(Despite what it may look like, this is not a parody. I am genuinely this incompetent.)
This week I’m in the Netherlands visiting an awesome institution called Radboud University. They have no less than THREE Free Electron Lasers (taking up a combined volume somewhat equivalent to a large underground bunker). This is my record of my mishaps and (less frequently) successes while on location.
You know, The Netherlands is a really nice place. It’s sunny right now, the trains are clean and fast. Travel was easy and I had a good reception (and coffee) when I got to FELIX. Having got up at 5:30am to get here, it’s 4pm local time and I’m shattered. My host suggests that we take bikes into town – an excellent idea to get me killed.
It’s been a while since I’ve ridden a bike, and even then it was on UK roads; not only am I used to being on the wrong side but I’m used to being on the actual roads rather than bike paths. There are bike paths everywhere, and even less reassuringly people on bikes everywhere. This means that doing something stupid is probably going to be a faux-pas. So it’s reassuring that I get nearly 100 yards before picking the wrong lane to cycle into town on.
I get into town with my host without much more difficulty, and he leaves me there (at my agreement; I’m feeling adventurous due to caffeine levels). I manage to find a riverside cafe and the waitress speaks English, much to my relief. I’m not sure if tipping is done here, so I leave a generous tip just in case. Feeling good, I get back on my bike and ride home.
And I pick the wrong road, getting lost.
An hour later, and after managing to ride down the wrong side of the road more than once, I find the town center again and this time pick the correct road out of town. The guest house is nice, I call my girlfriend and then go to sleep.
In the morning I realize that I have no breakfast. After a coffee, I leave for the local supermarket which my host assured me would be open. Arriving, I get a trolley because I can’t see any baskets, and promptly look a fool when I arrive at the checkout with five things in it. On the trip round, I get lost several times and manage to confuse myself over milk. All the time, I studiously avoid eye contact with the staff in case I have to speak Dutch.
Now would be a good time to mention that before the trip I had been panicking so hard about being competent at the experiment that I completely forgot to panic in any way about actually being in a country I know nothing about. Hence, I prepared very well for the experiment (at least I hope) and didn’t give any thought at all to being able to speak the language. I hear (from everyone) that “everyone speaks English” here, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to be that guy who goes abroad and is arrogant enough to not care about speaking the language. I figure if I’m going to be here, I may as well be incompetent but well meaning.
So I get to the checkout and realise that I have to talk to the lady there. I panic, and try to explain that I don’t speak Dutch. I get an odd look but manage to muddle through. It’s not until 5 minutes later that I realise; not only did I forget to get a receipt in my panic, but I was speaking German. No wonder I got funny looks.
Still, I went home and celebrated by having a coffee and breakfast. I managed to cycle the 5 minutes to FELIX without endangering anyone’s life, so today has been good to me so far.
Tune in to Mr. Bean Goes on Experiment later to find out all the other ways I commit social faux pas’ and confuse poor natives during my evening shifts!