So I was away for a while. Things happened. Don’t worry, I’m not getting into horror movie mode. I started my Master’s program just a while back and I had so many papers to write (not that many, they just demanded loads of attention) that I couldn’t get blogging in anywhere. Then, just when things were cooling down, miss Missouri came to town and we had an official pre-wedding celebration party. Because it’s really hard to get my whole family to come to the States in August, we decided to throw a Dutch party as well. Because I feel a need to include my loyal readership in the festivities as well, here’s a picture of miss Missouri and yours truly, taking the most out of the beautiful sunset that was taking place at the beach. Take it as an apology for not even texting you guys where I was.
I enjoy sports. I like watching a game, almost any game, in which people look for their own limits and try their hardest to go beyond them. Also, I’m really glad that I can do so from well within my own comfort zone. I don’t mind to work out or play a physical game every once in a while, but I know my physical limits and tend to keep them exactly that (after all, that’s why they were limits in the first place). However, I don’t think I like watching sports as much as American society. There is not a moment when sports aren’t forced on you (again, the comfort zone version). Not just is a random team jersey an accepted part of the daily attire of the American people, but even gender roles and neatly carved out around the idea of watching a game.
American airports, or at least the ones where I tend to show up (it’s not that many), have a habit of showing football games every time I am going back home (late summer and mid-January). As I am preparing myself for Missouri in many ways, including writing papers on Lincoln and the Civil War in the context of my study, I see it as important to understand American football. Another important factor in my choice of watching football is that I’m always at least five hours early at the gate and as there are more hours of travelling ahead than my books are able to cover, I position myself right under a speaker and at a convenient distance from the television. As more and more people drop in, I have seen a tendency among many men and women. If National Geographic is ever planning on mapping out the habits of the American people, an airport gate would be a great place to start.
Whenever a new couple walks into the seating area, the man looks around. His intuition tells him there’s a game going on. His well-developed senses then spot various groups of men wherever speakers are placed in the ceiling. They’re watching the television with an intensity that doesn’t appear when the regular CNN coverage is on. All women are either absent or turned away from the television. The man looks at his wife, she is faced without a real choice and wonders off to the newspaper stand down the hall. The newcomer now positions himself as close to a speaker as possible and joins all other men in a silent gaze.
Do you have a travel ritual? Any gender-related habits that come to play?
Walmart is fascinating. Shopping after ten is an experience that you both can’t miss and never want to happen again. The opposite can also be interesting. Mom and pop stores do exist in the Netherlands, but in a different form. My favorite encounter with an American mom and pop store was last summer. During our car rides I had seen a small book store a few blocks from miss Missouri’s apartment. I had determined it was at most a fifteen-minute walk, so I decided to check it out. After a solid forty minutes of walking in the intense Missouri heat, I arrived at the book store. It was at a small store strip, one of those places where several smaller stores and a ridiculous amount of parking spots are placed alongside the road. The book store is cramped in between a Subway sandwich shop and a shady nail salon. Note that book stores for me are like malls to a stereotypical teenage girl. Sometimes, my neck hurts on Sunday just because I’ve been reading book titles in a 90 degree angle all Saturday.
The store was small, to any standard. It didn’t help that too many book cases were actively occupying too many square inches. While I spent hours browsing the books, I started wondering how the guy that owned the store could ever pay his rent. I walked around for a long time and nothing else happened in the store. Nobody walked in, nobody called on the phone and the owner was not actively selling books on the internet, but rather getting high on his own supply. I decided on three books and wanted to pay. The well-read man got up from his chair, strolled to the register and added up the prices for the books. In the middle of this process, the phone rang. He looked at me as if he wanted me to tell him what to do. He answered the phone, looked up a book in his system and then told the tele-client that he did not have the book he was looking for. When he had hung up, he looked at me again and shook his head in disbelief. ‘What do you know’, he said, ‘it always gets busy when I’m just having a customer.’
Do you have a favorite book?
That title is not a typo, that’s a pun. I’ve heard they get funnier when you explain it.
