Rotterdam, or anywhere

As a foreigner, there are couple of facts that could not escape my notice when moving into the cheese-laden land of milk and honey, ornamented in white and blue- apart from the obvious stereotypes about the Netherlands. Besides gezellig stroopwafels, that, funnily enough, I’ve come across some time ago in Scotland, tall people, cheese (obviously), every third or fourth person named De Jong, and coffeeshops, here are some things I uncovered while in Rotterdam, Netherlands.

  1. Means of transportation contest on the streets.

    Don’t ask me why, every time I ride my beige-blue teenage-looking bike with a giant sticker saying in curly glittery font, “Girlpower”, I get to notice most random range of vehicles moving on the streets. Some would say, and would be not far from the truth nonetheless that it’s a city of bikes. But once you spend here couple of weeks you might think it’s a Red Bull Flugtag for driving. Motorbikes and scooters are quite likely to chase you on those neatly separated bicycle lanes, while jaywalking is taken to a whole new level with giant quads, three-wheelers, cycle rikshaws, double bikes. If you pedal, or drive, cruise, or jump to the outskirts, there’s a true outbreak of camping trailers. Hell, for your jumpwear there is even a Kangoo Jumps Rental ! “Nominated best outing 2015”. “Only in Rotterdam”! And then, there are the elderly driving electric wheelchairs, teenagers on skateboards attached to bikes swishing near you, 60’s-looking old-school cars, the car on Vredenoordlaan that looks like batmobil, and the old Daewoo Tico whose speakers rumbled old Elvis’ songs near Trefpunt last Sunday, I keep looking for wizards on the broomsticks.

2. “The Black Market”

Is how it sounds phonetically when most of the foreigners refer to a local market taking place every Tuesday and Saturday near station Blaak. Ironically, it is actually the market where you can find anything. Including gossip about the tourists, opportunity for sales skills internship if you’re lucky enough to get some salespeople invite you to help them selling, the suspiciously-looking giant bar of Marseille soap, bike parts, bikes, food, clothing, kitchen utensils, kitchen appliances, parts for your stupendous vehicle to conquer the streets, home tools, you name it, whatever it is you need.

“There’s a time and place for everything, and it’s called college Blaak market.
– Chef, South Park

Lastly, you are likely to get looks when casually dropping “Hey, I’m going to buy some fruit on the black market, you need anything?” on a serene Saturday morning.

3. Dutch directness…

In some instances, the Dutch language is ridiculously straightforward, which is one of the reasons I regret not having time to study it. Being able to understand what certain street names mean would surely make bike rides so much more entertaining. For what I luckily got to know, there is Oostzeedijk, a street just near the river, eastern part of the city. And the name literally means “east seawall”. It has a smaller counterpart, street adjoined to it, running just couple of meters below- Oostzeedijk beneden. What does it mean? East seawall- below. Hey, thanks.

Combined with other names such as “new shortcut”, “old dike”, “unwilling street”, even the very name “Rotterdam” itself is combined from the river Rotte, partitioned with a dam in 13th century. Clearly, the Dutch directness is a thing.

4.  Huddled sea-through houses.

Having the area of 41 thousand square kilometers, and about 16.8 million people to fit in there, it’s quite understandable that flats and houses huddle cozily next to each other in a maze of narrow streets. However it’s quite remarkable how you can see what your 5-meters away neighbours do inside their living rooms. In some cases, you can even see through their windows at the back of the house- peeping right into the next street behind them. Into the next house, possibly.

Combined with random instances in which the only question that begs to be asked is “why?“, or better, “how?“, when you see a single shoe hanging tied onto a power line in between the houses, roughly 15 meters above the ground – Rotterdam, not to be confused with retarded.

The DNA languages of cultures.

