America v. Finland: A Princess Complex?!

I had taken a month long break from the Lovely University of Lapin AMK. During that time, it wasn’t truly a vacation; it was spent navigating the Spanish bureaucracy to obtain a visa (“Fun” times, Believe me). While returning back to Tornio, Finland (literally on the train back), my housing emails had still not been responded to, thus, I was homeless.

Frantically, I’m trying to get in contact with the program intern or the program director. They must be able to do something, right? They would be the person willing and able to change something or help, right? Wrong, the response I received wasn’t my expectation at all.

In a nutshell, I was told that it was the weekend, I should have contacted them earlier, and that they were busy. Of course, this starts full panic mode. Of course, I try to reach out to the director, which I was told she was busy and she shared the previous thought as well. The suggestion: stay with someone else for the night, and go to housing on Monday. It was Saturday. After 26 hours of travel, running on 4 hours of sleep, and a protein bar, I was not a happy camper AT ALL.

I received a message the next morning as I was holed up in a classmate’s kitchen, that the housekeeper would give me a key later on in the evening. I could’ve wept. Three others were in the same situation as myself, and we all were going to be on the floor of a mutual acquaintances one-bed room.

On Monday, class resumed in the summer school. I was still peeved that such a thing occurred. It was then the Director of the program addressed the situation by stating that “some” (meaning me) of us have a “princess complex.” It meant that we expect people to do things for us as we command. The Director stated that in Finland, weekends are sacred and work life is separate from weekend life. We shouldn’t expect additional assistance, outside of emergencies, during these times.

Shocked, and admittedly pretty irritated with that statement, I came to a realization. In the US, we don’t compartmentalize our responsibilities. We maybe on vacation, or out of town, but we are prepared to answer work calls whenever to create 24-hour service. Even if it is not our job, we expect to have service or assistance from someone, somewhere at all times. Specifically, in academic services, professors answer emails on weekends, residence halls have RA’s or hall directors for aid, and so on. In Finland, when things close, they CLOSE.  It doesn’t help that the emergency contact in the building doesn’t speak English.

A situation that I believed was an emergency was seen as merely a temporary inconvenience that I could figure out. The ideals of customer service are definitely different. In the US, we are much more demanding because, culturally, we believe that we should get what we paid for and then added services to keep us coming back. Customer Satisfaction is important in a competitive market, so it is valued heavily.

Customer Satisfaction is still greatly valued in Finland. However, it is customer service as defined by the rules. You will receive a quality product with great service, but when the time comes to close, or the task is outside of the usual means of operation, you will receive a simple “no, it cannot be done.” Of course, it depends on who and what company.

I was pretty disappointed with this as an international student who felt stranded in an unfamiliar land and not receiving the help I expected from the host school I was attending. However, it is a lesson learned. When you travel, you must change your expectations to fit the local culture.

America v. Eastern Asian Beauty Standards: It’s Cute?!

In the Arctic Summer School at Lapland University of Applied Science (Shameless Plug), we have many different nationalities. The 33 students hail from many different parts of the globe, however, we have a sizeable portion of the class from Eastern Asia. Of course, beauty standards differ in various areas.

For example, in the US, we have been making movements that support body positivity with #Effyourbeautystandards in an attempt to embrace beauty of all sizes, or the natural hair movement to encourage women to love the hair you are born with. Many more movements exist and more pop-up with increasing popularity, all with an attempt to make beauty a more inclusive term. Eastern Asian countries, in my experience, tend to steer toward a specific standard of beauty that promotes thin bodies and pale skin.

Not only is that a cultural norm, it appears that it is public scrutiny of your appearance is common, particularly in the family structure or with people you are closer to. I was told that mothers can easily tell their children they are fat, or need to stop eating so much, or to stay out of the sun out of love. In the US, we would easily consider that to be emotional abuse and unbelievably rude.

You can only imagine my reaction, when a classmate come to me, and while feeling my arms says that they are “fluffy like a marshmallow.” When I expressed how that was kind of offensive, the response was “It’s cute!” This is the same classmate that disclosed her mother’s tendencies to criticize her body. I was definitely ticked off and more than a little bit upset that someone who I felt close to would make such a rude and insensitive comment.

