Category Archives: Work

Bike to work day – the Dutch example

I have 8500 bicycles waiting for me at over 300 locations around the country

Today is the Bike to Work Day in the Netherlands. It may not come as a surprise to you that a lot of people in the Netherlands cycle to work. But have you wondered why? Pro-cycling attitude of employers is no small part of the reason for the high percentages of Dutch cycling commuters. I am fortunate enough to work for Sweco, a company that goes the extra mile in promoting cycling to work.

There are, of course, the usual things (for the Dutch, at least). Proper bicycle sheds, showers and lockers at our offices, tax-free bicycle financing scheme, access to the OV-fiets (the Dutch Railways shared bicycles) are all pretty much standard at Dutch companies. If an employee purchases a new bike, Sweco is also paying for the bicycle insurance and extra’s such as rain gear.

But here’s the extra mile – at Sweco we get paid to cycle. Yes, that’s right – I get money for cycling. The kilometers I cycle are refunded just as car kilometers are, so that even my modest commute of less than 5 km earns me almost 2 Euro each day. It won’t make me rich, but its more than enough to pay for the purchase and maintenance of my bike. Business kilometers pay even more, so that choosing for the bicycle to go to a customer actually pays.

I cycle to work because its fun. Working at Sweco, a bike-friendly company, makes it even easier to cycle to work. I hope more employers around the world will follow Sweco’s example – making the world an easier place to cycle, one bicycle ride at a time.

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Boys will be boys (as far as Playmobil is concerned)

As I was clearing up the last remains of the holiday season, I came across the Playmobil brochure. In case you’re not familiar with the concept – its a bit like Lego, but for younger children. My kids (aged 2 and 4 now) love it, and we have quite a collection by now. I browsed through the brochure, and noticed something weird. It seemed as if there were no women in the Playmobil universe. Not only the figures were all male,  the children depicted playing with them were also exclusively boys. A while ago I came across a pack of dinosaurs stickers labelled “For boys aged 7 to 14″ and got pretty crossed about it. As if girls don’t like dinosaurs (my daughter loves them). So I decided to look into the Playmobil gender issue a bit closer.

I took a couple of post-its and a pen, and started checking the pages. I noted the Playmobil men doing “typical men stuff” like being a pilot and the Playmobil women (there were some after all) doing “typical women stuff” like being a stewardess, and vice-versa. After about 10 pages (the brochure has 60) I got fed up and quit counting. Counting on seemed a bit useless, as the results were rather clear.

  Men stuff Neutral stuff Women stuff
Men 110 5 0
Women 19 10 15
Playmobil: Man = pilot Woman = stewardess

Playmobil: Man = pilot, woman = stewardess

On the face of it, it wouldn’t have been so bad. After all, the women that did get to exists in the Playmobil universe got their share of opportunities in life. Sadly, that was not exactly the case. Going through the rest of the brochure, I did find plenty of Playmobil women. The second half of the brochure was full of them. And you’ll never guess what they were doing… OK, I’m joking – you can probably  fill it in yourself. Here it comes – as far as Playmobil is concerned, women exist to be pretty and shut up (the princesses), take care of the children (the moms and care-takers) and to spend money on shopping, beauty spa’s and vacations (the rest of them). What makes it even worse is that the Playmobil guy who does not want to be the macho man is pretty screwed. I found just one guy in the whole Playmobil shopping centre  who looked pretty gay , and the only dude in the daycare centre is the math teacher – how sad is that?

Spot the math teacher

Spot the math teacher

I am a proud father of a girl and a boy. And I encourage them the best I can to dare and become whatever they want. My daughter now wants to be a pilot. And a doctor. And maybe a policewoman. My son is only two, but he really enjoys dancing ans singing, and if he’ll want to make a career out of it, who am I to say no? I say to both – go for it. But its really tough to encourage your children to follow their own path in life, when the advertisements, the toys companies, the movies and about every other industry imaginable are all not really cooperating on this gender equality thing.

