Category Archives: language

Utrecht’s Number One Citizen

Meet Miffy

Holland has produced some amazing characters, both real and imagined, but none more perfect then Miffy. This quiet unassuming gender bending cartoon character has captured the imagination of generations of Dutch children. I say gender bending because there seems to be a bit of a divide out there. Apparently, creator Dick Bruna didn’t dab a flower onto the rabbit’s smock until 1970 and folks born before that were free to assign any gender they chose to the little bunny.

Miffy is a worldwide phenomenon with more than 120 books that have sold over 85 million copies, a feature length film and three television series.

Why so popular? Miffy appeals to children all over the world, but especially here. She, like the Dutch that adore her, is unpretentious, uncomplicated, has a very positive attitude and, even though innocent, is always open to new experiences.

But she’s no push over. Miffy has been forced to duke it out with Miss Kitty over copyright and trademark infringement and has won.

The dismayed creator has simply said, “No, don’t do that. Try to make something that you think of yourself”

She is no more revered then here In Utrecht, Bruna’s hometown. Called Nijntje in Holland, there is a square named after her, the Nijntjepleintje (Little Nijntje Square), the Centraal Museum has opened a permanent exhibition called the dick bruna huis (Dick Bruna house), there is a Nijntje Museum and there are even street lamps shaped like the little bunny.

 

 

 

 

On February 16, 2017, Dick Bruna died at the age of 89. Miffy would be 62 today.

 

 

 

 

 

More Interesting but Useless Facts;

In the Netherlands, Miffy is known as “nijntje”, which derives from the Dutch word “konijntje”, meaning “little bunny”. This is a very logical name for anyone who speaks Dutch, but not in any other language. Because “nijntje” is difficult to pronounce for non-Dutch speakers and because there are so many different words for “bunny” in other languages, the rabbit is simply known as Miffy. The name has no special meaning, but is easy to pronounce in all languages.

See how practical the Dutch are?

The Need For Standardization

The Dog's Cajones

The Dog’s Cajones

As you can see from the storefront above, the Spanish seem to like dogs. There are quite a few around and they all seem fairly friendly. We are in an urban area with a lot of people so I understand the need to control pets and in particular where they leave “Nature’s Callings”. But there needs to be some standardization in signage so that everyone is on the same page. Without a clear and concise message these things are open to interpretation. Things can spin out of control. The result could be pet anarchy. This sign is a perfect example of a generic municipal sign. The dog depicted is completely bland and figureless. This could be any dog, which is the point. There is no room for error.

Perfectly Generic Dog Sign

Perfectly Generic Dog Sign

On the other hand, I’m not even sure that this one is a dog. From what I can see of it behind the red bar it’s a wolf. Of course nobody wants a wolf on the beach. What are you crazy?

Wolf?

Wolf?

Now this one’s a puppy, a friendly puppy. Who doesn’t like puppies?

Adorable Puppy

Adorable Puppy

This one is just sad. Why have they decided to embarrass this poor dog? I think that we’re all smart enough to know why we don’t want the dog on the beach. Do we really have to humiliate the poor creature? And what’s with the perfect dog in the lower right? Go ahead just rub it in a little bit more.

Just Humiliating

Just Humiliating

This one’s not a dog. It’s a hand puppet, right?

Hand Puppet

Hand Puppet

This dog’s just a little crazy. To me the sign says “No Ditzy Dogs On The Beach”.

Crazy Dog

Crazy Dog

I find this one particularly troubling. This is not a generic dog. This is a very specific dog. We were so certain that they were singling out a particular canine that we went around the neighborhood showing people the picture and asking them if anyone knew this dog and what exactly had he done. He looks like a pretty nice dog to me.

Whose Dog Is This?

Whose Dog Is This?

They keep telling us, “he went away” or maybe it was, “you should go away”.

Jose The Good Dog

Jose The Good Dog

We Hate Edith

Meet Edith

Meet Edith

We downloaded an app in Holland called NavFreeNL and it worked so great that when we got to Spain we downloaded NavFree Spain. NavFree speaks to us with a very refined female British accent so we have named her Edith after a dear friend in Northern England who is intelligent and extremely well organized. We have quickly discovered that the GPS Edith is none of these things. In fact, the GPS Edith is slow, dim witted and couldn’t find quicksand if she where buried to her neck in it.  And to make matters worse she’s a big fat liar.

Recently we were going to an intercity address in Bilbao to meet a friend of a friend. I transferred the address from my notebook into the phone and Edith led the way. Edith, being a little slow, has a tendency to point out exits just after you have passed them so working with her requires quite a few uturns, but this country has a lot of roundabouts so we have learned to compensate. We’re just like the Griswolds in European Vacation.

