Brian & Ann's European Experience

Friday, April 29, 2005

Update on Little Differences 4

In a previous post I talked about the porn at the gas station. We recently drove from Dordrecht to Heidelberg for our Global Marketing Meeting and this time when we stopped off to get gas I got some proof. Notice the ingenius co-marketing of the "Betty Boop" video right below the "Penthouse" DVD. Genius.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

What Is With All This Chanting?

I just realized that for the past three hours my apartment could have been mistaken for the residence of some chant-crazed Gregorian monks. This is a bit strange, as both Ann and I are devout atheists.

The culprit is CNN, which we generally have on in the background at all times so we can keep track of all the death and destruction on planet Earth. Their non-stop coverage of the inaugural mass of the new Pope means that someone in the Vatican CD store is getting very rich right now.

I'll Pencil You In

The Dutch are big on advance planning. Your typical Dutch man or woman is indoctrinated into the tradition of “the agenda” at a very early age. Six or seven I think. They usually plan everything weeks in advance.

I have a few people at work who I’ve tried to get together with for a movie or drinks or the occasional game of poker, and the typical response you get when you ask someone if they are free is, “Hold on one minute [sound of riffling pages], let me see… I’m booked this weekend, next weekend too, how about three weeks from now?”

How about three weeks from now?

Come on people! How about you break free from the shackles that bind you and just freaking DO IT! It’s a MOVIE! Or an evening of drinks. It’s SUPPOSED to be spontaneous, it’s a casual gathering of friends.

To my way of thinking, being friends with someone means that I don’t HAVE to schedule face-time. Being friends means that you can call someone up and say, “Hey, feel like shooting some pool? Yeah? Okay, meet you at the bar in an hour.”

I schedule my work appointments. I schedule vendors. And colleagues. And meetings. I don’t schedule my friends to the point that when they indicate that they want to spend some time with me, I tell them that they should take a number and wait for a good few weeks.

I haven’t mustered the courage to sneak a peek, but I wonder if they plan out their sex lives too

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Little Differences 4

So I'm in a car on my way to play frisbee in Groningen, which is in the north easternmost corner of the country. We stop after an hour at a gas station to fill up and get some snacks from the convenience store.

Now we all can be thankful for the progress that has been made in turning regular old fuel distribution points into mini-supermarkets where you can get all manner of road snacks, magazines, drinks, ice cream, all manner of health and hygiene supplies, and other sundries.

Well, in the Netherlands, that list also includes porn.

Right next to the magazine rack was a wall mounted collection of porn VHS tapes for sale with graphic aides and blurbs on the front and back to help customers understand the unique selling points of each product ("With 'Naught Girls Orgy' 12!", "the MOST cumshots!", etc.)

I perused a few, just to get a feel for the kind of porn that appeals to the average Dutch person at the gas station. I didn't notice any anthropological uniqueness to their selection. Comforting to think that people are people the world over.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Sophia Maranhao Guzik



Big news! Sofia Maranhao Guzik entered the world on April 18th, weighing in at 6lbs 15 ozs and 19.5 inches long. And with a head of black hair.

Congratulations to proud parents Pete and Allie Guzik.

Best wishes for the future.

Love,

Brian and Ann

Thursday, April 14, 2005

My New Addiction

I am addicted.

There is somthing in these damn "Oven Roasted Chicken and Thyme" potato chips that is more potent than crack cocaine (not that I would really know, but I can imagine).

I can't stop eating them. They are so TASTY. They're like an entire meal condensed into a single potato chip. Delicious.

See for yourself.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Little Differences 3

Here’s an annoying difference between Europe and the States: dry cleaning costs a fortune here.

Which is strange, because you’d think that since the average business dress code is more formal here than in the US, that more people would have dry cleaning to do and therefore the prices would be at least as low as in the US.

Instead, I’m paying 6 Euros for a pair of pants, 7.50 for a suit jacket, and 4 for a shirt. That’s 17.50 (Euro!) for ONE business outfit!

And this in a country where you can get a sack of fresh oranges for 3 Euros and a book-sized hunk of Gouda cheese for two Euros. Just to give you an example, when Ann and I buy groceries for a week, we spend a little over twenty Euros.

It’s almost as expensive to dry clean a suit as it is to buy food for a week. Strange.

