Touch of Dutch has pointed to shops that offer American grocery products for expatriates: the corresponding shop for Dutch expatriates to find a touch of home is The Dutch Shop. I always enjoy these sites: they catalog the nation’s comfort foods, along with things that nobody would eat if they hadn’t been raised to love them.
I made my weekly outing to the Presikhaaf Winkelcentrum, one of our two local shopping centers. It’s a scruffy relic, linoleum walkways and grimy walls with splashes of yellow and blue-green trim. But it’s one of the few areas in Arnhem that gather together food, clothing, housewares, and electronics in one spot, allowing me to work through my "to-do" list in an hour.
Today’s trip was typical: butter, milk, vegetables at the AH, an address book and a thank-you card, a new watch battery, a bottle of single-malt for a friend’s birthday, cherries from the green-grocer, drop off dry-cleaning at the stomerij, pick up hummus from the turkish grocer, hit the cash machine, light-bulb from the hardware store, flowers from the stall. I have my list, and I work my way along like a trick-or-treater at Halloween, filling my bag until I can hardly stagger back to the car with all my prizes.
At the jewelry store, I paused to check off a few items from my list while the clerk made change for my watch battery. He laughed when he saw me noting prices and making ticks on my paper, commenting that this wasn’t very Dutch. Those four words are always a kiss of death here, but I was doubly surprised to hear it this time. List-making seems like something that the organized and thorough Dutch would excel at.
I’m not much for diaries, filing, calendars, or organizers, and I don’t carry a PDA. But I do like to make lists. I have a (precious) notebook where I jot things to do and others to follow-up on, divided into home and work pages (left and right). Work contains To-Do, Call, Write, Meet, while home has To Do, Shop, Look Up, and Travel. As the day goes along, I scribble in the notebook or on handy bits of paper, and consolidate and update during dull periods in meetings. (A separate kasboek tallies expenses, but that’s just so that I know what the monthly credit card hit will be and so that I don’t forget to submit the proper amounts for reimbursement.)
I’ve been to lots of time-management and task-organization classes, but an unscheduled, flexible system based on prioritizing and crossing-off has always worked for me. I unload my short-term memory to the pages, promptly forgetting whatever I was fretting about doing, and then I get satisfaction from crossing things off, going down a page smiling ‘done, done, done’ as I cross the tick marks. I probably only look at the list three times each day, but it’s enough to keep myself oriented.
The challenge comes when the pages run out, as they did last week, because then I have to find a new book and move unfinished things from one to the other. This time around I took a morning in Cambridge to start the new book, and was happy to discover that the current chunk of "Big Things" to get done were, in fact, the last ones. Beyond writing the current plans and papers, there was nothing in left to be done in my life but to look for a job and take a vacation.
And that’s my perfect to-do list.