No matter, we have made it to Bilbao and have begun winding our way through the narrow streets in the old town. Only now the streets are getting narrower and with the height of the buildings we find ourselves in passageways that the sun never reaches. The doorways and alleys are filling up with pimps and streetwalkers. The police presence has increased.

Just a little scary.

Just a little scary.

We are clearly not in Kansas anymore and everyone is staring at us like we are foreign missionaries who have been beamed in from an alien church social. It feels as though people are slowly beginning to encircle the car. Right in the middle of this seedy decaying urban jungle our anxiety level has reached DefCom 5 when Edith proudly announces, “You have reached your destination.” Wendi, who’s a little nervous at this point, turns and says, “Bruce, get me out of here. NOW.” A few rights, a couple lefts, we burst out into the sunlight and find ourselves on a narrow passage that runs along the bank of the river. I’m not even sure it’s a road, most probably a pedestrian walkway, but we won’t be turning back at this point. Up ahead I see two well dressed men holding leather notebooks, talking with each other and pointing towards a dilapidated storefront and I think, architects or maybe developers, but clearly educated. I pull up next to them, roll down the window and say in the calmest voice I can muster, “Do you speak English?”. NO!

Undeterred I thrust my notebook at them gesturing wildly at the address written on the page. They take the notebook, study the address and begin to have a discussion about it. Two very scruffy North Africans wander over from a park bench and join the conversation. Now a nasty looking street person with some kind of psychotic disorder staggers up and stands a little off to one side keeping a close eye on the strange activities.

The four men are all passing my notebook around and talking at the same time as they gesture wildly. The whole group is doing a sort of dance now as they keep turning in complete circles clearly looking for some sort landmark or escape route perhaps. Finally, they all stop talking. One of the black men takes my notebook, leans into the car window and in absolutely perfect British School English says, “I am very sorry Sir, we don’t really know where this is, but it is not near here”. He then, very precisely, lays out a long and circuitous route that will take us across a bridge to the other, far more civilized, side of the river. Where we clearly belong.

Slanglish

Set Down = Drop Off

Set Down = Drop Off

People here don’t speak English. They speak Slanglish and have great fun with the language. Sometimes there are so many rhyming couplets, alliterations and just nonsense words that I have a hard time figuring out what anyone is talking about. I’m certain that my English friends could send me books full of this stuff, but I’ll just mention a few that I hear everyday.

Cheers

I’ve heard the expression “cheers” for many years, but I had no idea that is a completely all purpose word that can mean, among other things, thank you, congratulations, your welcome, hello, goodbye, good day, good morning or good afternoon. It can be used singularly or in combination with its root meaning, as in “Cheers, thanks” or “Cheers, goodbye”. Which, to my ear sounds a bit redundant, like “thanks, thanks” or “goodbye, goodbye”. But if you use cheers as a verb or in the past tense it reverts to its more traditional meaning. You might say that you had thanked someone, where as you could never say that you had cheers’d someone.

Wee

Everything is wee. We’re in a wee country, in a wee county, in a wee village, where we’re going for a wee walk to have a wee bit of lunch at a wee restaurant.  And the subject doesn’t necessarily have to be small or charming. The only thing I haven’t heard wee combined with is wee, as in wee wee.

Ha Ha

Although there is no wee wee there is a  Ha-Ha. This  16th or 17th century invention, is a reinforced trench that stretches across a field or pasture and works like a fence that keeps sheep and cattle from wandering near the manor. But unlike a fence, it does not disrupt the vista and is almost invisible when viewed from the house out. The name refers to what you might exclaim if you stumbled across it by accident, although you’d more likely say “call 911!”

Londonderry

In 1613 the British rulers selected Derry as the site for one of their infamous “plantation” projects. Under the control of London livery companies they renamed the town Londonderry. Locals have never really taken to the name as it was seen to symbolize foreign rule and regardless of what the road signs say, have continued to call it Derry for 400 years. Recently, in an attempt at political correctness, authorities have hyphenated the name to “Derry-Londonderry”. Over here the hyphen is referred to as a stroke so now it’s become “Stroke City”.

A  Miscellaneous  Few 

A room that had a window at eye level was referred to as a “tippy toe room”.

When searching through a junk shop we were encouraged to “have a wee nosey”.

When a tour guide was off talking to someone else, we were asked to wait as he was  “having a wee bit of a gnash at the minute”.

If you need time to think about something you might have “a wander and a ponder”.

Lunch would be a “rumble corrector”.

Giving something a try might be “taking a punt”.

And needing to hurry up would be to “Get A Tic Toc On”.