Missouri wildlife amazes me every time I am in the US. Where I come from, there’s not that much wildlife. We have birds and petting zoos. Outside of the urban areas, we have a grand total of two different snakes (and an oversized worm-type officially recognized as a snake). Some deer wonder around in the tiny woods, and we have a few wild hogs. None of it compares to the vast amount of creatures wondering the suburbs.
When I ride shotgun after 8pm, miss Missouri sometimes has me scouting for deer (so we won’t drive into them). In the suburbs. We have deer in urban areas, but only in said petting zoos. Our deer are fenced and imported, Missouri deer are a plague, hunted and everywhere. So are squirrels. Seeing a squirrel in The Netherlands would be the equivalent of seeing a leprechaun in Ireland. You know they’re there and many people have seen them, but they’re really well-hid. Worst of all, my care-free walks in nature are over. Strolling the park used to be relaxing, but Missouri parks are swamped with snakes, if you ask me. So far, none of them have tried to attack me, but we all know it won’t be long before they will.
What´s your favorite suburban animal?
One of the trips I had been really excited about was boating. Actually, miss Missouri and I went on two boating trips. One was a cruise on the Mississipi, assuring me that hot summer can be quite breezy when cruising the water, and the other trip was at a lake. I had seen Facebook pictures of miss Missouri’s boating trips and noticed a fair amount of water skiing (or ‘skiing’ as the locals refer to it, whereas I refer to alpine skiing as skiing; cultural and mildly distracting side information: check!).
Her brother went on first. He jumped in the water, picked up the rope and the boat started moving. Sliding across the surface, he performed thirteen saltos, a few screwdrivers, put the rope between his teeth. I’m almost sure he walked on water back to the boat. I thought I’d give it a try. He had made it look so easy, so I just had to copy what he had done. That optimistic thought lasted approximately one second. The second the boat started moving, I lost my balance. The skis never straightened out. I immediately realized what went wrong, so with a few tweaks I’d be crossing the lake.
Only I wasn’t. After twelve tries, I lasted for about ten seconds, before I was being dragged through the water again. All together, my actual skiing time might be around 25 seconds. It felt really weird to have to learn something like that. All my movements (walking, running, cycling) are natural now. I’m not used to fall and pick myself up. It was slightly frustrating, but I kept trying. It wasn’t until I got back in the boat that I really felt how tired I was. The twenty five minutes of trying had worn me out. Next summer I’ll have to try again.
Can you ski? Alpine or water?
When travelling the ‘Show Me State’ (which in my head always sounds as if the National Association for Flashers resides in Missouri), I can’t help but notice some things are not done when walking around in public places. First of all, there’s the infamous ‘no shoes, no shirt no service’ slogan, which evidently does not apply for those walking around at Walmart dressed in wife-beaters and flipflops. Second, there’s this sign:
A few things come to my Dutch, weapon-free mind when I see this. Does this mean I can come in with a bazooka on my shoulder for everyone to see? How do they check for concealed firearms if they’re concealed? I may have the most innocent face in all the Midwest, but I’m pretty sure whoever is laying down this law wants to check people now and then. I’ll pass for that job, because if there’s anyone I don’t want to pet down it’s the guy who chose to ignore said sign. If you come from a country where guns are limited to governmental forces, licensed hunters and very few shady people (I see only the first category), having a gun in your direct proximity is more than a little weird. This sign didn’t help the weirdness.
What’s the best place to conceal a handgun?
One of the places that pleasantly surprised me last August was a jazzy bar next to a comedy club. That describtion makes much more sense than you’d think, don’t worry. Miss Missouri and I went to a comedy club twice and the second time we decided to have a warming up in the bar next door. Most of the crowd was like us, waiting for the show to start, but what a shame that was. Five hipsters were playing very fine music, so soothing that the guitar player seemed hardly awake. One man was entertaining three girls by dancing their socks off, and boy did he dance.
It was nothing spectacular, but this guy made the place what it was supposed to be. A grey old couple had the front row seats just for themselves and nodded their heads with the rocking back and forth of the dancing couple. He lead the three girls one by one, but sometimes it was as if he lead the bass line and everybody’s bopping heads. The music couldn’t have been perfect, he might not be the best dancer alive and I might have been more than just a little bit jealous, but that man made my night. I’ve got a wedding coming up; I should really learn how to dance like that. Boogie down.
