The most surprising thing about the Netherlands for somebody from London is how calm and well-behaved Dutch drunk people are. The first time that I came to the Netherlands, I was amazed how people were sympathetic and friendly with me. What surprises me is the country is so small, but the people’s smile is so huge. The thing that has astonished me is how friendly they are. If you pass them when you’re biking, everyone says hi. In the first couple of days, I wasn’t responding because in California, we’d never do that. Whenever I’ve just been like cycling around, or I’ve been like walking to the shops, people will always say ‘hoi’. I find it strange because you don’t know them. You never get that in southeast London. It gives you a friendly atmosphere between you and sometimes, it opens up into a conversation. A guy would be walking his dog and then he’d start talking about the weather or whatever after he said hi. You have to say hello to 40-50 people on the way. They’re very polite; I think over-polite. A guy came out with his truck; he had to make a left-hand turn, and I was just sitting at the bench. He pulled out, and he was going like this for about ten seconds or so trying to get my attention so he could say hi to me. When I came here, all my girlfriend’s at home said: Oh, you have a ‘Nederlander’. And I said why is it so special? Oh, they are so open; they are so nice. They are this, they are this… and they are! The Dutch mentality and the people that they are direct. Dutch people say everything very directly. You can have all kinds of thinking; nobody will feel strange; feel shocked. They speak more loudly than Japanese people. When I’m in the class, I have to speak more loudly than normal. One thing I found really surprising about here is that people give out their bank account numbers to other people. That would just never happen in the United States. You can pay me. I said: okay, well how? Here’s my bank account number. That just would not happen. Coming from the south of Italy, I was just used to the fact that people would not stick to their word. So I was very surprised what was the difference between the Italian way of hiring a person and the way they instead do it here. The most surprising is the lack of hierarchy that we see in our organizations compared to the United States. In Japan in school, we have to respect teachers, respect old people. In the Netherlands after the class, we always drink beer or do karaoke with my teachers. We are very equal so that is very impressive for me. I found it very surprising that they throw this most amazing carnival party down in the South, the Catholic south, on a par with Venice or parts of South America. You know….to see the Dutch going totally wild. That was such a shock. How tall everyone was. I mean I knew there was like tall people here but then when you stand in a concert, and there’s just no way you’re going to see anything… ever… The smell of the country. You can feel the smell of the cows or the sheep. It surprised me. That is really surprising because this is everywhere. I felt this… I said oh my gosh I stepped in something, and I start to look at my shoe, and it was nothing there, and I said oh, my gosh a bird has pooped in my hair, and I start to look in my hair, and oh my gosh, maybe I’m sick. You know… We don’t have the alarm. The first time I was here, I didn’t know about it and suddenly at 12 o’clock… wooh-wooh-wooh I don’t know… if it first was for war!? … and then for flood!? very, very scary. wooh, wooh, wooh There is a couple of bridges. These bridges are for planes. So you are driving, and a plane crosses the bridge right above your head. That still is funny for me. Prostitutes in windows. That’s pretty surprising. The red-light district. I didn’t know that a country would have that. I was in Amsterdam walking around on a Sunday morning, and I was very, very tired, and I needed some coffee. So, I politely asked a little old Dutch lady who obviously just came out of church where the nearest coffee shop was. Not knowing what a coffee shop meant in the Netherlands, she proceeded to yell at me and smack me with her purse. More foreigners would go to a coffee shop and smoke weed than Dutch people. The drug culture is very small. You go to England where it is illegal straight up, and more people in England smoke weed than they do in the Netherlands. The service here tends to be more focused on the human experience rather than making a quick buck. If I walk into a restaurant, for example. After we order, we usually don’t see the waiter again. We have to flag them down to get refills and also getting the bill sometimes is a problem. I have the opportunity to sit and enjoy the conversation that’s around me and go when I’m ready to go unless, of course, it’s closing time. It’s incredibly a human experience focused. How the hospital or the doctors work here is very different. If you go to India or the US or everywhere, then you’ve been pumped with a lot of antibiotics, and here if you go to the hospital, you get paracetamol… that’s all you get. Okay, wait for three days, see if the fever is still there. Okay after that, you come. Fully different than most of the countries I would say. The biggest surprise to me is that everyone bikes. I find that it’s so interesting that the older people still bike. They’re still able to get around; it’s amazing. You’d see three people on the one ‘fiets’ (=bicycle), one riding, one on this side, one hanging on the back. The parking lots would have 30 cars and 900 bikes. 10% of the parking lot was cars, and 90% was bikes. I knew that this is a biking place, and I love that about Holland, but they’re not afraid to run you over. Everybody rides a bicycle, and you have a road for the bicycles everywhere. It was really a surprise for me. I have to watch everywhere all the time because bikers are coming from all directions, and I was not sure if I’m taking the correct road. Am I on the bike road now or what is happening? The wind. The first two days, I couldn’t feel my face. Windmills. I wanted always to stop everywhere and take a picture of every windmill. I understood that there was rain here, but I did not fully appreciate how much. My very first year was the coldest, wettest year in over a hundred years. The steps. I remember just how thin and tall the houses were. Looking at them, I wondered how people could even live in them. Coming from Ireland, I found the organization of everything a total surprise. How Dutch people are so precise with time. Here, the tram comes in five minutes. It’s five minutes, it’s leaving. And I was always the one running behind it. You’re standing at the bus stop, and it says bus in one minute… and it comes! The shops closing at 5:30 or 6 o’clock. You can’t buy anything after that. That was like a big shock for me. I had tears in my eyes. I couldn’t get to a store after 6 o’clock or 8 o’clock now. At first it really irritated me, because I thought: Oh God, it’s so organized here. The more I sort of relaxed into it and the more time I spent here, I think oh, I think I’ll go over to Holland for a little bit of organization for a while.