26 November 2006

How European am I?

Now that I've lived in The Netherlands for five years, and I admit to as much when asked, my longevity usually earns me a nod of respect. People even say, "Wow! You're practically European!"

I'm not sure how much I agree with this. Here's a few examples of my lingering inner American:

Date and time:
Here in old Europe, the date is usually written 26-11-2006 (day-month-year), where as in the U.S. it's 11-26-2006. Now even though I have come to use and prefer the European way - smallest unit (day) to largest unit (year) makes more sense, right? - in my mind I always read the date "November 26th." The situation is similar with time. For what's used here, I knew it before as military time, but it's more widely known as the 24-hour clock. So three o'clock in the afternoon is 15:00, where as in the U.S. it's 3 pm. Again, I used the former but revert to the latter in mental processes.

Weight and distance:
Now we're talking metric, and honestly, I haven't figured anything out very well. I know my own weight in kilos, but when people throw out a number of kilos or a distance in kilometers, I always fumble with a rudimentary translation and am often way off. Lucky for me, my fancy new phone has a converter, which often saves me from my own ignorance. And when it comes to grams, centimeters (especially height), and liters, I'm totally lost. Maybe it's some kind of American rebellion: hold on to the English system!

Personal space:
I've written about this before, and it doesn't go away. I just can't seem to get used to having people ramming into me - shoving me in the grocery isle or tripping me on the street is never met with an apology, and I often find myself mumbling things about impoliteness (in quite impolite ways). The vast expanse of the American Midwest is stuck in my brain, even when I'm in a tiny, crowded village like Amsterdam.

But there are examples of possible cultural conversion, as well. I say "mobile" not "cell" and "toilet" and not "bathroom" or "restroom." "Vacations" are "holidays" and "pop" is "soda" (but I don't drink either one). In my rare calls to the U.S., the trolling ring sounds oddly foreign, and this used to be true the other way around. And I think, despite holding onto my need for personal space, I have lost a bit of my Minnesota nice (a survival tactic, really) and I regard anyone that is overly friendly with a great deal of suspicion.

Then again, the first time I heard a European call Jay-Z "Jay-Zed" (that's "zee" versus "zed") - I almost died laughing. Bottom line: I think I'm just hopelessly and happily confused. Inconsistencies and misunderstandings like these are enough to keep conversations, friendships, even blogs going for years to come.

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