Wednesday, February 27, 2008

From Winter to Summer...

Over here, it's only a matter of waiting three days!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Philadelphia Flyers

Last Thurday, I went to a Philadelphia Flyers game to see my first Ice Hockey game in the US. However, before I talk about this experience, let me share the coolest word in the American language with you: To Fatfinger. This word is used (even in business) when someone made a typing error! “Yes, there is an error in that document;. Someone fatfingered it!” and I know what you are thinking now: yes, there are enough fat people in this country that would make a lot of these errors… the word can also be used as in fatfinger dialing (calling the wrong person: “Sorry, I fatfinger dialed you!”) or fatfinger text messaging for typing errors in a text message.

Back to business. Last Thursday, the Philadelphia Flyers played against the San Jose Sharks. A colleague of mine has season tickets, and he offered to take me once for a ‘true American experience’. This experience starts when you enter the stadium: entertainment everywhere! Live music, TV’s everywhere, food everywhere (of course) and many excited fans. At 7:00 pm, we walked towards our seats – they were at the top of the stadium, providing an amazing view! So far, no real difference with a Dutch soccer game… until, after about 10 minutes, something happened that characterizes Ice Hockey: out of nowhere, a fight started. Usually, there is a small reason such as a tackle. Two referees stand next to the fighters, to prevent other players from joining the fight. However, the fighters can continue for a few minutes! The audience (20.000 people) stands up to encourage the fighters to go on. Fighting is illegal; however, the penalty is very low compared to Olympic or European rules (where they eliminate fighters immediately). Most teams even have one or more fighters in their selection (called Enforcers)!

In general, what I noticed about American’s popular sports (American Football, Basketball, Baseball, Ice Hockey, Golf, and Boxing) is that the focus is more on short, powerful moments and physique power, than technique and endurance. It is off course possible to use your technique to get the puck from the opponent; but isn’t it much easier to give him a body check, so you can just walk away with the puck? Moreover, the substitutions go on and on (soccer has a maximum of three per game) and the games have many time outs, next to two or three longer breaks.

In the second and third period, we were able to get some seats next to the ‘field’ which gave again some unique views. Another fun fact: a colleague of mine thought a Flyers game would be so romantic, he brought his wife to a game… on Valentine’s day!

Unfortunately, the Flyers have been playing pretty bad this month – they lost this one (1-3), it was the 10th loss in a row after a very good start of the season. The following movie shows a few body checks, encouraging fans, and the amazing tune that they play before the game starts after a time-out – you’ll recognize it!

And click here for the pictures of the Flyers! (a diashow will start)

Monday, February 18, 2008

South Philly

On the third Monday in February, people in the US celebrate Presidents Day: the birthday of George Washington. His actual birthday is February 22, but over here they thought that the third Monday was easier to remember. Being American or not, this means: a long weekend!

This gave me some time to check out some places in Philly, and, since I finally got my Social Security Number: get a PA drivers license! Last Saturday, on my way to the DMV (where they give away licenses, once you have all the administration) I thought: what is going to go wrong this time? Maybe they don’t understand my VISA status, maybe I do not have enough prove that I actually reside at my current address? No, it should all be set. Then I arrived at the DMV office… closed. Simple, it’s Presidents Day next Monday, and we feel like having a long weekend but we are too lazy to put it on the DMV website. Thanks guys! Well, the longer I don’t have a car, the more money I save, let’s stay positive…

I was glad to live in the center of the city: it gives me the opportunity to walk to nice places. Last Sunday I scheduled a walk to see some interesting places in South Philly. Close to my apartment is ‘Camac Street’, which completely changes the street image: from a busy street filled with people, cars and even bikes, you walk into a quiet European-look-a-like street, with old houses and beautiful architecture. Camac Street's nickname is ‘Avenue of the Artists’, because the artists used to live here. Today, it is filled with restaurants, bars, and even a law office!

