All Dutch to Me
Okay, I'm here for the weekend and I gave in and paid for broadband access at the hotel. I've been in Holland (although it seems more properly referred to as the Netherlands) for about a week now. For the most part it isn't so different to the UK.
Most of the Dutch speak English, to varying degrees, which makes life easier for me as reading Dutch is hard going, and speaking it takes a little finess with the pronounciation, and as I don't even have a French GCSE (I studied French for a whole 2 years), you'd be right in guessing that languages are far from my specialty.
Some things I've noticed:
Bikes are big over here, very big, there are thousands of people, off all ages, who use bikes to commute everywhere. So much so that there are three lanes on any main street. There's the road, then a little gap, then a cycle route, then, if you're lucky, the pavement for pedestrians. The first two are tarmac, the last is usually made up of small paving slabs (8" square) and poorly looked after compared with the others. In the UK there is a general leaning towards mountain bikes (with front and rear suspension these days), here they're rare, instead there are lots of fairly relaxed style bikes, imagine the sort of thing people used to ride in the 40s and 50s. And locking them is considered unusual, certainly locking to something. If you tried that in the UK it'd be gone in half-an-hour, even if you put a D-lock through the back wheel and frame, someone would still pick it up and make off (or they'd use a van and grab several at once). And bikes are usually given preference on the road and when crossing the road. It's the strangest thing to see young guys in town, acting cool, who, in the UK, would get in a done up Nova with a big stereo, get on a bike only an old woman would ride back home.
As for the shops, well most of the names you know and love are here, even some UK ones that I never thought would be. I've seen several Halfords for example, a company I used to work for (great memories, crap employer) and who I didn't know had overseas branches (but considering their specialism in bikes, hardly surprising) and C&A, who closed their branch in my home town (and who I thought had disappeared from the UK entirely).
I also had a stroll around the library (found it by accident) and some bookshops. Due to their affinity for English, there are a large number of books in both the shops and the library in English, which seems odd to me. They seem to prefer large paperbacks over hardbacks in the shops, but not the library, and deem paperbacks 'pocketbooks. They also seem to pay a lot of money for books (€12.95 for a standard English-language paperback (approx. £9-10), which would be £6.95 in any shop back home, and cheaper online).
Music and DVDs are another wierd one. They like music DVDs over here, something that hasn't taken off in the UK, and most English-language films are released in English, but with Dutch subtitles (as they are at the cinema), it's only the live action ones though, anything animated is dubbed.
I still haven't seen any Dutch people drowning their 'fries' in mayo though.