“The gardens in the Netherlands remain fascinating for me”
Walking in a Dutch neighborhood, I can always see directly who the house belongs to. Grass, trees and flowers? A Dutch family. Stones, pebbles, weeds and a chair in the front garden? A foreign family. Last week I got a new local resident. The former people were already gone, the new ones just moved in. All pebbles were taken from the front garden, so I was expecting a Dutch family. Until I saw a truck in the distance bringing a new load of stones. I walked past the house and saw a man standing in the doorway. He stood the other way around, so I only saw his back. Convinced by the truck with pebbles, I said: “Salaam aleikum.” The man turned, “Hey, Salaam Aleikum!” He greeted kindly. My suspicion was confirmed.
The gardens in the Netherlands remain fascinating for me. You only use the front to show how beautiful your garden is. At the back you lock yourself up, to spend time with your family or friends unseen. That is why I like walking in the Klarendal district of Arnheim in the summer. Everything has been turned around. There are flowers in the back garden, and people sit together in the front garden. As I know it from my home country. I love the social life on the street, the conversations with the neighbors and the summer evenings in front of your house. Locked up in the backyard of my house, I feel alone. In Klarendal many benches have been put on the pedestrian walkways by the municipality. I wish that for all neighborhoods. Not just a neat sidewalk and beautiful communal flower boxes, but benches and chairs on the street so that locals meet. If everyone is having a good time together, it seems to me that there is nothing left to be desired for a municipality as well.
Every country has its own way of being economical. I learn from Dutch people that you have to look at clothes and electronics in the city, and then compare prices at home on the internet. Then order from the cheapest provider. “But what about the shipping costs?” I said. The Dutch apparently bypass this by ordering so much that the shipping costs are free, and then the products that you do not need are returned for free. You just have to come up with it.
In Syria, we always want to be cheap, so negotiating is common. Men look for clothes in the city, but then take their mother or wife with them for a purchase. We all know as men: women never get tired of whining. An additional advantage is that a male salesman cannot send a woman away, so he has to listen to her whining. “The seams are not stitched properly, the fabric is weak and has a musty odor.”
My father and I gladly took my mother to get the cheapest clothes, but at the same time we were ashamed. “Ma, now it’s enough,” I whispered. ,,Anwar, don’t worry about it. That man only paid ten pounds for this piece of fabric, and I won’t pay 75 for it.” My father, too, began to feel increasingly uncomfortable the longer it takes. He often stood up for the seller. “He also has to pay his rent and electricity,” he said. But no, my mother persisted until she got her way.
In the Arab neighborhood supermarket where I do my shopping in Arnhem, I saw a Syrian woman trying the same. “We are in the Netherlands,” said the Turkish man behind the counter. His smile betrayed that the scene reminded him of his homeland. “Only for this time then.”
Will the mayor come and take a look to estimate what the street will look like without a pear tree?
I recently helped a good acquaintance with pruning. In his front garden there is a huge pear tree that gets so many leaves and pears that it gets dark throughout the house. When we stood on the ladder to thin out the tree, I asked him why he didn’t cut down the whole tree. Then we no longer have pears, he said, and that is not allowed by the municipality. Apparently you have to apply for a permit in the Netherlands to cut down a tree in your own garden. I wonder how that goes. Will the mayor come and take a look to estimate what the street will look like without a pear tree? There seem to be even more rules about nature. In some areas, for example, you must be quiet, and you must not smoke or feed animals. You have to keep your garden tidy, your plants should not cause nuisance to the neighbors and if you throw something away in nature you will be fined. I even heard that for some crimes as a punishment by the State Forest Maintenance Institution or the municipality you have to help keep nature beautiful.
The advantage is that nature in the Netherlands always looks great. Especially in the cities. The grass on the roadside is mowed, flower beds get water and in the fall someone with a large leaf blower comes along. Hedges are carefully pruned to the centimeter and even new fields of flowers are sown.
Sometimes I feel ashamed when I see my own front yard. I’m not that good with plants and the only thing that grows well is the weeds. As soon as spring starts, I will remove it all before it will grow so high that I have to invite the mayor to come and see if it is allowed.
“Do you want a cucumber on your son’s face?” The pregnant woman says threateningly
Pregnancy is a normal period for a Dutch woman. She is working, she does the groceries, runs around with children, drives a car or is at the gym. Rarely do I see a helpful man in the neighborhood who supports her in carrying the child.
Syrian men fear the pregnant woman. Extra attention and pampering are needed for nine months. Every effort must be made to relieve the carrying woman. “I am so excited about mango” is a great comment in the summer. But pregnant Syrian women also dare to ask for ice, watermelon or almonds in the winter. “It’s your son asking for this, not me,” she will say. There are only seasonal products in Syria. There is no ice in the winter, or tropical fruit. Yet an expectant father will have to wander city after city in search of a shopkeeper with frozen fruit, vegetables or ice cream.
Why? Because Syrians believe that if the husband does not make it, a stain will appear on the child’s face in the form of the unfulfilled message. “Do you want a cucumber on your son’s face?” The pregnant woman says threateningly. People with spots on their face or body are asked throughout their lives: what did your father refuse to buy during pregnancy? Are pregnant women spoiled and do they think their unborn child needs an ice cream, a strawberry or pomegranate? Or has science really demonstrated that the sudden need for a certain product comes from the baby? Somehow the man feels that he is being fooled. But then he imagines his future child, with a spot on the forehead in the shape of a cucumber.
Just go to the store anyway.