Marten (with an “e”) was born in The Netherlands almost twelve years ago. As the fourth child of American expats, he navigates between the baked-in American culture of his parents and the day to day of his Dutch school and friends. Marten is fully bilingual. When he travels, he carries his inherited American passport in his pocket and his acquired Dutch sympathies on his sleeve.
Marten is no rookie on the road. He has visited Belgium, England, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Romania, Spain, Switzerland, and the USA in his short lifespan, taking it mostly in stride. While culture shock is real, it does not always have to be an uncomfortable experience. Certainly, the younger one is the less jarring a new culture can be, and perhaps more wondrous and exciting. Usually it is us “old folks” that have trouble being flexible and patient when we can’t get our favorite cookie with our cocoa while abroad.
Marten (with an “e”) first traveled to the USA when he was only four months old, but says that he cannot remember meeting either sets of grandparents in Los Angeles or Seattle during the first summer of his life. Now a ten year-old Dutch boy, Marten tells how his three-week road trip from Chicago to Seattle felt different from travelling in Europe, and what things he wishes he could have brought home with him.
He describes his (HOT!) summer vacation as a fun grab-bag of new eye-opening experiences, highlights some changed perspectives and reminisces about the quantity of meat he consumed and new junk foods he discovered–and indulged in.
The Cushy Life in Chicago
At home Marten likes to watch movies on the couch wrapped in a duvet from his bed while sitting in a shape-changing beanbag. He is no slouch when it comes to creature comforts.
When he arrived in Chicago after an eight hour flight from Amsterdam, jet lag was setting in fast, making him queasy. He ate very little dinner before bed. When he could lay down he recalls, “The mattress was 30 cm think. Very thick. And the blankets were kind of tight which I kinda like, squeezing me into the mattress which (was) really comfortable.”
The interviewer asked him if he thought that maybe he was just so tired from the long flight that any bed would have felt like sleeping on a cloud. He was adamant in his reply. “It was definitely the bed and not just the long flight.”
Living Large in Missouri
Travel is all about new experiences and doing things that one is not able or allowed to do at home. Seeing how other people in other countries live and what they do for fun is a valuable side-effect of travel.
Marten’s visit through the mid-west of the USA provided him a glimpse into many different aspects of the locals’ lives.
While visiting family in Missouri, Marten had the chance to learn how to shoot a (child-sized) shotgun. In Holland, firearms and other weapons are either expressly forbidden or prohibitively regulated. The only real guns a child is likely to see in Holland is on the hip of a police officer.
With his first pull and shot, Marten shot the clay pigeon right out of the sky!
Reflecting on his experience he says, “We don’t have guns in the Netherlands. It was fun to shoot a gun, but it was a little disturbing to know I had a weapon in my hand that could kill somebody.” Asked if he thinks Holland should allow households to keep more guns he said, “No. I don’t want to get shot at school.”
Something that Marten does want to import to Europe after seeing more of Kansas City was the Big Box stores: Walmart and Target specifically. “They were GIGANTIC! Ten times bigger than Dutch stores. They were everywhere. The same stores everywhere. Every neighborhood had a giant store, a Walmart for instance.”
Marten (with an “e”) was also duly impressed with the size of the houses in Kansas City and thinks that the Americans have the right idea. His eyes twinkled as he remembered the homes he saw everywhere. “We need cheap, giant houses here in Holland. Because they’re cheap and their giant. Less expensive houses are needed in the Netherlands” Asked what he thought the benefits of a larger home would be, he answered,”If I had a giant bedroom, I’d have longer to walk to my bed and it gives me more exercise, and I’d have more room to store all my stuff.”
Leaving the rolling, wooden landscape of Missouri, Marten noticed quickly that Kansas was flat and empty.
The interviewer asked him if Kansas reminded him of The Netherlands, which is known for being flat, as much of the country is under sea level and is kept dry by an extensive network of dams, dikes, canals and pumping stations. His answer was interesting, ”It didn’t remind me of The Netherlands because we live in the hilly area of The Netherlands. And the Dutch have lots more water and canals than in America. In Kansas you could see kilometers into the distance. You could almost see Nebraska, but we didn’t see any tornadoes.”
The mule train across Kansas made exactly three stops apart from an overnight in Fort Hayes. Marten recalls them still, even though the interview had forgotten one or two.
“We stopped at an deserted gas station, and I had to pee in the bushes.”
Also, “The Prairie Museum (Colby) was interesting because it had a bunch of old stuff in Kansas to show you how people lived back then.”
“But they had creepy dolls! How they could not be scared of creepy dolls?” he commented about the collection of porcelain-faced dolls, many of which were often missing their rolling, inlaid eyes.
