informed on this subject it’s easier to understand their ‘You better C.Y.A.*’ mentality. The question is if I ever become accustomed to all the applicable policies and terms and the many restrictions and regulations which comes with that. 

Americans might be used to signs like the one at the laundromat: ‘We are not responsible for: bleeding, fading, shrinking, or damage due to weak and tender fabrics’, but I am not. Back home a sign like this would give a whole different impression. It implies that they are the worst nightmare to your laundry. Or what about the instructions manuals, the playground rules or all the forms you have to fill out and sign so you can’t sue them. When I had my eyelashes done in Chicago they would not help me unless I signed the 24 hour cancellation policy even though I’ll never come back! 

Over the years I spend a lot of time in the USA. For a long time I was convinced that moving to New York would fulfill a lifelong dream. Today the straw broke the camelback. 

I was offered a free pass to the most fancy gym I’ve ever seen; Chelsea Pier Gym. A few days before I dropped by to get some information. After I got the information I asked if I could use the restroom. The guy at the front desk assured me that it was against their policy, but when I would fill out a form and hand over my ID for a photocopy, by the grace of God, I could use their restroom. ‘Please don’t break anything’ he commented. 
The boxing class start at 7:00 pm sharp. In pairs we have to do some boxing drills. Immediately I am warned to ‘slow down’ and I am matched to an other partner who is more skilled. Even though my sparring buddy is fine I get an other warning. I can’t give any diagonal punches because there’s a chance that I will hit my opponent by accident on the nose. My buddy tells me that they are so afraid someone gets injured and will sue Chelsea Pier Gym. Fortunately after 30 min I can unload myself with some free style boxing on the bag. This time I am not warned by the trainer but by one of the participants. ‘They don’t like people to kick the bag, you might get a warning’. 

I’ve probably seen more of the United States than the average American. There is something about it, especially New York. Since I doubt that I ever get use to all the restrictions and regulations I will not settle here permanently, but I will come back any time soon. 

Catch you on the flip side New York… -by Bregje 

*Cover Your Ass

   

Geplaatst in Personal

Ancestry test 

I never questioned my heritage. Both of my parents are Dutch and as I recall so are my grandparents and great grandparents. 

Remarkably knowing your heritage was important to a great deal of my high school friends back home. It was a hot topic to many. The fact that a lot of them were kids of interracial-couples makes it easier to understand. Some even felt pity for me being ‘all Dutch’. 

As an international exchange student in Winfield, Kansas I was frequently called a ‘F**king foreigner’. By asking their last name ‘Valdois, Van Dyke or Vanderbilt’ I could easily invalidate their remark. Over the last couple of years I noticed that knowing who your ancestors are and uncover your ethic mix is a big deal all over the US. No wonder since there is no real American. There might be still a debate about when the first Americans actually arrived and where they came from, but there’s no denial that America is a melting pot of different ethnicity. After German, Irish is the most common ancestry of Americans. 

According to recent study, nearly 8 million people worldwide, but mostly in the United States, have tested their DNA through kits. Fueled by this hype I’ll bet this trend is likely to increase. I fell for it too and ordered the test online. 

Doing a bit of research I found out that it’s not possible to tell French from German. The reason is that the people in this region moved around a lot and mixed with each other and with those from neighbouring regions. There is a strong possibility that I am 99% West European. It takes about a month or two to get my saliva analyzed. Even though I have a rough idea what the result will be I am a bit anxious. You never know. There’s alway a chance to inadvertently learn about secretly kept family trauma. 