What’s your favorite dance move?
As some of you may know, August marks a lot of special moments. One of them is the yearly meteor shower. If you’ve never seen one, don’t expect too much of it. The word shower is mostly an exaggeration, but you’ll see more shooting stars than any other times in the year. Also, if you weren’t disappointed by the number of shooting stars, the next day will bring new chances for disappointment as none of your wishes has come true by then. This year, I was invited to watch the meteor shower at a farm, about an hour away from Saint Louis.
There was more to the farm than dark skies and almost no shooting stars. Miss Missouri and I were kindly treated to a demonstration of herding cattle with dogs, all ingredients for s’mores, hot dogs, a bonfire and good company. One of the things that distinguishes me from the average Missouri visitor, is how I get to places you normally wouldn’t think of. There is something about the countryside (it was, to me) of Missouri that is a unique experience and cannot be found in any of the cities I visited. I also encountered my first Missouri wildlife. Coming from a country where snakes are very rare, the thought of Missourian serpents creeps me out. They are everywhere. Miss Missouri once asked me if I’d be afraid of garden snakes. When I realized she wasn’t talking about garden hoses, I wondered what the difference between garden and non-garden snakes is…
Nevertheless, while making a bonfire I was bitten by a bug. It hurt quite badly and I could see the bite mark weeks later still. I was relieved it wasn’t a snake that had gotten me, but in the days after the bite everyone was asking me if I was sure I wasn’t bitten by a spider. I have never in my life been afraid of spiders, but it turns out I should add it to my repertoire now. Good thing I’m a city
This post actually combines two topics that I share more often: white tennis shoes and American restaurants. Upon every arrival on American soil, miss Missouri and I visit the local Applebee’s, honoring a tradition that started the first time I arrived. I see a lot of other restaurants as well, but we don’t go to ‘real’ restaurants that often. You know, the ones were a booth is not the best place to sit and you actually spend longer than half an hour indoors.
When we celebrated our engagement, we naturally did go out to a nice restaurant. We had a good glass of wine, an appetizer that lasted for over an hour and spend about three hours in total sitting at our table. Of course, one pays for these things as well, which I why I started wondering why all the waiters looked like mall walkers. Casual pants (actually, jeans or really short shorts) and tennis shoes seemed to be the dress code for those serving, whereas everybody being served had clearly spent some time picking out a shirt with buttons, instead of the Cardinal-wear that most Missourians live in. In the Netherlands, the only requirement for any job in waiting (except for fast food chains) is a neat pair of black pants and black shoes. Shining shoes are more important than the ability to hold plates. This may sound strange, but if you try and make a place look classy, why do you let your personnel walk around like they’re just coming back from the gym? Dear Americans, there are two areas that you grossly misunderstand in life: clothing and waiting. To think I tip you for half of those…
Before I was heading towards the US, I was warned by several people. Whenever I’d say I intended to visit the Midwest in August, they gave me a long stare and a serious warning. Their warnings were about the intense heat. Miss Missouri told me I’d need only one pair of jeans and no long sleeves at all. Also, I’d have to bring a lot of t-shirts, to wear underneath my polo shirts so they’d soak up the sweat and I wouldn’t feel dirty and sweaty all the time. Naturally, she was right. Even missing out on two real heat waves, temperatures are much higher than what I’m used to. All summer long, the numbers float around 100F (40C), breaking an instant sweat the moment you walk out the door. There is just one problem…
You rarely ever do that. I felt suitably prepared after one summer and traveled from rainy Holland to the semi-desert of the Midwest. Wearing nothing but flip flops, a shirt and shorts, I soon realized I had made one mistake in my reasoning. In the outfit I just described, you’ll be cold everywhere, as long as you’re inside. It’s a good 70F (21C) everywhere in the US and the immense heat and big temperature difference makes it hard to stay outside for longer than five minutes, as long as you have a choice. I believe this is the reason Americans (as a stereotype, no angry comments) don’t believe in global warming. It has been 70F as long as they can remember, and no single summer was ever getting warmer. You can almost hear them say, ‘In fact, it’s a little chilly in my car. I could use some global warming’.