This point was noted again when a second classmate from eastern Asia patted my stomach and stated how had the same stomach, as she poked hers out and laughed. The original classmate then said “See!” It was meant to be in reference to Asian culture’s openness to discussing the body in negative/positive (depending on which end you come from) lights. Even after I explained how the statements were offensive, it was laughed off as if unimportant. When I asked how does it make them feel for their mother to say those things? I was expecting them to say it made them feel negatively, to inspire them to maybe not say those comments that I considered to be so rude. It was once again just laughed off and it was deemed to be normal and common, therefore unimportant.

I left that conversation very upset. 1) I felt like my feelings weren’t considered at all. In the US, if you offended a friend, even without the intent to offend, you would apologize. That wasn’t the case here. 2) I was saddened. Over the short period of time knowing these young ladies, I had heard them refer to themselves as fat and ugly. I had watched as they tried to stay out of the sun because darker skin or a tan would bring scrutiny to them. I had listened to their stories of their family members speaking of their bodies negatively. And the worst part, to me, was that they viewed all of this normal, as if it should be expected to hear and say these things.

The comments I felt were rude and would never refer to a woman’s body in such a way, especially in public, is common place. So when I was hurt and offended by the comments because my culture has deemed them insensitive, another culture saw no issue with comments therefore there was no reason to apologize.

Cultural differences play a huge role in how we view ourselves and others. While America is trying to push away from conventional standards of beauty, other cultures may have a totally different view on dismantling, or maintenance, of beauty standards. I still don’t appreciate the comments that were made (and admittedly how they responded to it as well) however, it has made me realize some important things.

  • Self-love is crucial. I could let someone define and dissect my body based on their own preferences and biases, but how could I ever truly be happy always trying to live for the acceptance of someone else? My body may not be where I want it to be, but I love the skin I am. I whole-heartedly believe that I was not designed to be anything other than me.
  • Culture plays a role on what is tolerated. Things that I felt shouldn’t be said, were perfectly common to someone else. Though, I may not like it, it’s important to be considerate of someone else’s culture (even if they aren’t considerate of your feelings lol).
  • Finally, Words matter! As much as I would like to say the words didn’t affect me, they did. They made me look at my body in a way I hadn’t previously. It was very unsettling for a simple sentence could make me question myself. It made me wonder, how many conversations did I walk away from feeling fine while the other person felt belittled, ugly, unattractive, or stupid? Probably a lot, I may not have been my intent, but it was the reality. Instead of building someone up, I have, at some point and time, either deliberately or accidentally, torn them down and made them feel less than the wonderful person that they are. It’s a harsh reality, but a great reminder that sticks and stones leave physical scars, but words leave wounds that only the soul feels so deeply.

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

I’ve probably briefly mentioned things about bikes, cars, and trains from time to time on this blog, but haven’t really devoted any single post to exclusively speaking about transportation in Maastricht. So, let me give my two cents on the matter.

My two cents

Here you go. (Image from 3.bp.blogspot.com)

As is probably stated before, bikes are – by far – the most prominent form of transportation in Maastricht. If you don’t have a bike, you’ll have a hard time getting around the city on your own, for the most part. Regardless of rain or shine, hard freezes or sweltering temps, you’ll most likely be seeing a number of people make their way to and fro on bikes only. The roadways throughout the city – as well as across the Dutch countryside – are designed accordingly to accommodate bikers on the road. Nearly every stretch of roadway has a bike lane on either side of the roadway. And fear not about getting hit by a card: the rule of thumb in the Netherlands when concerning right-of-ways goes as such, with pedestrians, then bikers, then motorists. So far, I’ve had no trouble with other vehicles on the roadway while being about on my bike.

Car and Bicycle

Though they could have had a problem with me. (Image from 4.bp.blogspot.com)

Cars are commonly seen around the city, I might add, but not everyone uses a car, clearly. Most cars around are the small, economically-sized vehicles that are only recently beginning to gain traction within the United States. By far the most popular car around, judging what I have seen, is the Ford Ka. Nearly every street I’ve been on I’ve seen roughly two of these guys either parked or being driven around. Quite the popular little machine, I say.