The last stop in Kansas was also a first for Marten (with an “e”): Wendy’s. Marten said of his first hamburger at Wendy’s. “I was a little bit let down. I thought that Bacon-ator was going to taste like heaven, but it didn’t. Hopes were just too high. There was plenty of meat but the pickles and sauce could have been left off. The cheese wasn’t a problem.”
Fast Living and Fast-Food
“Subways were everywhere: They were yummy. In the USA there were more Subways. That’s a good thing, because I love Subway’s turkey sandwiches.”
“Fast-food places everywhere. Every 100 meters. The Netherlands only has fast good places every kilometer or two. Wendy’s,Taco John’s and Arby’s were new to me. We need Wendy’s and Inn and Out at home.”
“They need cheap Root Beer here in Holland, like in America.
They have it, but it is really expensive here. It only costed $0.50 for a bottle ‘this big’. (Marten’s hands are about a foot and half apart describing the size of a bottle he bought on the east bank of the Mississippi River) or maybe $1”
“I did a lot of napping in the car, to kill time. Because the trips from one state to the next take too long! Eight hours sometimes.
Looking out the window gets boring looking at forests and rock and plains. We ate lots of snacks, and sang along on my twenty-cent kazoo to the songs on the car speakers that were very “Country music.” It was very good music in American because you get the American feel in it.”
“Dutch snacks are mediocre. I think there were bad snacks in America, but I only got the good ones.”
“The soda-pop was too sweet and the Fanta was bad.” (On the interviewer challenging Marten’s memory about Fanta in the USA, he proves me wrong by showing me a photo of him at Five Guys in Seattle making his own drink of Fanta at the soda machine.)
“Tortillas in Utah are twice the size of a normal plate; a foot and a half across. I couldn’t finish that quesadilla in Utah. It was too big! And then I accidently left it in Gramma’s fridge. We don’t need tortillas like that in The Netherlands because they are just too big. The same size of a Happy Italy Pizza.“
Marten was raised bilingual and speaks both English and Dutch in equal measures each day. He attends the village school and follows his lessons and homework in the local language and gets “super bored” during English lessons in the classroom. His best friend speaks excellent English too and together they mix and match their words, making cross-lingual jokes that most of us just wouldn’t understand. In the USA Marten felt very much at ease! “It was super easy to speak one language, instead of two. And the family didn’t even try to speak Dutch on that trip. It was a real vacation.”
In the Tops of the Mountains
On his second trip to the USA, Marten got to visit his Grandparents new home in Utah. He didn’t remember visiting them in California ten years ago. Impressed with their home he commented on how luxurious it was, “They had fluffy carpets in every room. I like fluffy carpets because they are comfortable to lay on.”
The basement in Utah was a novelty and he remembers that the pictures of forests and mountains in the window wells was a smart idea, “because you get to see forests and mountains instead of the dirt.”
Marten found staying with his grandparents, both in Utah and Washington, to be like living in the lap of luxury. When asked to explain his impression he said, “They both had fancy homes because they live a luxury life, because they don’t have to work anymore and they get free money from themselves now.”
One of his most enduring memories of Utah was realizing that there is an LDS temple in nearly every city. “In Europe, you get a temple in each country, not every town. There are like fifty in Utah, and twenty in the rest of the states.”
A visit to Salt Lake City is not complete without a visit to the historical Temple Square.
Marten was somewhat confused and surprised by the shopping mall at Temple Square, saying, “Temple Square, was very churchy because there was all this church related stuff. The temple of course, church museum, Conference Center and the Tabernacle. But I was surprised by the mall and all the stores.” When it was explained to him that the shopping mall was not actually part of Temple Square he replied, “I thought it was part of Temple Square because the Conference Center was also just across the street from the temple on the other side.”
Idaho & Wyoming:
Marten’s father felt it important to take him to visit a family pilgrimage site in the Snake River Valley, to meet family that he had yet to meet in Menan, Idaho where several generations and branches of his grandmother’s family have lived happily for over one hundred years.
Marten had no idea what to expect from his visit to Idaho; “Napoleon Dynamite is the only movie that made Idaho famous.” Despite his only foreknowledge of Idaho being a highly exaggerated, cult-film of awkward teenagers in a podunk setting, Marten remembers having a good time in Idaho. “The people seemed normal. I remember that Uncle Denis was really funny. I like his dogs. Doddy was very playful. Isabella was very cute. The breakfast that Aunt Kathy made us was great because it was 90% meat. Pigs and cows; bacon, beef and sausage. I tasted the choke-cherry syrup for the first time on pancakes. I do remember that I liked it although I don’t remember the taste now.”
As the old black-stone house that his great-great grandparents built is still in family hands, Marten’s cousin (once removed) who now owns the house Brian took him for a tour.
