bunnyfish adventures


a story of sinterklaas
November 25, 2008, 1:36 am
Filed under: Dutch culture | Tags: , , , , , , ,

I first heard about Sinterklaas from Marlous and Jur when I went to Amsterdam (in the early ages of this blog!).  In a nutshell, here’s how it goes:

Sintaklaas sails into various ports in the Netherlands on a steamboat from Spain in November.  The actual holiday is celebrated December 5th, but it takes Sintaklaas time to visit all the cities, so there are various festivals for his arrival beforehand, like the one I saw on Saturday.

intocht sinterklaas
slideshow

He has helpers called “Black Pete” (Zwarte Piet) who were originally devils, thus the dark skin.  They are the ones that go around delivering presents to the good children, since Sinterklaas can’t do it alone.  (Man, that Dutch rationality.)  Shoes are laid out so that presents can be left in there as well.  And then the bad kids are taken away by the zwarte pieten to Spain to work for Sinterklaas.

The grown-ups exchange gifts that have poems written by the sender that are intended to rip you a new one in the name of good fun.

There are various treats around this time, including gingerbread-ish anise-ish mini-cookies (kruidnoten and pepernoten) and biscuits (speculaas), giant chocolate letters for the first letter of your name, and marzipan figurines.

And here are some variations from the above that I’ve heard or read:

  • The bad children are thrown in Zwarte Piet’s sack (that otherwise carries presents) and are taken back to Spain.
  • The bad children are thrown in Zwarte Piet’s sack and beaten. (Jeroen, Belgium)
  • To make Black Petes more racially palatable, the story of their skin color was changed to their being dirty from coming down the chimney.  But why wouldn’t the clothing also be dirty?  (Insert laundry detergent ad here.)
  • To make Black Petes even more racially palatable, they tried to have multi-colored Petes one year, like Fruit Loops.  It was so successful that they changed it back to all-black the following year.  (Wikipedia)

But to end on a good note, I’ll mention Sverre’s childhood experience with the Norwegian version of Santa.  Basically his parents had an agreement with the neighbors to take turns getting dressed as Santa and going to each other’s doors to deliver presents to the kids.  This way, you really wonder when Santa comes to the door and both your parents are inside of the house.  And his sleigh and reindeer are parked at the way end of the street, out of sight, because he can’t bring them everywhere.

To this day, he still doesn’t know which neighbors came to his door.  (Or were they neighbors after all?)

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Donald Norman went to MIT too
November 20, 2008, 8:36 pm
Filed under: design, mini-adventures | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

don_normanReal quick before I head out to dinner, I went to Eindhoven today with Caroline (and ran into Sverre, Silje, and Gøril) to see a talk by Donald Norman. He wrote the books that are popular with designers such as “The Design of Everyday Things” and “Emotional Design: Why We Love (and Hate) Everyday Things.”

I brought my books for the train ride, in case I wanted to review them or ask him about anything in particular. don_norman(I ended up not.) Or if anyone else would want to read some of his books.  (My friends didn’t either.)  However, several people came up with the brilliant idea of having him sign my books.  (How novel!  No pun intended.)

Either way, I tried to keep it short but he noticed my American accent, I mentioned that they referred to his books in some courses at MIT, and he was like “Oh yeah, I went there too, I was Course 6.”

And actually, I knew that.  Dammit!  I had read that at one point and thought, “Oh cool,” but didn’t bother to remember it since I didn’t think I would actually ever meet him.

Regardless, he agreed to look suspicious in a picture with me, during which he said, “You seem like you should belong to the Media Lab,” and I think overall it was a win.