Ford Ka

They’re really kinda cute, actually. (Image from upload.wikimedia.org)

Aside from compact cars, wagon-styled cars are also a common sight. Up from that would probably be CUV’s, but those aren’t nearly everywhere. There’s also a van now and then, most commonly with a large family in tow. And rarest of all would be pickup trucks, which I have only seen about 4 in all of Maastricht. The rarest treat has been spotting a Dodge Ram 1500 cruising along, which definitely caught me off guard.

dodge ram 1500

“Yeah, let me go get my pontoon ready and we’ll go fishing,” said no one in the Netherlands, ever. (Image from naturalgeographic.net)

As for car brands, Ford may have the edge with the sheer number of Ka’s I see, but Citroën is another brand that seems to be everywhere as well. I’m not familiar at all with this make of car, as there are no Citroën’s I have ever seen in the United States, so I can’t really say much about them. BMW and Volkswagen round out the brands that I most commonly see.

And one last thing concerning cars: manual transmission is the way it is here. As far as I know, everyone that I have spoken with does not own, nor has driven, an automatic transmission, which is a stark difference between Europe and the US. I’ve personally only attempted to drive a stick once before, with little success I should say. So if ever wish to do a road trip across Europe, be ready to know how to drive a stick!

stick shift

I think the “R” means “race.” (Image from autocricket.com)

As for other forms of transportation, trains and buses are a big one. I’ve only used both forms rarely, but they are convenient when needed. Thus far, the bus has gotten me around on my first day in the city, to Aachen, and back to Avant Garde (after my bike suffered its second flat tire in a month’s time). And for trains, just once, when I arrived into Maastricht from Amsterdam.

And lastly of all, planes. I have not been on a plane since I came to Europe and will not be on a plane again until I leave Europe in a few weeks time, but they are still of much use across Europe. As to my understanding with the friends I have here, planes, while the most expensive of the options of transportation available, can get you anywhere in Europe in just a couple of hours time. However, most people forgo direct flights and instead prefer flying to regional hub (the cheapest), then taking a train to the final destination.

That covers everything I wished to say concerning transportation in Europe. It is a bit different than what I am certainly used to back home, but not too markedly so. And if you have any questions regarding this, shoot me one in the comments!

The Home Stretch

As of this writing right now, I can say that I am 18 days our from leaving Europe and heading back home to Kansas City, Missouri. For me, this is the home stretch, with only a couple weeks left and only two class days to attend.

finish line

An accurate representation of me at the moment. (Image from 2.bp.blogspot.com)

Currently, I have finished my second week of Semantic Web. My early review of it is to say that it was not what I was expecting from the start. My initial interpretation of the course was that Semantic Web would be concerned with responsive web design, which is to say designing a website that is both flexible and usable to the end-user across multiple devices – think tablets, smartphones, and desktop machines. But after my first day of class, I learned that Semantic Web is really more about taking raw data and formulating a workable method of presenting that data that is both usable and readable. Essentially, it’s all about making sense of data.

semantic web

Surprisingly, Googling “not understanding” brought up this image. (Image from informationaccess.files.wordpress.com)

Aside from attending two more days of class, a possible day-trip to Brussels, Belgium is in the works. It’s unfortunate to say that I have done next to no traveling while living in Europe, but I honestly feel no regrets in saying that. But with that, a do wish to visit Brussels, primarily to say that I have been to Belgium and to see it’s largest city. I have next to no clue what I would like to do while in Brussels, but I will do the most that I can in a day! And a return to Aachen, Germany may also be in the books, if only because it’s dirt cheap to go back (and they have Christmas decorations galore up and ready for the season, according to word-of-mouth).

With my time running down, these blog posts will, too, be coming to an end. I’m not quite sure how I will wrap things up at the conclusion of my study abroad, though I am sure I want to, at the least, include a post entirely devoted to pictures. Granted, I do have a limit on the megabytes of data I can upload here to WordPress, so I will be ensuring that I choose only the best that gives a good breadth of view to what it was like living in Maastricht.