In the heat of the summer, Marten was unable to envision the magical, snowy Christmas Eves that his grandmother and father experienced there. Therefore his lasting memory of the old house is that, “I could tell that ‘Uncle’ Brian owned a gun because there were animal skins and heads and bones everywhere. That was pretty cool.”
Marten’s reaction to a professional rodeo in Idaho Falls, The War Bonnet Round-up, was mixed. “It was interesting. We don’t have that kinda stuff here at home. It was strange, but cool. They had cool fireworks and tricks, like sitting on the bucking bronco. But they were kinda mean to some of the animals, like the baby bull they lassoed over and over.”
Despite the fact that Marten identifies as a Dutch boy, he was amazed by the tasty meat that his Great-Uncle cooked in a “Dutch Oven” in the ground, which he had never heard of or seen before. “Uncle Craig did a good thing with that Dutch oven! But the Root Beer tasting was strange because the Bucksnort Root Beer tasted like ‘all disgustingness’ but the A&W tasted right.”
Yellowstone National Park
Although Marten (with an “e”) is determined to start and run his own pest control company when he finishes school, his parents are convinced that he will actually turn his fascination with the natural world into a career as a preservationist; protecting rather than eliminating wild life. This was clear to all during his visit at Yellowstone National Park. When asked why he considered his visit to that park as his best memory of the road trip he replied,
“Because it was one of the great experiences of my life! In The Netherlands we only get to see insects and birds, never really any wild animals. If you do see one, they usually see you first and then you only get to see them for a quick second. But we saw bison and weird antelope looking things. I don’t know what they were. Maybe elk? I don’t know those types of animals. Its just kinda cool to see them.”
Pressed about his reaction to the geological wonders of the park, Marten recalls, “Old Faithful geyser! It was shooting out water a hundred times higher than I thought it would and for a long time. I expected to be like for 15 seconds and five meters high, but no, it was twenty meters high. And there were these weird, colorful pools, hot springs that stunk like eggs.”
Counting down the seconds until Old Faithful blew his top
It is an indisputable fact of cartography that there is literally nothing between the Snake River Valley and Seattle, Washington worth seeing. Marten confirms that this is true after having seen what there was to see in Montana and Eastern Washington. Completely disinterested in the drive to Spokane, where it was still ninety-two degrees Fahrenheit when we arrived in the evening. Air conditioning was Marten’s salvation after realizing that the pool at the Travel Lodge hadn’t been cleaned since the Reagan administration.
Leaving the summer heat of August behind him in the continental interior, Marten was relieved when he passed through the Cascade mountains to arrive at his grandparents home just outside Seattle. “It was very nice because the weather was cool and gray like in The Netherlands and it gave a good mix of home and America, and it’s on the seashore which is really nice.”
Marten got the grand tour of Seattle in the front seat of his Grandpa’s sports car;
sailed on Puget Sound and got to watch the Seattle Mariners play at SAFECO Field where he was gifted a baseball hat and a Bobble-head effigy of the legendary Edgar Martinez to take home with him.
“Seattle was cool. The Space Needle was kind of scary. It was taller and scarier than expected. But it was fun because you could see all of Seattle! We don’t have tall buildings like those here at home.”
In Seattle, Marten’s most pressing wish for his visit to the USA was finally fulfilled: Go shopping at Walmart! Asked what went through his mind when he first walked into the “smaller” neighborhood Walmart (not the Supersized kind) Marten said, “Let’s get his party started! I partied in the giant aisles filled with yummy stuff. It was very satisfying because it was better than I expected. The aisles were overfull. with yummy stuff.”
When asked which of the big stores he would like to see open in Holland, his answer was unambiguous, “Walmart, because it’s full of American stuff. Snacks. That’s it. Goldfish, crunchy Cheetos, Cheezits, Oreos, Life savers, Capt’n Crunch, Rice Crispy Treats, Frosted Flakes.
After a spin through the self-scan check-out, Marten thought he had died and gone to heaven!
Would you like to go to American again?
After some months to reflect on his epic road trip across the North American continent, Marten is happy to live where he lives, and wouldn’t want to leave his friends at school, “Not even to move to Spain!” but would very much like to visit American again in the near future.
“I’d like to go to California because I don’t remember the first time I was there. But I don’t really want to go to New York City, because everybody says it’s amazing, so it’s going to be a let down for me, kinda like that Bacon-ator.”
Marten (with an “e”) and his twin brother, born ten years apart, are the inspiration behind the author’s recent short story The Witch of Drontenburg (Sept 2020), set in a Dutch seaside village, that follows the adventures of a group of eleven-year old boys as they confront their worst (imagined) fears.
Click the image below to read a sample.