Archive for February, 2006

painful grocery shopping

February 23rd, 2006

Well, not really painful. It seems logical to use that modifier because I'm prone to calling anything grossly inefficient to be painful, but I don't actually suffer pain when shopping. It might as well be painful, I would be done quicker.

The problem is that when I walk into a supermarket, I have no idea what I need to get. I don't plan what to buy in advance, I don't walk around thinking about groceries, I just do damage control. Ok, there's no food, it's 20:45 and I can still make it before they close, off I go. Then I get there and I just wander around. Often the produce section is right near the entrance so I pick up some produce, that's fairly easy. Fruit is easy, cause there's no long term concern there, I just get what I want right now. Vegetables are trickier cause some of them involve dinner and so I have to plan ahead. "If I get some onions now, I could get meatloaf, cook that up in a pan with some pasta souce and boil the pasta." I'm so lazy that when I do come up with a scheme like that, I eat the same dinner for days, just keep buying the same ingredients.

But then there's the question of planning what to buy in what amount. "I could get some bread since I'm here anyway, I don't remember how much I got." You want enough, but not too much. Bread gets old within days, as do most things, so it's a careful balance act between what seems to be a valid meal and what's left in the fridge. Add shopping to that and chaos is achieved. Ok, here's an idea, why don't I survey the kitchen, figure out what I need, then make a list and just buy what's on the list. Well that's no good either, cause I'm no good at coming up with what I need, the only thing I can do reliably is replace what's about to run out. There's too much overhead in planning grocery shopping anyway, often I want to do it on the way back home, then I would have to make a list in the morning and carry it with me, that's no good. Then I get to the supermarket and I forget what I meant to replace. I wander around looking at foods, without knowing what I can use them for. The meat section is tricky, but fish is even worse. What can I do with fish? Any fish product I get seems like a big risk.

"Maybe I'll just do the meatloaf scheme again, but I could use a pasta sauce. Let's see, they have 20 of them and I can't find one that really sounds good. Ok, I'll get the small container so it's less of a waste if it turns out it stinks." And that's when I do actually make a decision to buy, most of the time I'll just look and walk away. Then maybe I'll chew on it and come back.

After much ado, I'm done and I have about 5 carefully selected items in my basket. "Bonuscard?" "Here you go." Apparently, I'm earning air miles on this thing, might as well knock up another 4cm of free air travel today. "Receipt?" "No thanks."

At last, mission accomplished.

member of state

February 22nd, 2006

So they told us at the university that it was very important for all us international students to go to City Hall and register as citizens of Utrecht. I had been back and forth on this, because the first I heard of the issue, it was most unclear to me. I recall that when I applied to come here, there was an issue of a student visa. Which, of course, I don't need. So for those who do, the non-EU people, there is a whole procedure there. I didn't have to do all that. They said that non-EU's have to apply for a residence permit in this country. EU folks can also apply if they want to. I expressly asked about this and was told that as an EU citizen, I do not have to apply. Three months later I get here and on the introduction day they say to us all "master students must apply for a residence permit, this is very important :blah:". So I copy all the required papers and hand them over at Student Services. This morning at 9 we all had to go to City Hall to finalize the whole thing. At 8.55 there's no more than 20 people outside the building, okay maybe this won't take long. Minutes later they open and we march in. Everyone has their passport ready. Figures one of the first people in line gets into a discussion with the city official. "It says here you were born in Czechoslovakia." "Yes." "But there is no such country." "I know." "Well then we have a problem, because the city of Utrecht keeps track of where people were born." "So what do you want me to do about it?" *more stupid chit chat* "You were born in 1981, Czechoslovakia was part of the Soviet Union." This Russian guy standing in line with me says "I didn't know that". None of us did. "It's a good thing I came down here this morning, otherwise I never would have known." He smiled. I was milking it, I know. Finally the guy is done with the Czech/Slovak and we move on. Oh no, another Czechoslovakian. Eventually it's my turn. They misspelled my name. *sigh* Ok, all done. "I don't need to pay the €30?" "What are you talking about?" "I thought I had to pay that to apply for a residence permit..(?)" The officials talk among themselves, the ladies from the university student services join in. "Well if you want to apply, you can't do that here." "So how do I do that?" They have another conference. One of them comes up to me "you're Norwegian, you don't have to apply." "But we were told at the introduction that we had to." "Who told you that?" "Someone at the university, they said it to all of us." Look missy, I didn't photograph and finger print the perpetrator. Most likely it was your colleague standing right over there. "Well you don't have to, you're an EU citizen." You're telling me, I was surprised any of this bs was required in the first place.