For now, that is all I have to report for the day. More to come later!

Star Wars rock band

So I leave you with this crazy awesome image of familiar faces rocking out. (Image from cdn.ebaumsworld.com)

Outings, Trivia, and Durak

Aside from bike rides to the countryside, international dinner nights, and heading to Germany, much of my free time is spent doing other activities, typically every other night or so.

One of the most common things that typically occurs is playing the Russian card game Durak; the word “durak” is Russian for “fool.” Allow me to explain the rules here:

Each player begins with 6 cards in hand. The goal is to get rid of all your cards. Once the cards are dealt to the players, a card is placed face-up at the bottom of the remaining deck of cards. This card is called the “boss card”; whatever suit it is means that it’s the high suit. Players play to the left, attacking that person. The person there must defend against the attack successfully, or take the cards. All players must have, at the minimum, 6 cards at hand, therefore taking cards from the remaining deck until said deck is gone. The last person with cards still in hand is declared the fool (durak). 

sneaky person

“You sneaky person,” said in a thinly-veiled British accent. This has become a common catchphrase for us while playing Durak. (Image from video.planetgreen.discovery.com)

There’s more technicalities to the game that are best told when actually playing the game. But right now you’re probably thoroughly confused at this time.

confused person

Thought so. (Image from i.somethingawful.com)

Durak has become almost a nightly ritual for us on the second floor, being the most common game we play (“hide-and-go-seek” and “randomly chasing each other on our floor” being other fun and exciting games). It’s come to the point where we have a deck of cards always available in our little dining room on the 2nd floor of Avant Garde. Chances are you’ll be seeing us playing it a few times a week, usually with 3-4 games in a session.

our dining room

Our little dining room.

Other random things that the lot of us tend to do includes going out on the town to check out a concert shindig at a local pub, which is something that frequently happens (concerts, that is). From my memory, there have been at least 3 separate occasions of multiple concerts happening across Maastricht, as a sort of musical celebration. During the first autumn break, back in mid-October, one of the weekends included a jazz concert series that occurred across multiple pubs in Maastricht. And just this past weekend there was yet another concert series, with a multitude of different music being performed once more at various pubs in the city.

One of these concert venues that I have frequented a few times now is called Edd’s Café, located in the heart of the city center. Every Thursday night they have a sweet jazz concert night that is a joy to watch. The excitement really kicks in, however, at around 10:30-11:00 in the evening, when the jam session kicks into gear. My first night at Edd’s’, I found myself watching a stellar jam session go on from 11pm until near 2am.

Edd's Café

As seen here.

And last to talk about has been the Tuesday night trivia nights myself and others have been doing now with frequency. These trivia nights happen down near the Maas (the river, if you recall), at a local watering hole called John Mullins Irish Pub.

john mullins ext

Exterior of John Mullins. (Image from tephotos.s3.amazonaws.com)

john mullins int

And the (awesome) interior of John Mullins. (Image from vvv-maastricht.eu)

My first trivia night at John Mullins – which was some substantial amount of time ago – our team from Avant Garde placed well in the back of the rankings, so far back I can’t even recall. My second trivia night was also quite dismal, again placing near the back.

However, in recent weeks, we’ve seen a remarkable turn around in how well we’ve been doing. Last week, for example, we finally broke the Top 10, placing 9th overall. And just this past Tuesday, November 27th, we finally came near to winning, placing second overall. It does help to boost your ranking when you see that the 1st place team (at least they were 1st place after the 4th round) using their smartphone to look up the answers.

taken

“I don’t know who you are. But I do know what you want. You’re looking to win this trivia game, but you can’t use your cell phone. If you put your phone away, that’ll be the end of it. I will not give you crap, I will not mock you. But if you don’t, I will mock you, I will tell on you, and I will beat you.” Yes, we did beat that team, given that they fell back to 9th place after we told on them. (Image from cdn.pophangover.com)

With under a month now left in my tenure in Maastricht, I will continue going out for the little concerts, playing Durak with the friends, and rocking out at trivia night at John Mullins. It’s hard to believe that my time here is nearing an end, but I can say now that I hope to return to Maastricht once more in the near-future and visit this wonderful city again!

