Sunday, December 13, 2009

A bit of Christmas repartee

Just now as I was getting lunch ready, Dylan came in and asked:

"Mom, can I crawl under the Christmas tree and pretend to be a present?"

"Er, no objection here, Dylan."

"Okay, I just want to see what life is like under a tree for a while."

He proceeded to lay quietly under the tree for a few minutes, gazing up through the branches and humming. Not a bad way to pass the last bit of a December Sunday morning.

Saturday, December 12, 2009


We've been living here in the Netherlands more than two years now, which amazes me. In some ways I still feel like such a novice, but I suppose that sense is less feeling like a novice and more feeling like an outsider. Learning the language certainly mitigates the outsiderness, but there is always that undercurrent of feeling resented and/or tested by the locals that I can't quite get past. Nevertheless, we're a far cry from the people we were two and a third years ago when we landed on this continent with the eight suitcases carrying all our "moving budget" let us bring from home. Heck, we've actually managed an intranational move in that time, and that alone would have been unthinkable a few years ago. But it's the more ineffable ways in which we've absorbed this culture that have me thinking this week.

This week I sat in astonishment after hanging up the phone with the doctor -- this time not so much because of what they said as what I did. My daughter has a prescription from her neurologist for a medication she has to take every day. When we moved from Utrecht to Hilversum I was told that all prescriptions would "automatically transfer with the files." Great. Well, despite requests filed in triplicate, no files arrived in Hilversum. I have proceeded to spend literally weeks phoning doctors and pharmacies trying to get two of them in any combination to speak to each other, something that is evidently impossible. When she was down to only three days' supply of the medication this week, I called the neurologist's office again.
Hi, I've moved and I need to get my daughter's medication refilled, and my huisarts says he needs to have something from the neurologist because the prescription didn't transfer.

I hereby quote the receptionist's response:
What do you want me to do? Do you think the doctor is standing here just over my shoulder?

This is one of those responses that would have left my jaw hanging two years ago, so I was astonished to hear myself delivering something along the lines of the following:

No, I don't, in fact, think the doctor is there over your shoulder, but I have been to your office and do know that you have my daughter's file within arm's reach behind you, and I also know that you're on the phone with me right now, so you could easily pick up the same phone and call the huisarts to confirm my daughter's medication and dosage as it reads in the file. Although this requires you to expend some effort on my part, it does not require the doctor to be standing over your shoulder.

In case it's not immediately obvious, this is not something that well-mannered people say to each other where I come from. In some areas close to where I come from, such responses in the tone in which I delivered this one may, in fact, encourage receptionists to reach for the panic button or firearm concealed in a desk drawer. Nonetheless, without missing a beat the receptionist responded casually:
Indeed you're right. Let me see if I can get Dr. Janssen on the phone.

And, badda-bing, I was on hold and she was making a phone call. Of course, Dr. Janssen wisely did not answer the phone on her day off (this is the land where even anesthesiologists work 8-5 after all) so I had to make a second plea for this receptionist to call my doctor. Didn't expect it to happen. It didn't happen. But I actually got someone to do something, and this is long-awaited progress.

Because she didn't make the call, when I showed up at the apotheek for the refill I was informed there was none. I was able to talk to our doctor again, who said he wasn't comfortable prescribing this medication without having some sort of confirmation she was actually supposed to have it. This is the point at which, I believe, it would be in order for him to make a phone call -- doc-to-doc, as it were -- to the neurologist's office, or have one of his staff do it, right? No. I was supposed to conjure up something for him. No amount of wheedling or cajoling worked here because I simply didn't understand the finer points of the Dutch medical system (what, the doctors don't talk to each other??!?). Fine.

Using my honed Dutch sensibilities, I came back after doc had left for the day (this was Friday) and talked to the receptionist at his office. In standard fashion, despite having made eye contact with the receptionist I did have to step forward and rudely interrupt what appeared to be an extremely important conversation with the mailman about what the weather was likely to be over the weekend and whether they would have to use the wool scarf or something else. That done, receptionist said she could write a stopgap prescription, and did. I walked across the hall to the apotheek and gave it to the pharmacist. She said she didn't have the medication, but she could order it... on Monday. I said my daughter needed the medication before that.
"Oh well," she said, "it probably won't hurt her to go without it for just a few days."

I fancy that what I felt at that point must be something like what David Banner experiences when he becomes the Hulk.
"Actually, it would be an immense problem. What other pharmacies might have the medication? From whom would you order it? Where else can I take this prescription so I can get it for her?"

She looked up with mild surprise, as if realizing for the first time that perhaps I might NEED this prescription.
"Oh, well, let me make a phone call."

She disappeared for all of three minutes and then sent me about four blocks away to another pharmacy. Again, I know I'm not in Kansas anymore, Toto, but where I come from those in pharmacies do a little thing I like to call active problem solving. My home pharmacist would have suggested unprompted that I try X pharmacy down the street. As I say, lesson learned and mission accomplished. You have to just put on that mantle of entitlement and be pushy beyond belief to get anything done here, and I might just have gotten it figured out.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Ain't sweet, but sure ain't bitter

I have a new pet peeve, and that is cheerful blogs from people who have just moved to this country and want to gush about how wonderful everything is and, better yet, chide any expat who complains because they're not trying hard enough to assimilate and appreciate. I'm not miserable, but I am a truth-teller... and that's ostensibly a very Dutch value. The Dutch do not like Pollyanna and I don't either, so really I have more in common with them than the Pollyannas, now, don't I? (All of these people to whom I refer are also childless, which I believe makes all the difference in the experience of the move. I would probably have sounded more like them had I moved here at the age of 24 as a newly-married young adult ready to take on the night life.)

At any rate, I don't walk through (most of) my days railing about the misery of life, but as it's turned out the more interesting -- and thus, bloggable -- aspects of living here have involved the thorny patches we've had to deal with. There is a great deal to love about living here, especially if you are blessed with a healthy and ironic sense of humor. One of the best parts of moving somewhere perceived as different or exotic is that it makes you more conscious of the humor and preciousness of the quotidian ANYWHERE, even in the town where you grew up. It doesn't matter how exotic the locale, life with children ultimately boils down to obtaining and preparing three squares a day, tidying and doing laundry, and getting them diapered and/or to and from school. Hopefully they're absorbing the values you want them to absorb and seeing some cool stuff along the way.

We are not -- nor are the Pollyannas -- cooler than anyone else for having undertaken the madness of a transatlantic move. We are a bit wiser of the world and immigration restrictions (which might cause me to argue that those who stayed put made the wiser decision for their families), we have gotten more cheap Gouda than we ever believed we could stomach, and we are a bit closer to Italy. And that last one, ladies and gentlemen, just might be enough to make all this worthwhile.