Greetings from Ho-Land, Part Three

“FUCK YOU DUTCH PEOPLE WITH YOUR ELF LANGUAGE AND LEAN MUSCLE TONE AND GOOD GRAPHIC DESIGN AND BICYCLES AND FLOWERED CHINA!” That’s what was going through this reporter’s head as I sat amidst a sea of cruel and superior laughter at a recent Amsterdam screening of the documentary “Super-Size Me” Morgan Spurlock’s film about how fat Americans are and how bad McDonald’s is for you and how we, single-handedly, have ruined the world. However true that may be, I looked at the placid, even-featured, health-insured assholes around me and thought, “FUCK YOU, FUCK YOU, FUCK YOU, FUCK YOU.”

I had been in this situation once before, shortly after moving to Manhattan from Nebraska in 1998. I went to see the film “Hands on a Hard Body” in a theater full of New Yorkers. For those of you who don’t know, or don’t remember, “Hands on a Hard Body” is the documentary about a bunch of Texans of varying degrees of mental health who stand with their hands on a pick-up truck until they can’t stand it anymore. The one who stays the longest, deprived of sleep, meals, and normal companionship, wins the truck. I listened to the Manhattanites hoot at the unattractive hicks as they brokenly explained their reasoning for participating in what seemed like a kind of Outward Bound for obsessive compulsive lunatics. They spoke lovingly of the ve-hicle in question, of their masculine (or in the case of an incredibly tough air conditioner repairwoman, feminine) need for competition, no matter how inane, and the wistful pronouncement that “you can do things with a truck you can’t do from a regular car.” The New Yorkers were rolling in the aisles, tears falling down gaunt cheeks, their eyes behind their dark rimmed eyeglasses half-shut in ecstasy. I felt small and bitter and thought, indignantly, “Well, it’s true. You CAN do things with a truck you can’t do with a regular car.”

I realized, as Spurlock’s camera lingered over asses and upper arms that rivaled the size of the Netherlands, or in a few cases, the entirety of Benelux, that mocking the obese citizenry of these here (or, in this case, I guess, those there) United States is like making fun of your religion, your race, or your incontinent great-grandmother. You can do it, but nobody else can. “You’re not all so fucking thin!” I wanted to scream. “And you smoke, and some of you have B.O., and name the last great international writer that came out of the Netherlands. And no, Paul Verhoeven doesn’t count!” Even in my head, I avoided the old ‘you’d all be speaking German right now’ stand-by. That’s a crime punishable by immediate deportation, even if it’s just in your head, and I don’t have an apartment in New York anymore.

It’s week three. Definitely week three. I’ll explain.

Living in a foreign country, even for a short time, is rewarding, eye-opening, exciting and strange. You are privy to all sorts of bizarre and interesting things that many people will never see. Living in a foreign country is also, often, not fun. It is often lonely, boring, disheartening, and engenders a feeling of helplessness that has been absent since the day we were toilet trained. Part of me feels like a total asshole for even saying this, but I feel it must be said. Mostly I’m having a good time.

Morgan Spurlock speaks of a three-day hump. Three days without a cigarette, you’re past the worst of it, three days of eating nothing but Big Macs and you stop wanting to die. I realized something I had thought before—there’s a hump to living in a foreign country. A three week hump. I’m in week three. The one where you want to kill. In week three, all the novelty has worn off. The food stops being quaint and homely—just bad. You long for a snack that does not involve sausage. You think if you see one more person eat a slice of bread and butter with a knife and fork, you will stab them in the heart. You’re sick of having your Dutch corrected by facetious tall people who smile pedantically at how stupid you are. You want to scream, “I’m attempting to speak a language that is understood by fewer people than there are in Westchester. Take that bike pump and stick it up your ass.”

Other cultural differences begin to irk as well. Like there are no stores open, ever, when you need to buy things. The thought of a 24-hour Duane Reade makes you cry. Ride around the streets of Amsterdam at 2 am searching desperately for a place to buy tampons while blood drips all over your bicycle seat and you understand why wars are fought. Do it while stuck behind a night tour of thirty befuddled Korean tourists fanned over the bicycle path like (in the words of Oliver Reed in Ken Russell’s “The Devils”) “a living carpet of aborted bastards” and you understand why world wars are fought.

You realize that none of your friends at home are thinking about you. They are not going to e-mail you every day, as you do them. They are not going to figure out how to call you. You will get home, ecstatic to see them, and they will say “Oh? You were gone?” In week three, even your mother doesn’t write. In week three, you realize how elderly relatives in nursing homes feel.
Week three is a very bad week. I had two bicycle accidents, neither of which were my fault, but in both of which my blood was the only spilled. I had a couple of terrible rehearsals, my sister got jumped at her job, and my favorite earrings broke. I realized I can’t go to my very good friends’ wedding, which makes me extremely sad. The man at the small grocery store near my house began to comment on my breasts with alarming frequency. The return key on my computer stopped working.

The best thing about week three though, is that it ends. For me, things started to look up with a little poetic justice, considering the rough patch began with the ritualized mocking of the bodies of my countrymen on the altar of European superiority. I found a pair of jeans at the flea market. Great jeans. Really, really super cute jeans. I approached the guy to pay for them and he looked at me doubtfully. “These are really nice,” he said in his condescending English, “but they are a very, very small size.”

“I think they’ll fit.” I said.

“Well, if they don’t, you can bring them back next week,” he said in the gentle tone doctors use when they’re about to give you very bad news like “Grandpa’s probably not going to make it” or “It’s definitely Chlamydia.”

I took them home anyway, and in a state of frenzy, ripped off my clothes and tried them on.

They fit.
The slump is over.
Super size that!

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