Presidents, Politics, and False Truths

This Tuesday, November 6, marks the fourth presidential election of this 21st century. Over the past couple of months, I have had the time to share and hear opinions regarding the upcoming election. In a prior post I remarked how nearly all of the Europeans that I’ve come to know have a positive viewpoint regarding current president Barrack Obama. While my viewpoint of Obama vary from meh to… just meh, I still came to really enjoy what others have come to say.

barrack the rock obama

I think Obama would become instantly be more popular if it turned out his alternate personality was really Dwayne Johnson. (Image from i50.tinypic.com)

And with talking presidents, other issues related to politics, society, and customs somehow always come into play. A few nights ago, during another large gathering of residents in Avant Garde, I found myself spending a lot of time talking with a man from Tehran, Iran and a young lady from Kabul, Afghanistan. If the news media had anything to show right now, you would think that Iranians are out to destroy America (and only America) and everyone in Afghanistan lives in constant fear or is a terrorist.

Let me say right now that any of those notions regarding people from those countries are completely unfounded and should be shoved down the throat of any news anchor (or writer) that feels compelled to force down into us. As I conversed with the two throughout the night, I couldn’t help but find myself believing that these two are some of the nicest persons that I’ve come to know while here in Maastricht.

One story that struck me the most was that of one the lady shared with me about someone she knew (forgive me for not recalling exactly whom the person was). She told me of when American troops, in a moment fear or hate – be it hard to say – killed this man that she knew, for no reason it would seem. It’s beyond belief that such a thing would happen, though the sad truth remains that stories such as these happen from time to time. Needless to say, I gave her a hug and told her that I was sorry for such things that have happened.

Other political discussions were had, ranging from gun rights, abortion, and capital punishment, just to round it out. People’s perspectives vary on those topics, and to avoid any confrontation, I won’t delve heavily into the matter on those since it’s contentious enough as is. But if every abroad, take the time to converse with others; gleaming upon the views of foreigners from lands afar is the healthiest thing you can do.

mountain biking

But not as healthy as mountain biking, though talking tends to have a lower risk of death than the other. (Image from www.sidiergo.org)

American Imperialism

Quick! What images come to mind when you think about America? If you thought of fast food, hicks, and television, then you’re not too far off from the mindset of a European.

TV

‘Merica. (Image from healthhabits.files.wordpress.com)

Despite the fact that I am nearly 4,600 miles from home (or 7,400 kilometers for the others), I still find bits of America here and there in this far off city of Maastricht, Netherlands. For example, the first place I ate at while in this city was at a McDonald’s (as you may recall). Add KFC, Subway, Burger King, and Domino’s Pizza to the list of fast food joints here in Maastricht and you got a pretty good cover of American fast food joints.

fast food

I can almost feel the cholesterol coursing through my arteries. (Image from s3.amazonaws.com)

There’s even three McDonald’s located in Maastricht, which is surprising since the city itself is not remarkably big; to give an idea of size, Maastricht is roughly half the size (by area) of St. Joseph, Missouri,  but with a population density that is more than three times greater than St. Joseph.

The idea of what an American is varies from European to European, but let me hone you in with a few keywords: Homer Simpson, Peter Griffin, hicks. Yes, shows such as Family Guy and The Simpsons have created a lasting impact of the view of Americans abroad, even though those shows themselves are satires of American caricatures. And some Europeans may view Americans as being largely of the cowboy rural type, though only half of that being the truth (many Americans are largely from the rural areas of the United States). As I had pointed out before, some aspects of American pop culture have probably established this (somewhat) true perspective of Americans to an audience abroad.

