Sunday, November 20, 2011

Learning about fiets (bikes)

There's a probably one word that is quickly learned in NL, it's fiets, Dutch for bike. You learn this word quite quickly, because of all the signs:Link
geen fiets (no bikes)
fietsen worden verwijderen (bikes will be removed)
fietspad (bike path)
Het Zwarte Fietsplan (name of a bike shop that includes a large basket in the front) (a bike for families, with a huge scoop/bucket in the front for little kids to sit in)

One of these days, I'll post a collection of photos, a sort of "fiets anthropology" that shows all the different sorts of fietsen found around town...

I've also wondered why the Dutch word for bike is so different from all the neighboring languages (ENglish, French, German)... and found this great article on Radio Netherlands "Fun Fact Friday"... apparently, the word fiets is so important in Dutch, there's lots of sayings that have evolved around it! Here's the story from the Fun Fact FRiday..

Bicycle = fiets:

The Dutch word for bicycle is fiets (pronounced "feets")... and nobody really knows why. In most languages, the etymology is obvious - the English bicycle, meaning "two wheels", the French vélocipède, meaning "fast feet", the German fahrrad, meaning "ride wheel".

This was originally the case in Dutch as well - the bicycle was officialy known as a rijwiel or "ride wheel". This term can still be found in combination with other words such as rijwielhandelaar or "bicycle store"

Some people say the word fiets came from E. C. Viets, a bicycle-maker in the 1880s, but it appears that the term was in use ten years earlier. Others suggest it is a corruption of the French word for speed,vitesse or even the French word for bicycle vélocipède. Still others say that it's an onomatopoeic word that simply sounds like a fast-moving bicycle: ffts. It has also been suggested that the word fiets is derived from vietsen, meaning "to move quickly" in Dutch dialect.

In any case, bicycles are a part of Dutch daily life and the word fiets has made its way into many common expressions. Here are a few typical examples:

Op díe fiets. Literally: On that bicycle. Figuratively: Oh, that's what you mean!
Wat heb ik nou aan mijn fiets hangen? Literally: What's hanging on my bike? Figuratively: What's going on? What's happening? (Said by someone who is *really* surprised.)
Geef mijn fiets terug. Literally: Give me my bike back. Figuratively: It's a joke referring to WWII when the Germans confiscated many Dutch bicycles; it's used to make fun of Germans.
Snel door heen fietsen. Literally: To cycle quickly on. Figuratively: To go through something quickly, as in an agenda item on a meeting.
Op een oude fiets moet je het leren. Literally: You have to learn on an old bicycle. Figuratively: Young people should learn about sex with an older (trusted) lover.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Passport photos, is it really that difficult?

I'm seriously behind on blog posts, but just had to post about an amusing topic... passport photo requirements in the Netherlands, which is related to my work permit here. Ever wonder why some people have these terrible passport photos, where it looks like jail mug shot? I know why now....

My work permit in NL was finally approved, and one of the requirements is a passport photo. The immigration agency clearly outlined that the passport photo is a highly important part of the process. There are strict guidelines on what the photo should contain, and I should have a professional, authorized photographer to take my photo. US passport photos are not acceptable. Photo booth photos are not acceptable.

What?? Professional authorized photographer? Seriously? I've done my own passport photos before with a SLR and Photoshop, why would i ever use a professional photographer? And authorized photographers? How hard could this be? Sounds crazy.... until I read the Dutch regulations for passport photos. (and are sometimes completely comical)

1. Length from ear to ear must be 16-20 mm, and from chin to tip of head must be 26-30 mm (really? is the inspector going to measure my photo? and what if you're Vincent van Gogh, missing an ear?)

2. Dark eyeglasses are not permitted unless you have a medical exception and a doctor's signature (hm.. I guess the Unabomber's photo is OK if he was legally blind?!! And, I guess I'm in Amsterdam, there's probably a doctor's certificate for almost anything)

3. Head be fully visible, except for those with high hairstyles, who are allowed to have their hair outside the photo frame.

4. My personal favorite and exact quote: "Broad smile and an open mouth is not allowed. That does not mean that there needs to be a surly or sullen look."

HILARIOUS! The IND says I need to have a neutral expression, and even advises me that a neutral expression doesn't mean I shouldn't look sad or surly. Hah!

If you're curious, ask me to post my photo (which I did myself) - I don't think there's any neutral expression photo that doesn't look sad or surly..