This leads me to the conclusion that most of the people you see walking around wearing professional clothes either: 1.) Invest in their own dry cleaning equipment to keep at home because it apparently pays off pretty quickly, or 2.) never clean their clothes.

Those are the only two possible options. I mean, I know they’re not rich, because the economy is set up to greatly limit the amount of personal wealth an individual can attain… so it has to be one of those two.

I think this would be a good discussion question for my Economics class.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Frisbee UFO-Style

So I'm on UFO 2. The second of four frisbee teams that Utrecht fields. We actually play under the name UFO 3 due to a naming mishap at the Nederland Frisbee Bond, the bureaucratic organization that organizes frisbee in the Netherlands (you simply cannot escape the bureaucracy in this country).

Last weekend was our first outdoor competition day (pictures). We played two games and lost them both, but I have to say, for being out of shape and not having thrown a disc in two months, I think I did alright.

As you can see from the picture, the competition in Frisbee is tough because the average height of the dutch male is 6'2", no joke.

Now, in this picture it may LOOK like I have the vertical leaping ability of a potted plant, but the truth is, this was a good pass to the other guy, it was in the endzone, still early in the game (when it was fairly close), and believe it or not, I blocked this.

BOOYA YOU TALL DUTCH BASTARDS!!!

We still lost 17-5, so it doesn't really matter that they didn't get this particular goal. But I still felt like the man. Until the tall dude warned me about being more careful with my arms as we were walking back (ultimate is a no contact sport). I couldn't believe this tall guy was serious, but "no contact" in the Netherlands is different from "no contact" in the states.

Hey, I'm from Jersey right?

Much love to my homeys back at Mercer County Ultimate.

Heidelberg & A Note On National Identity


My company has a large office in Heidelberg, Germany, which I have been to probably six or seven times.



Heidelberg is one of those quaint little European towns with cobblestone streets in the old part of town, nice gothic cathedrals, and a castle which overlooks the town from up on a hill. If you are ever doing a tour of the south of Germany I highly recommend making a stop there. Friendly people, good (heavy) food, and a little bit of history.



---- WARNING: RAMBLING PHILOSOPHICAL DIGRESSION ----

Every time I see these parts of cities that are centuries old, where the buildings are sometimes older than my country, I think about what a difference in perspective there is between countries with real and obvious historical tradition, and America. I've always thought that history is a bit of a double edged sword. It can give you a perspective on the world that is perhaps a bit more far-sighted, if your country can claim that it was a nation (or becoming one) a thousand years ago. Or THREE thousand years ago in the case of the Greeks. It can give you a sense of belonging to a tradition, but in many ways that cuts both ways.

By NOT having an extremely long history, America is free to make it up as it goes along, and everyone who is there at the time can feel like they are equally a part of it. You lose the long term perspective, and perhaps your identity has to be grounded in something other than the history of your country, but we substitute other traditions (like our family history, or ethnic history) and the good news is that everyone gets to identify themselves in two ways: as an American, and as whatever it is they want to identify their history as.

Italian-American. African-American. Asian-American. Etc.

Yeah, we become a country of hyphenated people, but that's symbolic of the advantages and disadvantages of our national character. We let everyone be a part of it, and at the same time we let everyone distinguish themselves. The national identity is not something that is allowed to be tied to a particular ethnicity, a particular religion, a particular skin color, etc. (Not to say that our history ISN'T written from a particular perspective of a particular group of white, European-descended, Christians.) The word "American" doesn't imply a specific set of characteristics, but gets to represent more abstract concepts: individual freedom, equality of opportunity, aggressive use of force against other countries, the schizophrenia of gun-totin' crazies and tree-hugging liberals living together...

Try doing that with the cultural identity "French". Being "French" implies a particular set of historical experiences, largely associated with a particular race and religion (or two). Same with the Dutch, Germans, British, Irish, Spanish, Italian.... and on and on and on.

Alright, enough for one post. But I invite anyone to comment on whether they agree or disagree with this analysis.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Spectacle of Death

What is it about a slow, televised death that is so fascinating?

I come home from MBA class, turn on the TV, and find out that what everyone has been speculating for two days is now official: Pope John Paul II is near death from advanced Parkinsons.