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A new begin in 2017

Some things change, some things stay the same… Only constant seems to be that things never turn out what you expected them to be. Enough philosophy. Having made this blog dormant a few months ago, I now wake it up again. No promises, just rolling with it and we’ll see where this all goed to.

Its not that I haven’t been busy all this time – on the contrary, I’ve been very industrious. I have a new job and a new house, and I’ll post some details about both soon. And I’ve also been doing some writing, too (besides job application letters, that is). I’ve published quite a successful article in Vers Beton (“Fresh Concrete”), which is an online magazine “for the hard-thinking Rotterdammers”. The article, titled Waarom de A16 Rotterdam er niet mag komen”, is in Dutch, and in it I tell why I object to the construction of a new highway in the area. For those of you who don’t read Dutch, basically, I think there’s already plenty of highways around here and precious little green open space. In my view, smashing one of the last open areas near the city for the sake of a highway that will not even solve the congestion problems is a bad, bad idea. As usual, the pictures tell a much better tale than me.

a13_a16-1

This is where the A16 highway is planned.

a13_a16-2

There’s really not that much of such landscape left around Rotterdam

a13_a16-3

The swan song of the classic Dutch views

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Small European Country is going dormant

Dear readers,

I thoroughly enjoyed writing for you. At this point, however, I need to concentrate on writing my thesis, rather than blogging. Therefore, this blog about the life of a Small European country is going dormant. I might post something every now and then, if I have anything exceptional to say. Perhaps I will even wake this project up with a kiss at a later stage, or start a new project and let you know about it, but for now – so long and thanks for the fish!

P. S. If you’d like to write a guest post for Small European Country, you’re still mostly welcome to do so – contact me here!

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Zurich city report

The final (for now) city report I wrote for Tales from a Small Planet (http://www.talesmag.com) is about Zurich. Its one of the most expensive places in the world to live in, but Zurich offers an amazing quality of living, that far outweighs the costs.

Zurich 3

What are your reasons for living in this city (e.g., corporate, government, military, student, educator, retiree, etc.)?
Studied at the ETH Zurich.

How long have you been living here? Or when did you live there?
6 months, in 2008.

Was this your first expat experience? If not, what other foreign cities have you lived in as an expat?
Lived in 3 other countries before coming to Zurich.

Where is your home base, and how long is the trip to post from there, with what connections?
Nowadays, it is in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, and it takes a 1 hour flight or a night train to get there from Zurich.

What are the special advantages of living in this city/country (e.g., touring, culture, saving money, weather, etc.)?
Switzerland is the most beautiful country in Europe. Period.

Matterhorn

Matterhorn

What have been some of the highlights of your time in this city/country?
Participated in the SOLA running race around Zurich. Cycled around Lake Zurich. Partied with the Dutch fans during Euro 2008. Climbed several mountains. Actually learned a few things at the ETHZ, too.

Rhine Falls

Rhine Falls

What is the air quality like (e.g., good, moderate, unhealthy, or very unhealthy with comments)?
Excellent.

What is the climate like? Weather patterns?
Winters are moist, and can be snowy. Summers are warm, with regular short thunderstorms in the evenings.

Zurich 1

What kind of insect problems are there, if any?
None that I know of.

Are there any special security concerns?
Avalanches in the mountains.

The Swiss Army is there to protect you, even if it takes a 200-year old mortar

The Swiss Army is there to protect you, even if it takes a 200-year old mortar

Housing types, locations, and typical commute time?
Apartments, mostly. City centre is prohibitively expensive, but public transport is, well, Swiss-efficient.

Is this a good city for families/singles/couples?
Its a fine city for everyone but rather expensive. The price-quality ratio is superb, that is, you get value for money here.

Is this a good city for gay or lesbian expats?
I guess. Haven’t heard of any major issues.

Are there problems with racial, religious or gender prejudices?
The Swiss are not racist. That would imply they discriminate people. They don’t discriminate except between Swiss (=good) and not Swiss (=mwah).

Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city? Comment:
Lots of cobblestones and steep streets. Public transport and buildings are probably fine.

Sunrise at Uetliberg

Sunrise at Uetliberg

What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “secret or hidden gems”?
The Uetliberg rising above Zurich is a wonderful place to watch the sunrise, and then hike along the ridge. The botanical gardens, both the old and the new ones, are lovely spots. The many museums of the Zurich University are quite interesting http://www.uzh.ch/en/outreach/museums.
http://www.spottedbylocals.com/zurich has plenty of other useful tips.

Are gyms or workout facilities available? Costs?
As a student, I had access to the facilities of the ETHZ, and they are magnificent.

What fast food and decent restaurants are available? Cost range?
Everything is available, for an exorbitant price.

What is the availability and relative cost of groceries and household supplies?
Everything is available, but its probably cheaper to shop across the border. Germany is only 40 km away, so many people go there for groceries and many services.

What comments can you make about using credit cards and ATMs?
Broadly available and accepted.

What type of automobile is suitable to bring (or not to bring) because of terrain, availability of parts and service, local restrictions, duties, carjackings, etc?
A supercar, so that you don’t stand out in the crowd. Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Ferrari, that sort of thing.

A good bicycle is a valid alternative to a car here

A good bicycle is a valid alternative to a car here

Are local trains, buses, and taxis safe? Affordable?
Yes, they’re fine. Best public transport in the world, no doubt.

How much of the local language do you need to know for daily living?
At least a bit of German would be quite helpful. The Zurich variant of Swiss-German is exceptionally difficult to understand, so abandon all hopes to learn German while you’re here.

On the other hand, you can learn kayaking right in the middle of the city

On the other hand, you can learn kayaking right in the middle of the city

Size and morale of expat community:
Huge. Over 30% of the population is non-Swiss.

What are some typical things to do for entertaining/social life?
Hiking is huge here. For the Swiss, any mountain that does not involve technical climbing is considered hiking, so that includes summits like the Dom (at 4545 m, the 5th highest mountain in Switzerland). Zurich has a lively clubbing scene.

Switzerland has all the hiking you can handle

Switzerland has all the hiking you can handle

What’s the dress code at work and in public?
Buisness, smart casual-plus. Hiking gear in public.

Are there any health concerns? What is the quality of medical care available?
Excellent medical care is available, but can be expensive. Finding a dentist in Germany is a smart move.

You can leave behind your:
Sense of humor. The Swiss don’t get it.

What do you wish you had known about this city/country prior to moving there?
That I should have moved here sooner.

But don’t forget your:
Alpine skills. And your money. All of it.

Can you save money?
NO!

What unique local items can you spend it on?
Chocolate, cheese, kirch (cherry schnapps) mountain summits (guided ascends), Swiss army knives, watches.

Zurich 11

Knowing what you now know, would you still go there?
YES!

Recommended books related to this city (title, author):
The Visit (Der Besuch der alten Dame), Durcheinandertal, both by Friedrich Dürrenmatt.

Zurich 4

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Cycling Guide to Rotterdam

In my Rotterdam city report, written for Tales from a Small Planet, I raved about how cycling here in Rotterdam is so amazing. Well, now I have written another report about Rotterdam – specifically dedicated to cycling here.

In 2015, Rotterdam, the second-largest city (630.000 inhabitants) of the Netherlands, has finally stepped out of the shadow of the Dutch capital as a tourist destination in its own right. And now it quickly gains world fame as a cycling city. For those unfamiliar with the Netherlands, it is difficult to realise how much cycling is a part of life here. Writing about Dutch cycling culture is like trying to write about the pubs of Dublin, or the café culture of Paris – a mission (almost) impossible. The sheer volume of cycling in Rotterdam is staggering. 80% of people own a bicycle, 160.000 (25%) Rotterdammers cycle daily, and another 200.000 (32%) cycle on a weekly basis. Every day, 560.000 cycle trips are made in Rotterdam and bicycle use has increased by 60% over the past decade.

