This week I had planned on posting about my travels over the weekend, but I wound up getting sick and spending most of my four-day weekend in bed. Then, I really had no idea what to post since there hasn't been any overly thrilling developments since my last post. So I have decided to use the post to tell you the things I have learned or observed in my past three weeks here.
Constitutions: I figured it would be best to just cover this with one little section, but I have definitely learned a lot from IDEA. I can now give you a basic background on the Constitutions of at least 6 countries. I have also decided that Americans are spoiled with our cute little few-paged constitution. India's Constitution is a book, literally. That thing is like two inches thick. Then, I learned that England doesn't even have a written Constitution. They have an "unwritten" constitution basically consisting of laws and ideas. Apparently not everyone even agrees on what those are or what they mean, but it's worked for this long, so they all just go with it... Of course, this has led to interesting discussions on whether a country actually needs a constitution, and when you have a bunch of intellectuals in a room, this leads to theories about what a constitution actually is, sometimes diving into metaphysics. Yep. Constitutional theory can get metaphysical...I know I'm weird. I own it. Judge if you must.
Maybe I should wear a sign: The Hague is really diverse. Someone told me that 55% of the population is foreign, and because the Netherlands was a major port for so long, the Dutch population itself isn't exactly homogenous. So I really don't stick out as much as I thought I would, which is nice. The issue is that the Dutch people and most of the foreigners speak Dutch, so without hearing me speak, people assume I do too. So at gatherings where people see that I'm new, they will come up and start talking to me. I tried to figure out where the greeting stopped and the name began, but there are several ways to introduce yourself. From an English standpoint, I've probably gotten "Hi, I'm __;" "I've never seen you here before. What's your name?" "I saw you come in with __. I'm ___." And I feel really bad, especially when people will talk for a bit before there's a pause where I can say that I speak English. (Which, if I'm standing with someone who speaks Dutch and knows me, is followed by the two of them discussing me and my American-ness in Dutch for a few seconds before the person turns and speaks to me). I've also had people try to ask me questions on the street...and some have thought that speaking Dutch louder will solve the problem. I will say again that I would love to learn Dutch, but I keep being assured that it's really hard, and for English speakers, the pronounciation is really challenging. I went to an English speaking church group this week, and one of the guys, who was from here said, "Hi, I'm [Dutch sounds]." Me: "Mar...Mer...what?" "[Dutch sounds]" "I'm...not sure how to make that sound..." Upon recognizing my accent: "Oh, you're an English speaker! Never mind. Just call me Martin. You won't be able to pronounce it." "Oh...ok...."
Thinking things through: My summer family is using me as a means to improve their English. I have fun with guessing games (and sometimes a form of charades) when they are trying to find the English word or phrase for what they're trying to communicate. They also get rather amused by some of our phrases ("granola," "mow the lawn," "astroturf") or by the fact that we don't have words for some things that they do (such as "babbling incoherently because you are so drunk" - for those wondering, we were reading a Bible verse). I've found it's also changing the way that I form my sentences. Before I say something, I tend to think, "If they don't know what this word means, could I adequately define it?" If the answer is no, I try to choose a new one. For instance, today I was talking and forgot to pause and think before using the word "tedious." It took us some time to hammer out a workable translation. I'm not complaining. I would do the same thing when learning another language...and for me this is fun :)
Soccer/Football: The World Cup is coming up in a few weeks. I'm starting to see flags and banners and costumed dolls and other such decorations on houses already. I've never been a sports person, but I can get excited (or feign excitement) when I'm supposed to. (Go my favorite sports team! Go! Beat the opponents...soundly...in the skirmish...). I am expecting the same general culture shock as the first time I experienced football season in Texas...on the scale of an entire continent...