From Camac Street I walked to South Street. This street is familiar because of the wall paintings and other forms of art. Walls are filled with art to prevent graffiti, which gives a unique street image! With a unique store: ‘Utrecht Art Supplies’ (Utrecht is a city in the Netherlands). You can also see artists opening up their garden with different forms of art; a brand-new condo building next to an old, closed house; and many sport fields.

I walked on to 9th street, also known as the Italian Market. This is the oldest and largest outdoor-market in the US! Like the ‘Albert Cuyp’ in Amsterdam. After walking around (I didn’t really need anything, except for a car but unfortunately they didn’t sell them) I walked to the end of the market towards one of the most famous places in Philly: the corner of Pat’s and Gino’s. Two Cheesesteak rivals, always challenging each other to make the best Cheesesteak – which is simply a sandwich with steak, melted cheese, and (optional) onions. Sounds simple, but it is very famous over here! (and very tasty!!!!) Last summer I visited Pat’s, so this time I went to Gino’s.

The way of ordering this Cheesesteak is just as famous as the Cheesesteak itself. Choose your cheese, and with- or without onions. For example, a Cheesesteak with American Cheese without onions is an ‘American without’, and that's all you should say. If you make a mistake while ordering, or you don’t do it fast enough: no problem, just go to the back of the line, practice it, and try again. Both places were extremely busy. Conclusion: bad service, long waiting times, and it wasn’t cheap ($ 7,50); in other words: name branding is a great business model!

Camac Street:

You think you arrived in a European city...

Until you see those flags again!

Camac Street: Law Office

Camac Street: Law Office

Utrecht Art Supplies!

Art on South Street:

A brand new condo building... next to this old, closed house

The Italian Market

Philly Cheesesteak!

How to order a Cheesesteak


And it's rival Pat's

Sport fields in South Philly

They can also be art!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

ING Direct Soccer Game

Last Monday, I expected a Dutch experience: my first indoor soccer game. However, this wasn't what I expected; more Americanized than this is impossible.

It started with the ride towards the game. A colleague offered to drive me there, which was in a Hummer H2. Once I arrived, I met the team. I did not speak to everyone yet, but I haven’t even seen one American: people came from Norway, Germany, Jamaica, Curacao… And now a Dutchie as well! “No pressure Daniel, just play like Kloif!” “You mean Cruijff?”

When the game started, I was on the side for a few minutes to analyze the strategy of this team. In the first moments I thought I watched an American Football game: everyone ran towards the ball with no strategy at all. When there was a little space, someone would try to shoot on the goal like crazy! One of the reasons causing this behavior was the extremely small room we played in. Despite the amateurish level, everyone was very fanatical and really tried hard to score. The referee was a volunteer but hard-working, serious ref. They know what authority is over here: when the referee whistles, he is right about his decision – period. However, the referee was too lazy to take the basketball net out of the way, which led to funny situations.

After the game a teammate asked me if the story is true: “can you really legally buy and smoke weed in Amsterdam?” When I told him about the menu that you get in a coffeeshop (indicating all the types of weed and magic mushrooms), what you can find in the red light district, and the amazing parties in Amsterdam, he suddenly understood why the Netherlands had never won the World Championship Soccer! Maybe he’s right…

Another nice quote about soccer: "It's one of the simplest games you'll ever play (a ball, a net, and you!). ING DIRECT is one of the simplest concepts in banking--no headaches, no branches, great rates. And you'll get a kick out of both!" You can see the result of our game below. I assume I don’t have to explain that we were the visitors! See more pictures by clicking here!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Bad things come in three’s

There is this saying in the US: Bad things come in three’s. In my case, I have had bad luck two times since I arrived in the US: in my second week, my notebook broke down. In my third week, I bought this huge lemon (which completely broke down in the fourth week). So, what was about to happen next?