Peter-Griffin

An accurate view of many Americans, maybe. (Image from www.milehighcinema.com)

Now for the big question to ask: Is all of this a bad thing? You probably won’t get a straight answer from anyone, but to answer honestly, I don’t see it as being terrible. The fast food joints are visited by anyone in Maastricht, my international friends included (though we prefer to keep to cooking for ourselves at most times) and they all enjoy the food when wanted. Television shows, such as the ones listed before, are quite popular among everyone; add Big Bang Theory and How I Met Your Mother to the list of popular American TV shows that Europeans enjoy to that list as well.

firefly-poster

Sadly, not as well-known among my friends. (Image from askthedm.files.wordpress.com)

Hollywood films are also big business in Europe, with many of my international friends here being very familiar with all of the big titles over the years. While I can’t say movie theaters are nearly as common here as in the US, they are around and people do attend the movies (though pirating seems to be the most popular way to watch movies among everyone). The only downside with American films getting a release in Europe is that they tend to be delayed from anywhere to a couple of days to several months. Some films, such as Ted, don’t get a release until months after the US release, which can only be a shot in the foot for distributors since Europeans can easily find pirated copies of the film online before they’re ever released in a cinema in Europe.

the-pirate-bay-logo

Sorry copyright holders, but these guys are going to keep winning until the system is fixed. (Image from cdn.slashgear.com)

One film I particularly apt at wanting to see is Looper, but I’m going to have to wait until December if I want to see it at a theater, despite the fact that it has already been out in the States for nearly two weeks.

And where do I fit into this imperialistic-apparent juxtaposition? Well, for one thing, I know I’m here to get a viewpoint that is outside of the States, though I keep finding myself coming back to it from time to time, and not by my own doing. Sometimes I probably put on the look of an American a little too well, at my dismay at times. I am easily larger than your standard European, both in height and bulk. I speak loudly and talk about my love of barbecue a little too much. I even tend to wear a sleeveless shirt that reads “USA” in big bold letters, which often leads to laughs among my friends (and I’m totally cool with this as well, it’s all tongue-in-cheek anyway).

america

Not this much tongue-in-cheek, however. (Image from totalfratmove.com)

With a little over two months left in my tenure in Maastricht, it will be interesting to see how things develop, especially with the looming presidential election in the United States. I’m commonly asked about my views of the candidates by other Europeans, who do take a very keen interest in the proceedings of an election that they have no sway in. Even the long arm of American politics has found its way into the minds of others abroad…

A Random Time in Maastricht

The beauty of being in Maastricht is that there seems to always be something happening in Maastricht. Last night proved to be one of those wonderful nights that only got better as it went on.

Things started out a bit lazily in Avant Garde, with the lot of us wanting to do something, but not within the walls of our residence (which we have been doing with great frequency). While gathered around our table in the dining room, I randomly blurted out “Lets go ride!” And with that, we threw on weather-appropriate clothes, pulled our shoes on, and saddled our bikes. We were off!

Bat Out of Hell

Sort of like this I presume.

We had no intention of really going anywhere; we were there purely for the ride. It reminded me of being the typical American biker, one who rides his Harley Davidson for the mere sport of it. That’s the same feeling I felt and I enjoyed it immensely!

Cruising

How I felt when cruising through Maastricht, except with less leather and no cool shades. (Image from 1.bp.blogspot.com)

It wasn’t all peaches and cream though. Poor Michael unfortunately had his brakes brake just before we even departed Avant Garde. We decided to have him in the front of us, mainly for the sake that if we (Manon, myself, and Cyrille) needed to stop quickly, we would get a rear-full of Michael and his bike. But thankfully, there was no serious “OMG WE NEED TO BRAKE NOW” moments during our cruise through Maastricht.

About to Crash

This never happened. (Image from media.egotvonline.com)

We cruised on into the city and parked our bikes near the city hall of Maastricht, then set out on foot. Our walk took us up very near Hogeschool Zuyd, my university, but we rounded back away from that location and continued on into an area I had yet to travel to by foot. Along the way, we came upon an electric concert/”picnic” that we had heard about from others back in Avant Garde. With curiosity, we came into the setting and found it to be a bit dismal and dull, not much to our likely. In the time it takes you to finish reading this paragraph, we departed once more and continued on.

We eventually circled back to the city hall, where our bikes were located, when we ran into Stefania, a friend of ours from Avant Garde (and a Romanian native). We learned from her that a classical music concert was set to begin very soon in Vrijthof, but to Stefania and her friends, they weren’t very interested. But to the lot of us in our merry band, we were greatly interested in seeing the action, so off to Vrijthof we went!