So mom and dad if you have a confession to make, you should do it now. -your daughter Bregje

Geplaatst in Personal

Foreign language 

According to some of my native speaking American friends my written skills has improved since I started my blog last year. I can not judge myself on my written skills, but I do notice that my verbal skills have improved over the last three years. Especially my vocabulary has enlarged. For me the active forms of a language, speaking and writing, are easier than the more passive forms, listening and reading. When it comes to writing I have to admit that I use the spellings control on my smartphone and if I have do not have a clue on how to spell a word I use my dictaphone. To ensure that I will not get a RSI thumb, by writing all my blogs on my phone with only my thumb, I sometimes use my dictaphone as well. The problem with that is my pronunciation. There are many words that sound equal to me or I do hear the difference in pronunciation but can’t pronounce it the right way myself. For example ‘Dough’ and ‘dog’ or ‘goat’ and ‘coat’.  There’s only a slight difference in the way it should be pronounced. Like most people I find it harder to grasps and make sense on what I hear than to speak. As in reading English or even Dutch, reading has never been my strongest suit. Despite the fact that my English has improved a lot over time my English vocabulary is by far smaller than my Dutch vocabulary, what really annoys me from time to time.

I just can’t identify with people who do not have the urge to speak the national language. Like the other day I spoke to this Armenian guy who lives most of his life in NY, 27 years, but did not speak proper English. In my job as a teacher it really bothers me that I have to bend over backwards to make myself clear to third generation immigrants because they speak poor Dutch. To me integration is adjusting to the national culture while maintaining your own culture. A great part of integration is being able to communicate in the national language. If it would be up to me you should not be given legal residency or citizenship without speaking the language of the country. – by Bregje

Geplaatst in Personal

Don’t sweat the small stuff 

If there would be a lesson in life, this trip really forces me to face the fact that life is too precious to take the good things in life for granted. 

Nearly everyone dwells in the past at some point. That’s okay, but some people do it more often and are more likely to get stuck in their own sorrow. What you think comes about. Over time your thoughts become a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

It took me a long time to realize that it is only a mindset to become master over your own thoughts. Of course you have to cull out your gutter at one point but clinging to outdated issues only have a negative effect on you. I met this friendly guy in Chicago. To a certain extent we had a lot in common. The biggest difference is that he still dwells in his past and I moved on. 

Everyone has to deal with his own difficulties in life. For me being childless-not-by-choice will always leave a scar, but on the other hand having children will probably be an even heavier burden at times. 

My return to Kansas has made me realize even more how vulnerable we are and the importance of appreciating life.  
Winfield, the town I use to live 30 years ago lost all its liveliness. I think it disappeared after the non surviving companies closed their doors. I was shocked by the poor state of maintenance and the many abandon places. I was told that in Arkansas, a neighboring town, the degradation is even worse. This might be part of the reason of the high rate of alcohol and meth addictions. As we speak one of my former classmates is in jail, probably for possession of drugs.  

But even more so I was shocked by the amount of friends who are terminally sick, fighting their illness or overcame their illness. I wish every cloud has a silver lining. Bless them all. 

The other day I had this really open conversation with one of my host ‘sisters’ who fought cancer. I was touched by the way she spoke about how she coped and overcame her illness. She took me to a boxing class. Believe me, she is super fit. You go girl! 

I guess the best spirit is to count your blessings. There is no use crying over spilled milk. Move on and as my sister quoted ‘do not sweat the small stuff’. -Bregje 

Geplaatst in Personal

The ‘authentic’ experience

A lot of people tend to look for an authentic trip. I have to admit, I am one of those. I write off entire countries or cities for being “too touristy”.
Nowadays with the greatly increased tourism it’s getting harder and harder to find areas that are still authentic. Over the years I’ve been to several places that were still pretty unknown when I visited. Unfortunately mass tourism destroys all the authenticity. Like Machu Picchu in Peru. I just heard that they take turns to visit the ruins so it will not be over-crowded. How about the long-necks in Burma. Some women have decided to abandon it, choosing a more modern style. Some continue to wear the rings, not because of any dedication to the tradition, but for pragmatic, commercial reasons instead. 

My ultimate authentic experience would mean going to places where I would be the only foreigner, I wouldn’t be seen dead amongst loads of annoying tourist who are taking over the entire place by being loud and obnoxious. I rather think of myself as a foreigner than as a tourist. I get a kick out of it when people ask me for directions, of course this makes it a lot harder when I am the only ‘white’ around. 

