Google Translate….Tells It Like It Really Is

This morning’s Groupon deal had something that caught my eye….a three course dinner served whilst cruising around the canals here in Amsterdam. At first, I was a little interested, that is until I read a little more about what the evening would entail.

For a start, it would be an evening of “Traditional Dutch Cuisine”. Hmmmmm, well that’s a no-go for starters. For those of you who have never sampled the delicacies of Dutch cuisine, you’ve not missed anything. It largely consists of smoked meat served up with a large dollop of potatoes and (sour)cabbage – which are often mixed together – and very little else….well, maybe some warm gloopy sauce.

The next thing I spotted was the evenings entertainment. A “dazzling show” which consists of some local nobody crooners hosting Musical Bingo, whatever the fuck that is.

But wait, it got even worse. In the section which gave a fuller, more complete description of what the evening would entail, it went on to describe an evening full of traditional music, or as they put it, an evening of “Shalalala”….Oh sweet cheeses!!!

There’s nothing worse that I can think of than an evening of shitty Dutch music. Just think back to the short of shite your parents would listen to, circa 1950’s (minus the swing), add in a VERY LARGE dose of German “Oom Pa Pa” music, and you can somewhat get an inkling of what dodgy Dutch crooner music is like. The amazing thing is that the Dutch love this shit and transcends all ages. Doesn’t matter if they’re fifteen or fifty, they all know the words and all happily sing along.

It was described in the advert as “An experience that stays with you”. Well, with that stodgy Dutch cuisine, and horrendous Jordaan style music, I have no doubt that the experience would be seared into your brain as something you’d never forget, no matter how hard you tried.

Hilariously though, Google translated into the English one of the first sentences as “Dutch music is ever worse“. You see….those clever boffins in Google know a shit evening when they see one ūüôā

Hey honey…..where did I put my ear plugs?

Neither Gordon Nor Jamie Could Save The Netherlands

If you’ve ever seen Gordon’s Kitchen Nightmares, you’d be hard pressed to not consider nominating the entire nation of The Netherlands as a contender for his next rescue mission.

Now I’m not for one second suggesting that Irish cuisine is way up there, but having lived in the Netherlands for some time, it always makes me laugh when I hear how proud the Cloggies are with their culinary heritage. My first response is always “What heritage?”.

For those of you who have never sampled the delicacies of Dutch cuisine, you’ve not missed anything. For a start, it’s typically the sort of meal one would expect from a bunch of farmers…..high in carbs, proteins and fat, low in terms of complexity and overall presentation.

Breakfast usually consists of the all-time Dutch favourite – Slices of bread (preferably white) smeared with butter with every square centimetre covered in Hagelslag (Sprinkles or “Hundreds and Thousands” to you and me). They come in a larger variety of flavours, but the more popular ones are dark and milk chocolate in the Hagelslag and Vlokken (flakes) types. Needless to say that this hearty breakfast sets up every child for the day ahead, packed full of energy and slow burning carbs….well, not the carbs, but certainly with energy because this stuff is laced with so much sugar that they’re probably bouncing in the back of daddy’s car or pulling wheelies on their bikes¬†on the way to school.

This breakfast delicacy is not exclusively limited to Dutch children….most adults will readily admit to enjoying Hagelslag on their breakfast butties too. But….and here’s the important part….when eating a sandwich in the Netherlands, irrespective of the time of day, it must ALWAYS be eaten with a knife and fork. Yes folks, the practicalities and ancient origins¬†of the humble sandwich (i.e. something that the Earl of Sandwich could eat whilst playing cards at the same time) have given way to Dutch table etiquette….one must always cut off a piece of bread with ones knife and then raise it to ones mouth with ones fork. One must NEVER utilise the boorish method of using ones hands….it’s simply uncouth, don’t you know!

So, with breakfast done with, lunch is typically followed at 12pm. They are very adamant about lunch not be much later than 12pm. Probably because a belly full of chocolate sprinkles doesn’t hold you off for very long and the¬†murmurings¬†of a rumbling tummy are abhorred. A Dutch lunch, as far as I can tell from personal experience range from either¬†something¬†warm and simple, to something cold and simple, but should almost always include bread.