Vrijthof!

Vrijthof! (Image from Wikipedia)

As we came closer, the sounds of some sort of band could clearly be heard. Perhaps the concert had already begun, I thought. Not the case! A community marching band was making their rounds around Vrijthof, playing catchy marching tunes that delighted me to no end (being a veteran of two marching bands over the course of 8 years).

Marching Band

Wishin’ I was among the players…

As the band marched their way around, the four of us moved on into the main square of Vrijthof, where a large stage and full orchestra was waiting patiently to begin their music. Several TV cameras had been set up around the area; clearly this was to be a televised event, but to what station/channel I did not know. Before long, a speaker took to the stage and began speaking of the opening of the World Cycling Championship, which was (and currently is as of this writing) to begin in Limburg, the region of the Netherlands Maastricht resides in. The female speaker went on, eventually being joined by another individual, and finally the president of the WCC organization. Languages were jumping around from Dutch and English, so I had a bit of a time trying to follow all that was being said, but I am grateful to say that I’m beginning to understand more Dutch, thanks in part to watching the mannerisms and expressions of the speakers involved.

Eventually the speakers departed, the conductor took the stage, and the concert began! The music itself was primarily classical in nature, but synthesizers, electric strings, and awesome lights were some of the highlights of the concert – namely a quartet of female electric violinists and cellist proved to be delightful (Strings 4Ever being the name of the quartet).

Earth Symphony

Rocking on stage, with the Strings 4Ever quartet jamming on their sweet, sweet electric instruments.

All in all, the evening was practically a perfect one to be had. Once the concert had finished, we trudged back on to our bikes, our feet and legs sore from standing for over an hour without rest. But who’s to complain for such a good night of a random time?

Random pic

And here’s a random picture of me taking a random picture of others taking a random picture. We’re such tourists.

Pink Houses

Coming to and fro within Maastricht, I oft travel through primarily residential areas of the city. Much of the residency are small house complexes, namely two stories, or apartment buildings that rise many stories more. Many of the small housing complexes are brick, with barely a front that can constitute as a yard, but have a backyard similar to what one may find at a shotgun house in the United States.

Houses of Maastricht

A standard look at many of the residences that I have encountered in Maastricht.

A part of me urns to see the inside of a standard home here in Maastricht, just so I can get a better understanding of the regular life of a Dutch individual. It’s something that I wish to compare to the dream of owning a home in the Untied States, one with a 2-car garage, a beautiful front yard, and a spacious backyard to throw a barbecue party and play whatever games wished to be played.

That concept of the American dream home always reminds me of the song “Pink Houses” by John Mellencamp/Johnny Cougar/John Cougar Mellencamp/The Guy Easily Confused with Bruce Springsteen. So I wonder: is there that dream among the Europeans? Do they wish to have a home with a spacious yard, living in content that they have made it? Is there a European dream of being successful?

Ultimately, I hope to be able to answer this question by the time I leave the Netherlands near December’s end.

The Peculiar Americans

Now that I’ve been settled into Maastricht for over a week now and have met, as well as heavily discussed, with many international students, I can say that I am starting to get a clearer picture of what others see of America.

One of the first, and possibly funniest, concepts that many Europeans have is that Americans either are cowboys or love surfing. Basically, it boils down to this: Europeans know two states well and they are California and Texas.

California and Texas

This is America in the minds of many Europeans I’ve met (jokingly, I should say). (Image from spyglassrealty.com)

California comes into the picture because a majority of the Europeans that I have met greatly desire to visit California someday, mainly for the beaches and the local culture. Of course with that, I’m always quick to tell them “You don’t want to live in California, you’re asking for an expensive lifestyle.” But I always ensure that I tell them “Yes! Go to California! It’s a place everyone needs to visit!” I had my blasts in California the couple of times I’ve been out there and certainly hope to return there again in the future. When I would tell others that I was from Kansas City, Missouri, usually the first question that was asked was “Is that near Texas?” Which would leave me telling them, “No, Texas is a ways out from Missouri.”