Now, as the leader of one of the world’s largest religions, it’s understandable that his imminent death is news. What’s less easily accepted is the spectacle. The endless talking heads givingthe grueling details of advanced Parkinson’s disease, giving the world a vicarious death that they can internalize and therefore become one with this powerful symbol as he undertakes the final voyage into the infinite.

That’s what it’s all about right. The discussions about feeding tubes through the nose, the precise impact of kidney failure. The news commentators can’t repeat enough how wrenching it must have been for this great communicator to be unable to discharge the duties of his office in his final days.

It’s all about giving the people a window into the death of someone famous. I guess we should thank the news media for helping us with our method acting, helping us get into role. They could probably make a killing if they partnered with QVC to sell props as well.

I can’t decide if it’s a normal human reaction, and should be praised as empathy, or if it’s just plain sick pandering, and should be denounced.

Is it part of being human to want to identify with these famous people, who have transcended being human and have become symbols of something we believe is greater than ourselves? Isn’t the ability to empathize, and the desire to place oneself in another’s position (at least from the safety of our living rooms) a good quality?

I don’t know. On one level, it’s just selfish.

We want to empathize with them because they represent something that we want to take part in. Knowing what dying of Parkinson’s is like helps us pretend that we are closer to the Pope as he lies in his apartments, waiting to die. It makes us just like those protestors who just wouldn’t leave in front of Terri Schiavo’s hospice while she died from dehydration. It wasn’t for Terry that they stood there day after day: it was for themselves. They needed to be there to satisfy their own beliefs and values.

I took a course one time that examined many aspects of human interactions, one example used was an audience, and what is happening when an audience gives applause. As much as they may think differently, the audience isn’t giving applause for the performer. The audience is giving applause because they have a need to express their own satisfaction/gratitude/compliance with the group’s norms/whatever. It’s not about the target of the applause… it’s about the needs of the people doing the clapping. If they *didn't* clap they would be unfulfilled.

I think the same is true with this mass media spectacle of grief. It’s not about the Pope. It’s not about Terri Schiavo. It’s not about Yasser Arafat. It’s about satisfying the need of the anonymous spectators at home to make themselves a part of the action.

[Editor’s note: It pains me to mention the Pope and Yasser Arafat in the same sentence. I am neither a Catholic nor a Palestinian, but I have an infinite amount of respect for the Pope and only absolute loathing for Yasser Arafat, who was never anything but a petty thug with distinctive headwear. I use him only because his death was so recent, he was such a good example of a symbol, and he rated the same mass spectacle.]

I guess it’s natural that we make people into symbols. We like symbols. Symbols are very powerful. They are also very easy to understand and file away. We like leaders. We like having one person represent the needs of a population. After all, it makes things simpler, and it absolves us of the responsibility. In a representational democracy we pick someone, someone who wanted the job (which should be a red flag in itself), and then we pay our taxes and say, “Hey, I did my part.” We take responsibility when they act the way we want or things go right, or we put the blame squarely on their shoulders if they don’t or it doesn’t. I just learned tonight in my Organizational behavior class that there's a name for it: the fundamental attribution error. Look it up if you want.

We do so much emotional effort to avoid responsibility by assigning it to a symbol, and then try to get it back after the fact by empathizing with them from a safe distance.

In the past few months there have been quite a few high profile, protracted deaths. Arafat. Terri Schiavo. The Pope. The press even has their next one lined up, Prince Rainier of Monaco. Although he will probably be eclipsed if he should happen to kick the bucket within the next week or so. His PR people have the worst timing.

I suppose we won’t ever escape the spectacle of a highly publicized death process. I suppose the throngs of people gathering in St Peter’s Square is a normal and natural reaction and should be praised as at least an attempt to participate. It’s better than apathy for sure.

I just wish it wasn’t so much of a production. I wish I *didn’t* have access to Terri Schiavo’s autopsy records. I wish I didn’t have updates every fifteen minutes on the progression of someone’s death. Anyone’s death. People deserve better than that. How would YOU like it?

I personally think that everyone who goes online to look at Terry Schiavo’s autopsy report should first have to sign a waiver saying that they will have their own bodies autopsied, and the details about the state of their flesh at the time of their death made public.

I’m overdoing it of course. We’re all capable of acts that are both repulsive and heroic. That’s the human condition. I just don’t like having the worst aspects of our nature publicized to sell TV ads.

Call me crazy.