My favourite holiday memories are the times I’ve done a bit of exploring on my own. There’s so much joy in hiring a bike, catching the local bus or just wondering around in out-of-the-way towns and villages where day to day life still goes on as normal. I’m glad I had this opportunity, but it also made me realized that my traveling to rural areas harmed the authenticity of these places. It made me decide to quit backpacking to these rural areas. 

Two years ago I went on my first home swap. These swaps and also staying with friends give me the opportunity to still experience a bit of the day to day life. This year I returned to Kansas after 30 years. It’s like time stood still. Just like back in ’87 I did not expect to find any cowboys in Kansas. Gracefully the cowboy culture is still alive and kick’n. I’ve been privileged to enjoy a fabulous stage show by the Prairie Rose Rangers, a true classic country band and to witness a rodeo at the Winfield Cowley County fair. 

I feel incredibly fortunate to have a second chance to participate in this authentic everyday life of Kansas. -By Bregje 

Geplaatst in Personal

Dragging Main

Growing up as a teen in the 80’s in Winfield, Kansas was a huge difference compared to being a teenager in Holland. The biggest contradiction was going out on Friday’s. Back in the late ’80’s Dutch teens were allowed to go to a bars and drink, but weren’t allowed to drive till they turned 18. While kids from Kansas could drive from the early age of fourteen but had the restrictions on alcohol till the age of 21. Which meant that Dutch teens use to ride their bikes to a bar to hang out with peers while kids from Kansas would “drag Main” instead on their night out. 

“Dragging Main” was the primary activity on Fridays after the games. On a good night, there would be twenty other cars honking as you drove by. Some nights there were only a handful of cars.There were several solutions on even making a slow night to an adventure. 

Like trowing (beer)cans at innocent kids on their bikes, fooling other road users by pulling down the drivers-seat while steering from the middle seat, mooning at other cars or by far my favorite activity the Chinese fire drill. A Chinese fire drill is a prank in which either all the passengers or the driver excluded jump out of the car at an intersection, run around the vehicle and before the light changes to green gets back inside, but not necessarily in their original seats. If one of the passengers lags, the others may drive off without him or her. 

After an evening dragging main the wise kids went home and the ‘cool’ kids gathered together to drink at the Grove or some college kids house. 

In case you wonder to what group I belonged, the right answer would have been ‘the wise kids’. By Bregje 

Geplaatst in Personal

I’ve been proven wrong big time!!! 

To start with I’ve been communicating a lot with the lady I am having a home swap with. She is so incredibly nice. I think she one of the most hospitable people I’ve ever met. I have to admit that she’s original not from Chicago but for a small town in Kansas. 

The last couple of days I spend a lot of time in the outskirts of Chicago and I am glad to admit that there is a totally different vibe compared to downtown. Many great and cosy places to visit and most important of all,  people are really friendly and helpful. 

Like today I spend a great deal of time in Chitown greatest neighborhoods: Ukrainian village, Buck town and Wicker park. Thanks to their welcoming demeanour I had such a great time. Seen and done thing I would never had figured out on my own.  

I reckon nobody likes to be proven wrong. But when it comes to adjusting my meaning on the Chicagoan, I am happy to do. 

Who would want to miss out on seeing this ‘awesome’ fountain?! -by Bregje 

Geplaatst in Personal

Standoffish

For most of my friends it’s hard to believe but I used to be quite shy. When I had to buy a bread I rather went to the supermarket and grab one, than to ask for a bread at a bakery. I remember one day, instead of putting down my money on the counter and run off, I made contact with the cashier. A whole new world opened up to me. If I’ll be nice and open, people open up to me. 

