Saturday, October 29, 2011

Adventures in Driving

We were at the base very early this morning to get the tags for Greta. This process took about 30 minutes and right after that we headed off to another base in the Netherlands to finally drive her off the lot she's been sitting on for weeks. The paperwork there didn't take long and before we knew it we were doing the walk-around to assess any damage that might have occurred during her voyage across the ocean. Luckily she looked perfect! It was such a relief to see the car after a month-and-a-half wondering and worrying whether everything would be okay and on time.

Though the car is German, it wasn't actually manufactured in Germany so that means we didn't get true European license plates. Here, they are required for the front and back of the car. My husband was a little upset about this because he doesn't necessarily want us to always stand out as American, but I'm glad. Hopefully this will warn other drivers of my possible ignorance about traffic rules. If I don't take my turn when I have right-of-way, maybe they'll see the plates and think, "Oh well, she's American! That's why she doesn't know!" And then they'll wave merrily and toot their horn as we all continue safely on our ways. We'll see.

We thought we would feel exhilarated because we're free and on our own. I think we've experienced some of that sentiment today, but being on our own also means no one else is there to translate what traffic signs mean. We, like everyone else we've met here, are relying solely on our GPS to take us everywhere. For some reason the woman on our GPS sounds like Blanche from The Golden Girls. It's sort of comforting to hear her southern drawl, and also funny to listen to her pronounce words like Waldfeucht and Puth.

Today was the first time we were able to control the radio and that was interesting. Radio announcers seem to switch back and forth from English to German to Dutch. A string of songs will be in English and then without rhyme or reason, the next few songs will be German. There is also a chance of stumbling upon a French song because the Canadians have a dedicated station. We finally settled on The Bangles' "Walk Like an Egyptian" before it was succeeded by a Euro-techno-pop tune that transported us back to reality.

By now it was lunchtime and we were both getting hungry. We decided it was the perfect time to eat at a European McDonald's. It seems like everyone we know has done this within their first month of being here. The menu was mostly standard McDonald's fare with a few regional selections. I ordered McNuggets and he tried the Chicken Satay Sandwich (tasty). I was amused that the wording on the packaging was Dutch, aside from "I'm Lovin' It."

After lunch we stopped by a Volkswagen dealership in Gangelt. The front license plate for my car had to be drilled on since there were no pre-existing holes. We parked at the dealership and then attempted to go inside, of course going to a locked door first. We walked over to another door and a man emerged from the parking lot and said something in German. When we asked if he spoke English he said, "A little" and then continued to speak German. We decided he meant for us to follow him inside.

We showed him the license plate and told him we needed a holder and some screws for it. He stared at us blankly and my husband took over.
He hoisted the plate into the air and said, "Sir, we please need holder" as he drew an air-rectangle around the plate. The man eventually nodded and brought us a holder.
My husband then said, "Oh, danke! Danke. But we need screws." Again, the man's face turned to stone. After trying to say the word 'screws' using a few different inflections, my husband finally made a twisting motion with his hands and said, "Zoom! Zoooooooom!"
The kind man immediately said, "Ah!" and said whatever the German word for screws is. He then produced some and brought out another man to put the plate on my car.

Back on the road, we headed over to our new home. We were intending on going just to put our name on the mail slot to ensure postal delivery but the landlord's family happened to be there working so we were able to go inside again and take mental measurements of the rooms. Seeing the house again affirmed our decision to live there and we can't wait until the 11th to finally be settled.

After the pit-stop at our new house in Tuddern, we drove 3 minutes to Sittard in the Netherlands. We navigated toward the town center and followed signs for parking. As soon as we parked, we heard someone yelling something that sounded like, "Parkiiiiiiieeeeeennng." We looked up and saw an elderly man leaning over his balcony, gesturing at the car. We realized he was telling us no parking was allowed. Other cars were parked there so we concluded it must be for residents only. We moved the car and continued on, eventually coming to a parking garage.

We aren't anywhere close to being proficient in the German language yet, and this was our first day actually driving ourselves, so maybe it wasn't the best idea to drive to another country and confront a different language. There isn't a nice way to say this so I just will: Dutch doesn't make sense. I just don't get it. I feel like a toddler who only knows how to point, try to sound out letters, and scream in frustration. I don't know how safe it is for us to be driving around having conversations such as:
"Do you know what that sign says?"
"No. I mean, it's red and has a red line through something. Is that a picture of a person on a bike?"
"I think it's a motorcycle. So I think that means we can drive here too...... right?"
"I don't know. What does that mean in German?"
"I haven't ever seen a sign like this in Germany."
"Oh. Well. I don't know. Just keep going I guess. And then stop if it seems like someone gets mad."

The parking garage was different than any I've ever seen in America. At first we thought it was closed. We drove slowly down the ramp and stopped in front of what appeared to be a wall. We pressed a button for a ticket and the wall opened up into the garage. We were pretty impressed with ourselves for figuring this much out, and we left Greta parked safe and sound.

Sittard was amazing! I'm looking forward to going there for the market, especially when the weather is nicer. We walked around for a while and went into several shops. One of the advantages of the Netherlands is that even though their own language is confusing, a lot of people do speak English. Many of the stores here are easy to figure out because, let's face it, a pharmacy looks like a pharmacy and a shoe store looks like a shoe store.

The best shop we saw was called America Today. It seemed to be a store dedicated to whatever is currently hip in the states. We were curious about how we're projected to dress so we went inside to look around. The entire place is modeled after an Abercrombie and Fitch. There are lots of hoodies for the guys and plaid skirts for the girls. We were quite amused that this is how they think most Americans are dressing. Also entertaining was that we were the only potential customers in the store. We left without stocking up on our rugby apparel.

We had dinner at a great little cantina near the square. The mojitos were refreshing and the food was inventive and delicious. All of the shops were closed by the time we finished eating so we called it a night and headed back to the parking garage.

We began the descent down the stairs and immediately noticed that the entrance was closed. A mild panic immediately began to set in. We hurriedly walked back to the entrance we drove through and it was still heavily fortified. My husband began power-walking toward a little station resembling a phone booth that looked like it might say 'Parking.' This entrance was also closed. We began wondering what we were going to do. Should we call one of our friends for help? How could we explain that we'd only had the car for a few hours and now it was locked in a parking garage in the Netherlands? Should we attempt to ask a stranger walking by for advice? Should we just go back to the cantina and have more mojitos?

Finally my husband realized that there were instructions in German, Dutch, AND English. Our breathing returned to normal and we read that we were to insert our parking ticket into a little machine. This caused elevator doors to whisk open. We took the elevator down a floor and ended up in a brightly-lit corridor. After opening the door, we walked through and made sure Greta was still waiting. Thankfully she was there, probably wondering why we ever bothered to send for her if we were just going to lock her in a parking garage all night.

Our night drive back through the Netherlands was stressful. Bicyclists always have the right-of-way there and they definitely take it. They'll dart out into the street like a fleck in the corner of your eye. Before you know it you're right on the tail of a Dutchman pedaling away at the speed of 2 miles per hour. Pedestrians also don't seem to notice or care about cars barreling toward them. The street lamps have bulbs the color of caution lights. When I saw them ahead, I said, "Wait! Caution lights!" Then nothing happened and we both realized they were just lighting our path. Confusing.

Tomorrow we'll be going to some furniture stores to see about getting a bed for our new house. I think we'll be staying in Germany so at least we won't have to try to understand Dutch. So far I've been getting by with smiling and nodding. We'll see how well that goes over while trying to select a bed.

Gute nacht!

No comments:

Post a Comment