March 2011

– All the electricity sockets are permanently on.

– The light switches are like three inches squared!

– Fridges are in cupboards, and freezers are at the bottom.

– Phillips developed a ‘Senseo’, which is a coffee-making machine that takes ‘koffie’ pads and produces an espresso! Not a fabulous one, but not terrible either. Apparently the Dutch are very proud of this creation

– There is a sink in my study in my house…

– People automatically walk to the right. I’m pretty sure in Australia it’s the opposite…

– TV has BBC 1 and BBC2 (if you pay about $20 per month) but I haven’t worked out what schedule they’re sticking to..

– My computer at work automatically replaces all my quotation marks with various accents. It’s making me a) scare quote a lot less and b) get annoyed at quotes that start or end with vowels. (Actually I fixed this one pretty quickly).

– Apparently in order to get a mobile contract you need to provide a bank statement. I haven’t quite clarified why this is.

– French theory is, well, not so big here. Or not in my department, anyway. They get Foucault, and say Derrida and generally people know who that is, but beyond that, it seems to be a blank. Eep!

– Today on the walk home, I saw a black dog with flashing LEDs on the collar to make him visible to bikes and cars.

– I’d never known that when ice melts, it breaks into these rigidly geometric shapes when it suddenly warms up, and into soft-edged things when the warming is slow or given by the rain.

– At 5.15 on a Friday afternoon, they announce that the building is about to close. And then they close it at 5.30. I really kinda love this containment of work time!

– There’s a lot of ‘karnemelk’ around. In fact, there’s a few cartons of it in the little fridge at work. I therefore thought it was appropriate milk for coffee. Nee. I say again, Nee. It’s buttermilk, and it went all bitsy and gross in my coffee. I now have a litre of it and I don’t know what to do with it!

– Dutch bakeries make some nummy stuff, including some cherry Dutchish (I don’t think it could be called a Danish?) with crunchy sugary bits on top. Nom.

– The ducks here come in quite large sizes. Yes, some are possibly geese, but some are still ducks only HUGE.

– Watching ducks congregating on a floating bit of ice, then occasionally kicking off into the water… is pretty cool.

– Vegetables come in sealed plastic bags. Well, some do, in totally unpredictable ways: zucchinis do not, but eggplants, capsicum and all tomatoes do. I do not approve of this use of plastic!

– My Dutch class has kids from: Brazil, Venezuela, Vietnam, Belarus, Ukraine, Israel, Greece, Rwanda, Scotland, Italy… and a couple of others besides. No two people are from the same country (the majority, however, speak – sigh – English. I feel very behind!)

– Houseboats look really really awesome, mostly – there’s a couple of floating permacaravan-style things, with lots of aluminium, but the majority are proper boats, ready to take off down the canals. Makes me think of Lyra and her gypsy friends!

– There are no post offices; the post service is entirely privatised, and that means there are a few counters hidden away inside stores. I discovered this when I asked the dude at the bank for the closest post office and he proceeded to spend 5 minutes typing things into his computer to work it out!

– They call it ‘stormy’ here when there’s gusty wind and rain. I miss the Australian summer storms of thunder and lightning and drenching rain (though it’s gone a bit overkill on the latter in Oz of late!).

– Apparently, my colleagues tell me, Wilders (the famously right-wing/neocon racist bigot) is on trial at the moment for, I think, hate speech (my colleague’s translation was ‘discriminating against people in public’). But his lawyer is kind of a ‘show’ lawyer – he’s known mostly for making popular descriptions of legal proceedings, and popular comment on them – and so of course the judges and this lawyer and Wilder are being scrutinised thoroughly. The claims Wilders makes are outrageous, of course…

– When you answer the telephone, you must say your name, or be thought of as, to quote my Dutch language teacher, ‘someone who does not pay taxes’. I find this description very amusing.

– Some of the very old buildings here are clearly old multilevel warehouses: the top floor is shaped like a triangle, and there’s double doors at the very top, designed so that one could haul goods up six floors and then store them. Eep! The idea of all those very steep stairs scares me!

-If you order, say, a small pile of feminist books from Amazon, and you are not at home when they are delivered, they will be left with your nearest at-home neighbour, and a form slipped under your door to alert you to the fact.

-Glass must be taken to the supermarket for recycling. Paper can be left out once a month for collection. But recycling plastic seems to not happen at all – not really sure why!!

-There is a day a year when everyone brings out whatever things they want to sell to just outside their house, and then proceed to drink, sell things to people and buy things off people. Like a garage sale, only on all streets at once, and drunken.

-A key piece of advice: the first answer will always be ‘no’. And in response to this, one should explain why one needs the other person to do the thing you’re asking…

-Pizza is not sliced up here – you have to do it yourself!

-Good Indian food is hard to find, and expensive. Ditto for Mexican, though there are lots of these restaurants, so I should research further… I guess 🙂


I just finished reading Lisa Guenther’s really lovely article, “Shame and the temporality of social life” Conteingental Philosophy Review 2011. She explores the phenomenology of shame, starting with Sartre’s famous (and I like to think, true!) story about being caught peering into someone else’s room through a keyhole which grounds his account of shame as ontological, considering Levinas’ ethical account which situates shame as the pivotal moment that can enable murder or responsibility, then exploring Beauvoir’s account of gendered and colonialist shame as both oppressive and opening the way to solidarity. Given that my superpower is ambivalence, I love the way her account weaves together an image of the experience of shame as teetering, promising and refusing, offering and closing-down. I don’t want to discuss it in detail here, because it’s still marinating, but at the risk of spoiling you, I’ll just quote a paragraph or two from the end:

My aim in bringing these thinkers together has been to articulate the ontological, ethical and political ambivalence of shame as the feeling that most eloquently expresses our embodied entanglement with others, its its potential for both violence and solidarity, and to connect this ambivalent potential to the temporality of social life. In a world where social power is unevenly distributed along axes of race, class, gender, sexuality, nationality, and so many other ways of cutting up identity, there may be no social position free from the stickiness of shame. For manyo f us, these axes intersect in ways that privilege us in some respect and oppress us in others, entangling us in multiple and conflicting forms of shame. There may be no clean way to resolve teh ambivalent dynamics of shame, but this does not mean that we are doomed to remain stuck in the repetition of the same. Rather, it suggests that the politics of solidarity and collective responsibility is more than just our ethical and political obligation; it is our future. We only have a future, both personally and collectively, if we respond to the ontological, ethical and political provocations of shame in a way that shifts the focal point from preserving our own self-relation – our place in the world, what Levinas might call ‘ my place in the sun’ – towards a responsibility relation with others. This is not to say that everyone must advocate for everything at all times, but thereis not time – no future for the struggle against oppression – without an investment of our freedom and our vulnerability in collective responsibility and political solidarity with others.

The ambivalence of shame attests to the irreducibility of our exposure to others, both as the site of relationality and ethical responsibility, and as the site of its exploitation through oppression. The opening of ethics is not simple, but dangerous; the same exposure that makes responsibility possible also makes murder possible. But this also means that the impulse to murder and oppress – to deny the other an open future – remains bound to the very ethical command that it violates. I can murder the other, but I cannot silence the ethical command of the other; I can be complicit in the political exploitation of myself or others, but I cannot foreclose the possibility of solidarity. And as Beauvoir’s own political action shows, even when I do commit myself in solidarity to responsibility for others, I cannot guarantee that my own motives will be pure of self-interest. This ambivalence does not foreclose the provocations that open and re-open my own actions to critical interrogation; it presupposes them. Shame would not be possible if others did not matter to us; and because others matter, oppression is not the last word on shame but only one of its ambivalent possibilities. (np)