The warm and simple could either be warmed up left-overs from the night before (very popular amongst my colleagues), or in the Winter, their favourite….Erwtensoep (Pea Soup).¬†¬†It is a thick stew of green split peas, different cuts of pork, celery, onions, leeks, carrots, and often potato. Slices of rookworst¬†(smoked sausage) are added a few minutes before serving, alongside rye bread smeared with butter. And it almost ALWAYS comes out of a can. I have yet to eat home-made pea soup, because it seems whilst everyone knows what goes into it, no-one ever seems to know how to actually make it. In fact, this is true for a lot of Dutch cuisine these days. Everything is pre-packaged, nuked in the oven or microwave and then served on the table, laced with salt and/or sugar.

Another warm favourite (certainly amongst the chattering classes) is the Kroket (Croquette). Originally the dish was regarded as a French cuisine delicacy, made from various types of indiscernible pieces of meat of vegetable content. It became a way to use up leftover stewed meat (more on that later) and after WWII it was soon mass-produced. The kroket became even more popular as a fast food; meat ragout covered in breadcrumbs which is subsequently deep-fried. Its success as a fast food garnered its reputation as a cheap dish of dubious quality. The kroket is even so popular that a disk-shaped version on a bun is sold at McDonalds throughout The Netherlands. A smaller round version of the standard beef or veal kroket, the bitterbal, is often served with mustard as a snack in bars and at receptions. But the kroket, at lunchtime, is placed onto a piece of white bread, smashed with a fork, and spread across the bread and eaten (with knife and fork of course).

Cold lunches would typically consist of a sandwich (usually just ham and cheese) eaten as an open sandwich, and with prerequisite knife and fork. A popular alternative to the basic ham and cheese is Filet Americain. I can only best describe it as liquidised cow. The Dutch would try and tell you that it’s “steak tartare”, but when you look at the colour, a very vibrant and unnatural reddish/orange, you doubt very much that it was ever a cow in the first place. Not only that, but I have yet to find an American who has heard of “filet americain” before they visited The Netherlands.

Just like at lunch-time, dinners in the Dutch household are always served promptly at a specific time, and very rarely deviate from that time. The typical Dutch home serves dinner anywhere from 5pm to 6:30pm, and it’s only the younger, upwardly mobile crowd (i.e. the chattering classes) who tend to deviate from this – i.e. eating later – unless of course they’re having dinner with their parents, in which case they revert to the standard 5pm-6:30pm dinner time.

A traditional Dutch dinner largely consists of smoked meat (usually pork, often served up in the form of a sausage consisting of various indiscriminate pieces of meat and offal – see rookworst above as an example) served up with a large dollop of stodgy potatoes and (sour)cabbage (which are often mixed together) and very little else. They all have various names, such as Hutspot, Stamppot,¬†Andijviestamppot,¬†Hete bliksem¬†(literally Hot Lightning),¬†Boerenkoolstamppot, but they’re all basically the same thing. The best way of describing the majority of the dishes is that most resemble some sort of stew.

There is a seasonal favourite though, and that’s¬†asparagus. Their love of the white asparagus know no bounds. Every year, when the asparagus’ come into the season, the TV and radio is littered with adverts from every supermarket chain, encouraging their shoppers to avail of this seasonal delicacy before they run out.

But¬†if you’re really lucky, you may just get to try their ultimate favourite – recommended by all Dutch men to be devoured just prior to going on a first date – Hollandse Nieuwe Haring (Raw Herring to you and me) with finely chopped onions. The Nieuwe is a bit of a misnomer, because they were caught earlier in the year then put on ice until later in the¬†year¬†when they were allowed to sell them. Yes indeedy, you can see the look of love in every Dutch girls eyes when she catches a great big whiff of raw fish and onions from her man!!

The traditional way to¬†eat them is to roll the fish in the onions, grab it by its tail and then hang it over your mouth and eat…real men eat the whole thing at once!

The Dutch have a sweet tooth, but I’m not sure if their Calvinist traditions have forced them to shy away from eating a lot of sweet desserts, or if they are just not that interested in experimenting with dessert the way the French, or even the British have done. And they’re also a little confused about what constitutes a nice dessert. What I mean by that is, they’d happily eat pancakes for dinner, and have a huge variety of savoury pancakes on offer, but they’d never once consider it as a dessert option, such as a crepe or blini. Poffertjes, are about as close to a dessert oriented pancake….think of them are tiny mini pancakes, covered in butter and caster sugar.