Now for Texas, I have no idea how that state has become so vivid with the minds of those that I have met. Perhaps it was President Bush, who hailed from that state and is still viewed with scornful eyes upon everyone abroad (I’m sure the same goes for the States as well). Or maybe its the cowboy/Western films that featured the desert Southwest of the United States that have caused many Europeans to remember Texas (Arizona, New Mexico, it all looks like Texas I can only presume in their minds). It’s something I need to delve further into as time wears on.

John Wayne

This guy may or may not have something to do with it. (Image from montanawriter.com)

Speaking of Bush, yes, many people greatly dislike that man abroad! I think ‘hate’ is probably an appropriate word, despite it being very strong in its definition, but that’s the vibe that I get. However, President Obama is almost universally adored by all from abroad, who see him as quite an awesome dude. It’s such an interesting concept to see play out, granted that Obama doesn’t appear to share the same level of support he had going into the 2008 Presidential election. And by the looks of it, signs point to “yes” that he will be re-elected again come this November, which appears to excite many Europeans around.

One of the more interesting and deep conversations I’ve had lately was with another fellow student from Norway (his name escapes me) and our views on justice. I’m not sure what drove the conversation towards the justice system, but I know it began somewhere along with Anders Breivik and the mass killings that man perpetrated in Norway last year. The man was recently convicted in court to a sentence that many Americans would deem ‘light,’ given the level of mass terrorism he single-handily did in short time. My Norwegian friend and I both were in unanimous agreement that the man was certifiably crazy for what he did and that justice should fall upon him, but it was the level of justice we didn’t agree upon. For Norway, and I believe nearly all of the European nations (I need to fact check this), the death penalty (capital punishment) does not exist, therefore a murderer, however vile and murderous they may be, will never be executed by the state. Of course in the United States, it’s up to the actual states themselves to decide whether capital punishment should be enforced, with many of states having such level of punishment ‘on the books’ (capital punishment on the federal level, however, exists, regardless of state). My Norwegian friend just thought this was beyond peculiar that we Americans would go to such levels of ‘cruelty’ upon those who commit such cruel acts. I did my best trying to explain the reasoning why many Americans believe in capital punishment, using the “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” concept to express such views.

Gallows

This is still a viable method of execution in the states of Washington and New Hampshire. (Image from gocalifornia.about.com)

We segued then into discussing last year’s Bin Laden raid, when SEAL Team 6 killed the world’s most wanted man, Osama Bin Laden, in his compound in Pakistan. Again, we both came to the same conclusion that, in one respect, Osama’s death was an acceptable conclusion to one of the most intense manhunts in history. But what it came down to was whether it was a morally correct act to kill someone in such a manner (for those that somehow don’t know how the raid went down, here’s an abridged version: SEALs get into compound, find Osama on the third floor, shoot him in the head, leave. There’s a movie coming out near the end of the year chronicling the full events of the manhunt, including the raid, as directed by Oscar winner Kathryn Bigelow.). From my friend’s point of view, he believed that Osama should have been arrested and not killed outright; he should have faced the court system and stand for the charges that he committed in his life, despite the fact that Osama’s ultimate punishment would most likely have been the death penalty. I was inclined to agree with his statement that justice should have been taken down in the manner of the courts, but I’m not one to tell what the Navy SEALs should and shouldn’t do (they’re a terrifying and effective force as is, best I not stand in their way).

SEAL Team 6

SEAL Team 6, wearing the finest blocks Photoshop can buy. (Image from worldofwild.blogspot.nl)

Our discussion concerning Osama, the Norway mass killings, and other matters were certainly some of the most insightful that I’ve ever had with another in a long time and has really helped put a perspective on the views of other Europeans. Granted, I was only speaking with one person from Norway, so his view should not be the view of all Europeans; after all, assumptions can be the worst form of stupidity a person can suffer. We did delve into the matter of gun rights and why there should/shouldn’t be laws for such material items, but I prefer to sway away from that discussion given how contentious of an issue it is in the USA and abroad; I am here to discuss the happenings of my travels, not to give political speeches on various ideologies (though if enough people feel that I should write about our gun discussion, I would be more than happy to oblige).