Ever since I arrived in Chicago I felt the same kind of shyness as I did when I was younger. I’ve been here five days now and seriously I had only one conversation. It’s like everyone is so caught up in their own lives that they literally don’t even hear me call out to them. Eventually if I ask for help people are willing to help. Unfortunately I get the feeling it’s to fulfill one’s obligations rather than they like to be helpful. As soon I’ve been helped I am ignored.  On a few occasions I had a hotbed acting like she’s doing me a big favor just for doing her job. 

Believe me I tried. I attempted to make conversation to the woman on the bus stand, the cashier at the Target, the old man behind me in line and so on. Not to brag but making conversation is my second nature and if I can’t make small talk nobody can. 

It took me a week to realize why I felt this kind of shyness. Suddenly it occurred to me, it is not me, it’s the standoffish attitude off the Chicagoans toward me. 

Does it make them bad people, of course not. It my personal experience and I love to be proven wrong. -Bregje 

 

Geplaatst in New York

Connect the world.

To everybody’s big surprise I graduate High School in 1987! Thanks to my mom, she was a great support. After graduating my mom offered me to go to the US to improve my English. I did not think much of it, but agreed.  Up to today I’m so happy that I went. Of all places the exchange program dropped me in Kansas. At first I cried my eyes out. Why? Why Winfield, Kansas?! Why not Florida, California or a city like New York?

Looking back on my exchange year I feel advantaged. Advantaged in a way that I had the opportunity to experience the authentic Midwest living. Cowboys and cowgirls still exist in the late ’80. Except for the part that they redeemed their horses for pick up trucks.

A while ago I did this virtual tour on google earth all around Winfield, Kansas. Like time stood still, it hardly changed in the past decennia. Once a year there is this big blue grass festival. I would love to go there some day.

During my High School year ’88 I stayed with three different families. The first one kicked me out after about 6 weeks. Up to today I do not know the reason why I could not stay with my first family. I can only speculate. The following week I managed to find myself a new place to stay. I did not want to worry my mom, so I called her after I had everything arranged. Being a teen I choose a family with lots of freedom. A single mom and a daughter my age. The last month I moved to Wichita, where I stayed with a big Mexican family. A widow mom with 8 daughters and one son. I had a wonderful year even though it wasn’t alway easy being a seventeen year old far away from home in a different culture than my own.

It’s hard to realize now but back in the ’80 there was no internet. My classes I spent writing letters to friends and family. Once a month I had the opportunity to call home for only 5 minutes to reduce costs.

It impossible the imagine a life without internet now. In a way it makes my world a lot smaller being able to be in contact all the time, but it also makes it so much bigger. Sharing my blogs to all these known and unknown people all around the world. -Bregje-

Geplaatst in New York

‘Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.’ – Berthold Auerbach

The other day I met this really friendly guy, JJ, in the Washington square park. He overheard me talking to this couple next to me. He tells me he is going to Amsterdam in a few weeks. He shows me the apartment he is going to rent. Darn, they really under charged my guests in my apartment.

JJ is is a musician. He also has a 9 to 5 job to pay for most of his expenses. After a long and hard day at work he usually goes to the park to jam with other musicians to unwind.

When I cross the park a few days later I see JJ with a couple of guys jamming.The crowd is getting bigger and bigger. Lots of people are familiar with the lyrics and join in. The guys sure know how to entertain. What strikes me, they play just for fun, instead of making money. It’s almost midnight when they stop. JJ invites me for a drink at the Reggio’s café, a bar Bob Dylan use to hang out.

Making music has always kept JJ going. In good and bad times. It helps him to relax after day at work. He does not have to keep up an appearance like on his 9-5 job. He tells me a story about a timid boy who asked if he could sing too. The boy seemed to have a golden voice. One of the treasures of an open stage in the park.

After we met, I saw JJ preform twice with two different groups of musicians. Some are pretty good musicians. Like the guitar player who played at my request some blue grass. Lots of people in the park enjoy the free music.

The beauty of making music is that it does not matter what kind of job you have neither is it based on race, sex, salary, education, religion, ethnicity or disability.
Suddenly the homeless man is a band-member. Music bonds. -Bregje-