They tend to opt for the more traditional Apple Pie, or in Winter they love eating stodgy, greasy Oliebollen (literally Oil Balls!!) instead. Apple fritters are also popular and you can see Oliebollen stands pop up like mushrooms in the Winter selling both.

Whilst I would never consider Dutch cuisine as haute-cuisine, it is a cuisine none-the-less. It’s something they as a nation are¬†fiercely proud of and will happily defend¬†if ever slagged off by us foreigners. But, given that it largely comprises copious amounts of sugar, wheat and flour, along with a¬†dangerous¬†over¬†tendency¬†to fry stuff in a deep-fat fryer, one can’t help but think that it’s great for storing up fats in the Winter, but too much of it and you’ll end up with an arse like the average Dutch girl.

Honey…..where are the salad forks?

HP – Captain Of Industry Suffers Mutiny

So the board of HP have seen the light and fired that¬†veritable¬†deadbeat, Leo Apotheker, as CEO. In his stead, they have chosen a “safe pair of hands” in the guise of Meg Whitman. Whitman, however, may not entirely be the sharp-as-a-tack, business savvy exec that most of the world makes her out to be. Let’s not forget her “lemon”, when she bought Skype for $4.1 billion in cash, only to later sell it for $2.75 billion.

The jury is also out on whether or not she can deliver the goods for a company who a) is so dysfunctional right now, b) has¬†haemorrhaged key leaders in a brain drain after Apotheker’s appointment, and c) has far more fingers in far more pies than she has ever been exposed to in the past.

For now, the Street has voiced its concerns by way of dumping the stock still, and only time will tell if this latest mutiny will steer HP out of its current choppy waters.

Who Needs A Government Anyway?

Well, the Belgian’s seem to think they can manage very well without one, thank you very much. Or can they?

The video below was sent to me by a friend a few months ago, around about the same time Belgium was celebrating its first whole year without a federal government.

You see, the Beligan’s have had more leadership changes than the Assyrian Empire. Since 2007, the country has been in a constant state of “political crisis” with coalition after coalition forming and failing one after another. In 2008, things seemed to have settled when that dull as a dishwater economist turned politician, Herman van Rompuy was sworn in as Prime Minister in December. Only to tender his resignation 11 months later when he was chosen – bizarrely I might add – as the first permanent President of the European Council in November 2009.

So Belgium has been managed by a caretaker government ever since. The last general election took place in June 2010. Fifteen months later and they are still no closer to forming a government than they were right after the election. The only other country to have existed this long without a government was war-torn Iraq. As it stands now, Belgium holds the dubious new world record as the country with the longest elapsed time without an official government.

But as you will have no doubt observed after watching the video, given how bureaucratic Belgium is across all facets of everyday life, the local governments and councils more than make up for the lack of any Federal government, which would probably have slowed things down anyway.

When I watched the video, I suddenly realised why Brussels was chosen as the bureaucratic, administrative ans spiritual headquarters of the EU.

The Price Of Gold

Last time I checked (which admittedly was this morning) the price of gold was around $1,740 per troy ounce. But an Azeri businessman has decided that with national pride at stake, it’s worth much MUCH more than that.

The BBC’s Newsnight uncovered evidence that an Azeri business man paid $9 million to the World Series Boxing (WSB) organisation, in return for a guarantee that Azerbaijani fighters would win two boxing gold medals at the London 2012 Olympics.

Of course, everyone involved denies the allegations, and they’ve all spouted off about how they will conduct full and in-depth “internal” investigations. Which if they’re carried out in the same fashion as that √úber-corrupt bourgeoisie outfit, FIFA, will amount to nothing.

Newsnight reported that whistleblowers saying Mr Khodabakhsh – the Chief Operating Officer of the AIBA’s World Series Boxing (WSB) – had told them that a secret deal had been done to secure funding from Azerbaijan in return for manipulation of the Olympic boxing tournament to guarantee gold medals for Azerbaijani fighters.

One insider told Newsnight: “Ivan boasted to a few of us that there was no need to worry about World Series Boxing having the coin to pay its bills. As long as the Azeris got their medals, WSB would have the cash.”

Another said that Mr Khodabakhsh came in and said: “We are safe now – Azerbaijan came in – we have to give them medals for that.”