     After 266 days in Scotland, 5 days in Ireland, 1 in Denmark, 43 in Poland, 1 in Belgium, and finally 21 so far in the Netherlands, I could say the clouds in my mind have scattered, I am able to accommodate to the ‘DNA of the culture’ as I like to call it, which strikes me most when it comes to the language.

     There is some sort of specific ‘feel’ in each and every place. Once you start moving with your life and being open-minded, you can feel the place in much more profound way.

When I visited Dublin for 5 mentioned days, I immediately felt that different ‘feel’ rather than in Scotland, but still a familiar one. Even though Ireland has euros as their currency, Ireland is not part of the UK. Ireland is Europe, and bears a completely different feel than England. Slightly more similar to Scotland. Ireland has their own pride in Guinness and Jameson whisky, just like Scotland swims in their whisky. There are Irish pubs with irish fonts on their signboards and Gaelic language seen even on the street signs.


Still, Gaelic and Brittonic are languages of Celts, that first infiltrated Britain around 500 BC. In the Gaelic group we’ve got both Irish and Scottish, which might explain why Ireland felt just like good ol’ Scotland after all.

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And if you look at the geographic spread of Celtic language, you can see how England remains untouched. England, and the English language came from Germanic tribe of Anglo-Saxons, who arrived on the British Isles at least 600 years after Celts had been already there.
English did not even originate from the British Isles, since those who brought it, Anglo-Saxons, came from continental Europe, pushing Celts outwards North and West.
And yet so many people name the whole of British Isles as “England” just because they all speak English, which gets me on my nerves.

It was inevitable for me to be affected by Dutch language in the Netherlands as well. Suddenly it struck me how my thinking and writing would be faster and better, if it was only in Dutch. And I do not mean sole communication with other people, rather the cognition of all around you. Knowing Dutch, especially etymologically, would allow me to apprehend so many more things. Here is a place for operations in Dutch, not English. Smoking in here in not that smooth like the english word itself is, the smoke from my cigarette did not swirled gracefully from it as usual. “Roken” is Dutch for “smoking”. Beginning with that characteristic Dutch hoarse rattle, cracking and wheezing the sound of letter “r”. Roken in here is harsh. And yes, after trying cigarettes in here I was coughing indeed. Hoarse, rough, hard roken. Smooth, soothing, comfortable smoking.

A nightingale is mysterious and unknown, like the night it bears in its name. They also sing in the evening, hence the name. Ending with ‘gale‘ which means strong wind, suggesting that the bird can withstand it. Even more, word ‘gale’ comes from the Old Norse word ‘galinn’, which means “mad”, “frantic” or “bewitched”. Whereas Old Norse is the language of the Vikings. Earliest inscriptions from Scandinavia were written in runes on stones, swords and artefacts. A nightingale seems mighty, strong, a secret rune of the night. Semantically belonging more to Celts than to Anglo-Saxons, now that we speak about it.

“(…) the peculiarities of mind and temper which can be still observed in the Irish or the Welsh on the one hand and the English on the other: the wild incalculable poetic Celt, full of vague and misty imaginations, and the Saxon, solid and practical when not under the influence of beer.”
– J.R.R. Tolkien’s “English and Welsh”, the inauguration speech for the O’Donnel lectures.
Whereas in Polish a nightingale is “słowik“, close to “słowo” which means a “word“. Quite a talkative bird then it is, suggesting its singing is words. Morever, suffix “ik” in Polish is used to create a pet name of a rather patronizing connotation. English nightingale is mighty and mysterious singer of the night, whereas Polish słowik is a small, annoying jabbering gibberish blabber.


“When the surroundings speaks only in an unknown language, one begins to listen to it alongside with the whole environment. And if we linger long enough, the time existing in this environment will master the language for us. That was in my case, the mind did not know at all how did it happen. I think people don’t appreciate the listening and hearing words. And the listening prepares itself to speak up. One day my mouth started speaking. Romanian was then just like my mother tongue. Its Romanian words could not believe when I was involuntary comparing them with my German words.”