Saturday, December 22, 2007

What the Netherlands can't provide...

When I visit the US, I always have a shopping list of things that I can't find or do in the Netherlands. The list surprises me: there isn't really any consistency or logic to it that says something deeper about the two cultures (or even about me). Nonetheless, here's my "scavenger hunt" list of things to do and buy when I'm staying 'left of the pond'.

  • Batteries: For some reason, batteries and all small electronics are half the price in the US (don't be fooled by duty-free shops).
  • Reading Glasses: If you go to the optical shops in Holland, they open a drawer of plastic glasses, their version of stylish reading assistance.
  • Over the counter meds: First aid cream, mouthwash, cold remedies, ear products, vitamins. And, of course, the herbal Melatonin: unavailable in Europe, to cushion the effects of nine-hour time differences the first two nights.
  • Comfort food: Microwave popcorn. Salty and buttered. Not sugared. Not caramel. Popcorn the way it was meant to be.
  • Movies: I run a selection of DVD's through DVD Shrink 3.2, collecting the current hits and classic flicks for personal viewing on cold, quiet evenings. Streaming movie and TV sites don't work outside of the US, but a Blockbuster card works nationwide.
  • Shoes: Sizes in Europe can just be strange, especially for odd-angled feet like mine.
  • Package Mailing: Having paid 25 euro to ship candy or small gifts home, I've learned the wisdom of simply saving things up and making a Kinko's run when I land.
  • Books: Sure, there are English language books in Britain, but, again, they are hugely expensive compared to the US. I'll sometimes just check out a couple of library books to carry back if I'm returning within six weeks.
  • Housewares: Sponges, fabric softener, spray stain remover, saran wrap, and carpet cleaner.
  • Investments: Since the advent of anti-terrorism money-laundering laws, all investment services like Schwab have closed their overseas offices. The reporting requirements mean that banks and investment houses in Europe won't open brokerage accounts for Americans. Wiring money can cost several percent (and a 50 euro fee if the transmission fails). So, I end up carrying a few thousand euros for direct deposit into my US accounts.
  • Haircut: It's hard to explain what I want ("Not above the ears but still off the collar") without getting something shaggy in the middle: a classic Dutch "Page-Boy" look. Or they go for something "playful"... vs., say, "professional".
  • Doctors and Dentists: Without language fluency or medical records, it's hard to have a productive visit with Dutch doctors. Dentists can be downright frightening. And reimbursement is drawn-out, if it happens at all.

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