But what confuses me is the following. AIBA admits that there was money involved, BUT claims it was for investment purposes. Yeah right!! They claim that the money was paid by a private individual, and that because of his inability to communicate in English, that is why the Azeri government got involved. Hmmm, really? If he can afford to invest $9 million, surely to God he could afford to pay for a fecking interpreter! And why would Azerbaijan’s Minister for Emergency Situations, Kamaladdin Heydarov get involved? Surely it should have fallen under the remit of Azerbaijan’s Minister for Youth and Sports, Azad Rahimov? Right? Assuming of course that everything was legit and above board.

Sadly though, that is never the case when it comes to Azerbaijan, or any of the other CIS nations for that matter. Corruption, pay-offs and brown envelopes are the standard modus operandi in that part of the world. And with the price of oil and gas remaining ever high, and the EU’s reluctance to remain ever-more at the mercy of Russia’s Gazprom, Azerbaijan’s political star is fast on the rise. The EU announced their intentions to partly fund the building of the Nabucco Pipeline, whose sole purpose in life is to by-pass Russia completely and pump oil and gas from Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan to Europe via Turkey.

And Azerbaijan is putting these newly acquired “petro dollars” to good use – in their eyes at least. Now that they will no longer have to give the lions-share to Gazprom to transport the oil and gas into Europe, they have suddenly found themselves cash-rich because they can send it to Europe directly themselves, completely by-passing Russia. So what does a cash-rich petro economy do? They do what they’ve always done. They build, and they build big. It has recently spent¬†billions ($6 billion a year to be exact) on efforts to shed its old Soviet past with the building of over 500 new developments. A whole range of audacious (and often pretentious and garish) buildings such as the Flame Towers and Heydar Aliyev Cultural Center. The construction plans are so impressive that they even rival those of the Beijing Olympics in China.

And with these concrete, steel and glass White Elephants dotted all over Baku and rest of the country, the government clearly needs to attract key events to host and showcase their architectural wonders, thus enabling them to justify the enormous amounts spent on the build, rather than improving the standard of living for the average Azeri.

Perhaps that is the reason for wanting to win Gold so much in London and for the reason they rigged last years Eurovision result? I just hope that the venue they plan to host it in 2012 is completed on time. Afterall, not many people like having wet paint on their fur stoles.

Finally…Proper Healthcare In NL??

It seems that SOS-Medecins, who have been trying to gain a foothold here in the Netherlands to offer 24-hour home visits by a doctor, may be realised soon. They’ve only been trying to provide this service in the Netherlands for FOUR YEARS!!! Unlike the rest of the civilised world, however, Dutch doctors do not make home visits. In fact, you would probably have to be laying in your bed dying before they would even contemplate making a home visit, and even then they would most likely only prescribe paracetamol and bed rest, and maybe advise calling for an ambulance.

However, SOS-Medecins, which I was first introduced to via Michael Moore’s documovie “Sicko“, was set-up by a French doctor in Paris when he found out that he could quite easily get a plumber 24 hours a day, but not a doctor…which made no sense to him. The French get a bad rap from their European and world partners for almost everything. But two pillars they stand strong on are social justice and free effective healthcare for all. SOS-Medecins is simply a extension of that healthcare policy.

Not only do the French have well educated and effective medical staff, but they also believe in using medicines to improve a patients condition, they believe in the idea that it should be free, and that no insurance executives should profit by charging exorbitant premiums for a service which provides fuck-all in return by way of a shitty healthcare system….some the Dutch system manages to do in spades.

I welcome this change, however I DO NOT welcome the fact that the Dutch seem hell-bent on not allowing it to be covered by the basic insurance package. With a declining birth-rate and a growing elderly population, it will absolutely be the case the the old and infirm will not be able to drag their ailing bodies to the doctors office, and we know that a Dutch doctor won’t be arsed to go and visit them at home. It’s a small, but positive step in the right direction. Perhaps eventually the Netherlands will attain the position as a sophisticated and civilised society, and not hide behind this charade of a tolerant, racially accepting society it tries to portray to the rest of the world, but which I know is very far from the truth.

Death And Taxes

I just read that the Netherlands is to send tax officials to Greece to try and help them out. What’s the bet that along with the tax collection efforts they’re there to help out with, that they also try to introduce the same 52% income tax rate they impose here in the Netherlands on the Greeks.

My goodness….just think of the level of rioting then!! You think it’s bad now?