Read more about cycling in Rotterdam at the Bike Citizens Magazine – www.bikecitizens.net/cycling-in-rotterdam/.

Rotterdam's market

Rotterdam’s market

Rotterdam Central Station

Rotterdam Central Station

Most recent cycling innovation in Rotterdam are the free children buggies, that are available at the guarded bicycle parkings in the city centre.

Most recent cycling innovation in Rotterdam are the free children buggies, that are available at the guarded bicycle parkings in the city centre.

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Tel Aviv city report

A few weeks ago I’ve published a city report on Rotterdam, that I wrote for Tales from a Small Planet (http://www.talesmag.com). Well, I’ve been busy writing another one, on Tel Aviv, where I used to live, and where I am currently visiting. Allow me to introduce you to the city that never sleeps, “the bubble”, the one and only Tel Aviv.

An iconic view of Tel Aviv from the Jaffa promenade

An iconic view of Tel Aviv from the Jaffa promenade

What are your reasons for living in this city (e.g., corporate, government, military, student, educator, retiree, etc.)?
I came to Israel in 1991 (aged 12), with my family, in the big immigration wave from the Soviet Union, and lived there until 2003.

How long have you been living here? Or when did you live there?
As many young Israeli’s drawn to the big city, I’ve lived in Tel Aviv for a while, between 1999 and 2001.

Was this your first expat experience? If not, what other foreign cities have you lived in as an expat?
It was the first time I lived in another country.

Where is your home base, and how long is the trip to post from there, with what connections?
Nowadays, my home base is in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. I visit Israel regularly, as I have family and many friends there. Takes about 4.5 hours by plane.

What are the special advantages of living in this city/country (e.g., touring, culture, saving money, weather, etc.)?
The weather is great for at least 10 months. Its a unique opportunity to experience the place that gets so much attention, and see for yourself what the fuss is all about.

What have been some of the highlights of your time in this city/country?
This I’ll have to get back to in another post here – the topic is a bit too big for a short answer.

Just to give you an idea of the highlights - this is the Negev desert. Just two hours drive from Tel Aviv, and you're not on the edge of it - no, right in the middle!

Just to give you an idea of the highlights – this is the Negev desert. Just two hours drive from Tel Aviv, and you’re not on the edge of it – no, right in the middle!

What is the air quality like (e.g., good, moderate, unhealthy, or very unhealthy with comments)?
Good, most of the time the breeze from the sea clears the pollution. When the wind is from the East, can get very bad, but it’s only a few days in a year.

What is the climate like? Weather patterns?
July-August are hot and sticky humid. December to March is the rainy season, but it almost never rains more than 2-3 days in a row.

What kind of insect problems are there, if any?
Cockroaches. Big, flying ones.

Are there any special security concerns?
Uhm… Yes. Its Israel. BUT the crime rates are quite low compared to other Western countries, and besides – nowadays the chances of becoming a victim of a terrorist attack are higher in Paris, London or Brussels. The Israeli traffic is the most dangerous part, and even that is not as dangerous as it used to be.

Housing types, locations, and typical commute time?
Depends on what one includes as “Tel Aviv”. The city itself is small and housing is also small, the outer rings of the metropolitan area contain many typical “sleeping neighborhoods” with more spacious accommodation, but the commute time is also larger.

Is this a good city for families/singles/couples?
For singles the city center is the place to be. If your can find a good house in the city and your family can handle the city life – go for it. But prices are high.

Is this a good city for gay or lesbian expats?
One of the best, I hear.

Are there problems with racial, religious or gender prejudices?
Yes. But that’s the simple answer. Compared to the severity of these issues in the neighbouring countries, like Syria, there are none worth mentioning.

Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city? Comment:
Challenging. Sidewalks are crowded with parked bicycles and motorcycles, public buildings are not necessarily fitted with ramps.

