Maastricht: Pineapple & Starbucks

I've been writing for the Maastricht University newspaper 'Observant' and the student blog, so here are a few bits of writing from them - and if you enjoy them - you can read more by clicking the links at the bottom of this article.

The Starbucketeers

Onetallchocomochasoyextrashotvanillaskinnydoublefrappelattechinotogo. And hold the whip. And the ceremony begins. Speedy baristas steaming and whipping, banging and frothing in a self-important manner.
My wallet sighs with relief. It is lighter by about five pound coins. That’s probably around five regular coffees from the substantially less sexed-up coffee place down the road. Where there are no designer hot drinks, and no array of sprinkles, sugars or syrups to confuse your daily caffeine pick-me-up. Sipping blonde girlies and their tall Vanilla Lattes, posing would-be writers tapping at their uninspiring laptops and serious ‘black-no-sugars’ business men flicking through yesterday’s Financial Times. A pair of loud Italian men sit down at the table next to me, accompanied by their mock-Italian coffee. And then there’s me. Scribbling on a notepad, observing. Ridiculously aware of my own ironic hypocrisy.
This was a common scene from a ‘Starbucks’ in my native Britain, where I would spend hours people-watching, sipping and writing. Now that I am studying in Maastricht there is no ‘Starbucks’ (much to my surprise), and the nearest one seems to be in exotic Aachen - but there are plenty of similar establishments in Maastricht.
Designer coffee has somewhat taken off in the last few years, and with it, giving social acceptability to sitting and apparently doing nothing but sipping and people-watching for hours on end – without looking like you are up to no good. However, people watching in these coffee-houses is an entirely different kettle of …coffee? It is a form of people-watching restricted to a particular cross-section of society, a sort of bubble inhabited by the kinds of people who you might choose to sit next to on a train, or walk near if there was a drunk on the other side of the road.
But it got me thinking: Is society split into those who are welcome in expensive coffee places and those who are not? The coffee-class divide? What about society, diversity and integration in Maastricht? Is integration more than just to do with integration of different nationalities, but also to do with integration of different social classes, interests or ages?
So where does that leave us privileged young students? What do the ‘others’ or ‘real Maastrichters’ think about us? International? One of their own? Spoiled middle-class young people? Maybe when we think about increasing integration, we shouldn’t limit ourselves to thinking about integration of nationalities, but also of social classes.
Somehow now my designer coffee leaves a bitter taste.

Yeah, that thing is a Pineapple

Dutch people have a funny knack of being fantastically fluent in almost any language you happen to name. English? Yep. French? Of course. German? Well duh, it's easy for us Dutch people! Swedish? Yeah why not? Ancient Greek? Sure! Albanian? Naturally...
But something that really struck me when I first came to the Netherlands is the confidence of the Dutch in their language skills. Of course, due to the size and location of the Netherlands there is a need and motivation to learn other languages - and to a good level I might add. However, at times this confidence could get rather interesting. Take for example, a recent trip of mine to the Albert Heijn:
Dutch guy 1: "We could make a fruit salad?"
Me: "Yeah sure! What do you want to put in it?"
Dutch guy 1: "We could have some apples, oranges, mango, ananas...?"
Me: "You mean pineapple."
Dutch guy 1: "Huh? No, I don't. What's a pineapple?"
Me: "That." [points at pineapple]
Dutch guy 2: "That's an ananas!" [with very American accent]
Dutch guy 1: [laughs in a very self-assured way] "You don't know English?"
Dutch guys 1& 2: [laugh hysterically]
Me: "I'm an English native."
Dutch: "oh yeah. [awkward silence] that thing is really called a pineapple?"

The most worrying thing is that I almost believed them when they said it was called an ananas.

The one thing that seems unique with the Dutch is not only their ability to speak many languages but also their confidence...  It got me thinking: maybe there is something we can learn from the Dutch?
To confidently deliver my limited French sentences, instead of swallowing my words to some Parisian waitress, or not caring at all when I get the Dutch words 'heel', 'geel' en 'geil' mixed up... (If you don't know what I am talking about - ask any nearby Dutchy).
But for now: the Dutch can keep their ananases.

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