So I walk out of there as a citizen, I saved €30 and I don't have to wait 4 months for some bs residence permit, all in all a good morning.

the city of Utrecht

February 20th, 2006

The city of Utrecht. Do you see anything wrong with that sentence? No? Let me give you a hint, it's like an IQ test, you have to find out which word it is that doesn't match with the other three. City. The *city* of Utrecht. What do you mean city, where is the city? Being the 4th biggest (could you run that through wikipedia for me?) *city* in Holland, one would almost expect to find a city here. Except there is none, what you find is basically a huge suburb. If you pick some random person from outside the country, you tell them Utrecht is one of the bigger cities and you walk them around Utrecht I'm pretty sure they will say "this is nice, where is the centre?" "we're right in the middle of it" "what, _this_??" Uhm, yeah.. kind of.. I guess. Hmmm. So why do they call it a city? Well, by the number of citizens it qualifies for city status I guess, other than that there isn't much to suggest that there is a city somewhere nearby. And I live right downtown.

So what is it? Suburbia.. Densely populated housing areas, lots of narrow streets, residential buildings with shops on the ground floor, very little traffic, few cars, tons of bikes, quiet, cozy, peaceful. Flat as the ocean, buses, no subway, no busy streets, no big intersections, no cars exceeding 40 km/h. Canals, every few blocks there is one, tiny bridges crossing them, tiny roads on either side, with parked cars and bicycles in abound. In all of the "city" I've seen so far, two, I repeat two, streets with more than one lane. I've only seen one gas station so far.

But it's more than that, stores open at 1pm on Mondays (no, that's not a typo), close at 6pm on Fridays. Close at 6pm all weekdays, in fact. After 6, the city is almost completely shut down, what's left is restaurants, clubs, bars and the odd shop. Banks open at 9am.. Stores in the mall open at 10 (!) It's all very pedestrian, noone is in a hurry, noone is walking fast, bikers obey the tiny traffic lights in the bike lanes when crossing a street where no car has driven for 2 days. The only thing city-like is the aptly named Centraalstation and the mall, which connects to it.

And this is the heart of Europe afterall, although it feels like a quiet holiday town for people relishing escape from hectic city life. To think I expected to come from Trondheim, which isn't quite a city (but comes closer to the mark), where the _city centre_ is tiny (as opposed to non-existent), to Utrecht, where I expected a medium sized city with busy city life, seems like a huge misunderstanding. That's not to say Utrecht isn't nice, it just isn't a city, that's all.

plant racism

February 19th, 2006

I know that the Dutch pride themselves on being tolerant and accepting people, but I feel that I must unburden myself and report a case of overt racism perpetrated in this otherwise fine town of Utrecht. Ever since I got here I've been looking to get a plant for my apartment. Afterall, the Dutch are famous for their plants, n'est ce pas? Right, so the national pride, the tulip, is omnipresent in this part of the world. To be fair, there aren't a lot of florists here, but it is very evident that certain plants are not considered 'good enough' for this town, perhaps they don't 'fit in' with the others, perhaps they don't 'get along' with their peers very well. But whatever the reason, and I suspect foul play :lazy:, there is not a sign of a cactus around here. :(


February 15th, 2006

There's nothing quite like feeling alone in a crowd of people as you watch them not feel alone around you.