What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “secret or hidden gems”?
The whole country is one big live museum of nature, culture and history. For Tel Aviv itself I’d suggest checking out http://www.spottedbylocals.com/telaviv/. As a former resident who has done his best to explore the city I can certify that the local “spotters” are doing a very good job unveiling spots that are usually under the radar.

Are gyms or workout facilities available? Costs?
Everything is available, from free public gym facilities at the beach to private teachers of every sport you can think of.

What fast food and decent restaurants are available? Cost range?
The American fast-food chains are present but who needs them when local fast food is abundant. Every Israeli has a favorite falafel place, and Tel Aviv has a lively dining scene.

What is the availability and relative cost of groceries and household supplies?
Everything is available but prices are ridiculously high.

What comments can you make about using credit cards and ATMs?
Credit cards are widely accepted.

What type of automobile is suitable to bring (or not to bring) because of terrain, availability of parts and service, local restrictions, duties, carjackings, etc?
I’d suggest bringing a tank, but the fuel prices would kill you.

Are local trains, buses, and taxis safe? Affordable?
Reasonably affordable and safe. The national railways do have issues with the unions, so sudden strikes can be a plague.

How much of the local language do you need to know for daily living?
Most of the local people know sufficient English to get by without knowing any Hebrew. Many signs are Hebrew-only, so learning the Hebrew alphabet is useful.

Size and morale of expat community:
That’s a difficult question, as it depends much on what is included in the “expat community”.There are millions of foreign-born Israeli’s, hundreds of thousands of (mostly Asian) foreign workers employed in construction, agriculture and nursing, tens of thousands of African infiltrators/refugees (depends on who you ask), a constant influx of volunteers working in the Kibbutzs and so on.

If “expats” include only Western diplomats and such, then its probably small, I can’t say much about the morale among them.

Are there decent job opportunities for expats on the local economy?
Without a job permit chances are probably low.

What volunteer opportunities are there?
Numerous. Not sure how diverse are the options without knowledge of Hebrew or Arabic.

What are some typical things to do for entertaining/social life?
The beach. Huge clubbing scene. Mountain biking is growing in popularity. Barbecuing.

Tel Aviv 3

What’s the dress code at work and in public?
At work – depends much on where you work, but usually “casual-plus”. In public “casual” doesn’t even begin to describe it.

Believe it or not, this guy is actually at work. How's that for "casual"?

Believe it or not, this guy is actually at work. How’s that for “casual”?

Are there any health concerns? What is the quality of medical care available?
Israel has one of the highest life expectancies in the world, so healthcare must be good.

You can leave behind your:
Anything you thought you knew about the place and anything anyone has ever told you about it. Its nothing like you thought it is, no matter what you thought. And don’t bring your politeness either, it will go unnoticed at best.

But don’t forget your:
Balls of steel, elephant skin, all the sarcasm and cynicism you can find. A huge supply of sense of humor. And, of course, your hiking boots. Israel is best explored by foot.

Can you save money?
No.

Knowing what you now know, would you still go there?
Yes.

Recommended books related to this city (title, author):

  • “The lover”, A. B. Yehoshua.
  • Works of Bernard Lewis, such as “The Middle East: A Brief History of the Last 2,000 Years”.
  • 1948: A History of the First Arab–Israeli War”, Benny Morris.

Take them all with a huge pinch (better yet, a bag) of salt – everyone’s view is politically colored.

Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
“Lebanon” – OK, it takes place in Lebanon, but its set exclusively inside an Israeli tank in Lebanon.

An Israeli tank close to the Lebanese border

An Israeli tank close to the Lebanese border

Any other comments:
Don’t be like the American presidents and Secretaries of State, who think that all it takes is for people to shake hands and stop being so childish. Its not up to you to bring peace, nor is it up to you to lecture the locals about how they should behave and think. Just try to enjoy the good parts, and ignore the bad ones – that’s what everyone else is doing.

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