Last week, I woke up in the middle of the night by a loud noise and streaming water. Still half-asleep, I walked to the bathroom where I found a huge hole in the ceiling, two layers of the ceiling had crashed on my toilet, and gallons of water covered the floor. After reviewing this for a minute and wondering why this had to happen to me (instead of one of the 240 other apartments in this building), I walked to the concierge to close the water supply in the apartments above me. Everything got fixed within a few days; all that’s left is a hole in my ceiling. And the damage wasn’t that bad, which is the benefit of renting a furnished place: all I brought is clothes and a notebook.

Last Saturday, I was ready for another try to buy a car. This time the search focused on guarantee instead of a nice looking car. After founding one (a strong Mazda), it seemed as if moving to PA wasn’t a good idea: you can’t register a car without a driver’s license from PA, and because I don’t have a social security number yet, I can’t get a driver’s license. Welcome to the bureaucracy.

Sometimes, on moments like this, with all the bad luck, you wish to be back in the Netherlands where you know everything: make a Dutch meal, watch a movie on my own TV set, negotiate with car dealers in my own language, and go to a local club, without all the trouble: next to the full time job, I have to speak in a different language 24/7, I have new people around me, live in a new city, in a new apartment, and hundreds of other small differences between the US and the Netherlands. But then, I realize the amazing experience I’m enjoying, which will stick with me the rest of my life. Laughing about this bad luck is the best solution, it can always get worse. Last Friday, I had lunch with a colleague from another office. When I met him, he said: “Someone told me you should tell me two stories: something about your car, and something about your ceiling!” After a short summary of my first month we laughed about it and had a nice lunch.

Monday, February 4, 2008

50 United States

The 50 United States are together one country. However, sometimes it seems as if the US consists of 50 small countries, that coincidently speak the same language and have the same president.

There are numerous differences among the states. For example, in most states it is allowed to make a phone call or send a text message while you're driving, but if you do it driving into New Jersey you might end up paying a $250 fine. When you leave New Jersey, you have to pay $3 toll everytime. Moving from one state to the other can be a huge administrative step: re-applying for a drivers licence, renewing licence tags on your car... And even the most serious laws like gun posession, taxes, and the death penalty differ from state to state.

All the 50 states have a unique nickname. Florida is called ´The Sunshine State´, California is `The Golden State´ since people used to find gold there, and New York is 'The Empire State´. Not many people know anything about the State Delaware, because it's so small: after Rhode Island, it is the smallest state in the US. The biggest city is Wilmington, with approximately 100.000 habitants. Delaware's nickname is 'The First State' because Delaware was in 1787 the first of the (at that time) 13 states to ratify the US Constitution. (This was done in the capital of the US, which was Philadelphia at that moment.) The main reason why Delaware was so quick with this ratification: it wanted to be independend and get free of the countries that had conquerred Delaware at that moment: Sweden, the UK, and the Netherlands!

No matter how small this state is, Delaware is is very important for banks. Thanks to a very attractive tax system, many banks have their main office in Wilmington. But, when you combine this with a quiet nightlife, and it gives a strange feeling: Wilmington is not a small city, with a nice skyline. However when you walk or drive throughout the city at night, all you see is empty bank offices, making it a huge ghost town! The first visit is also very strange: hundreds of bank branches, for just 100.000 people.

Reasons enough to switch states. Last week I moved to ‘The Keystone State’: Pennsylvania, getting this nickname from the central, wedge-shaped stone which holds all the other stones of a structure in place to form an arch. This nickname is based upon its central location among the original Thirteen Colonies forming the United States. I choose to live in the biggest city: Philadelphia. In the heart of this city , I found a studio apartment, between the high buildings. I'm still working in Delaware. And I'm still shopping there, because the sales tax is 0%!

In the meantime, Joran Vandersloot is big news over here as well as in the Netherlands. And I finally said goodbye to my lemon, when the entire transmission broke down... Still looking for another car!

Click here to check this weeks pictures!