Posted by: oldsalt1942 | July 24, 2009

Houseboat Heaven

The west coast of the United States, and to some degree British Columbia, Canada, has developed a houseboat culture. Living on the water in something other than a sail or motorboat isn’t all that unusual. Back in the 50s a floating home movement developed in south Florida, too. Remember  the t.v. show Surfside 6 set along the Indian Creek? When I lived on my Nancy Dawson at Marina Bay the marina’s hotel consisted of several large floating homes, each one consisting of four one-bedroom apartments.

But if there’s one place in the world that has embraced a houseboat culture it has to be Amsterdam. It shouldn’t be a surprise in a country that probably has no more than five or six square feet of land that acutally exists above sea level. Amsterdam is a city filled with canals crammed with all kinds of craft with people living aboard. When I visited Amsterdam in ’91, (I know I was there because it’s stamped in my old passport but other than that it was all rather hazy) I was enthralled by the number and variety of craft that people were living on.

Amsterdam Canal

A Google search of “Houseboats in Holland” will yield about 211,000 links and “Houseboats in Amsterdam” returns 36,300. Most of these are links to boats being used as hotels and hostels while many others are rented out as full-time apartments.

It was in Amsterdam that I first fully appreciated being able to speak another language than English. I’d been living in France and had become fairly proficient in the language. But I was, at that moment, pretty fed up with the natives to such an extent that I called the States and quit the job. They didn’t want to lose me and insisted that I take a vacation and charge it to the boat.

Well, I’d always wanted to visit Amsterdam for the experience of being able to purchase my favorite mind-altering substance without worrying about having to do jail time PLUS I wouldn’t have to deal with the French or be forced to listen to or speak their bastard language. It was a warm, sunny Saturday afternoon and I stopped by a coffee house that was set up on a large, enginless converted barge. I bought some beautiful sticky bud and was sitting comfortably on the open upper deck watching the passing scene while I twisted up a fatty when a young man tapped me on the shoulder and said something to me in German.

“I’m sorry,” I said in my native tongue, “I don’t speak German.”

“Parlez vous, Francais?”

Eeeeeyewwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww! I think I threw up in my mouth a little bit then.

“Oui.”

“Peux j’avoir une feuille de papie? he asked.

He wanted to know if he could have a leaf of rolling paper which I happily gave him.

We spent the next hour or so in conversation commenting on the attractive women we spotted in the passing parade. He was from Algeria and spoke Arabic, French and German since he worked at the Mercedes Benz factory there. It was a pleasant afternoon before we went out separate ways and it wouldn’t have been possible without being able to speak French.

With the whole houseboat culture and the relaxed attitude to the ingestion of dried plants I knew that if palm trees lined the canals of Amsterdam they’d need a mighty big gun to make me leave.

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Responses

  1. Ahhh. That good old French. Yes, I used to fluently speak it when I 8 years old. German, too. My mom was German and because I was an Airforce brat we lived in France long enough for me to pick up that language. When coming back to the states teachers told my parents to drop the languages for my sake. Evidentally I was having a hard time in American schools that spoke English. Today? I can understand both French and German. Could survive if I had to in both countries. But to fluently speak it now? Nope, that was many, many years ago.

    Living on the water is a natural way of life as far as I am concerned. Only if you can use your land legs routinely when doing so. I am starting to get impatient with how long it is taking to get our houseboat finished. We bought on May 2nd. It is now July 24th. And we are not even close to where we should be. Argggh. Kinda wish we would have just bought a Holiday Mansion and made payments instead of buying something that would take forever to complete. Yeah, I know we would be in debt. But, when your last relatives and close friends have died or starting to and only cousins, nephews, nieces, your children and grandchildren are left time becomes a luxury.

  2. When I was in high school I took four years of French…two years of first year French and two years of second year French and my passing grade was D- at best. I certainly would never say I was fluent in French, but I did become very PROFICIENT. To me there’s a difference. I make grammatical errors, naturally, but I could communicate with people and probably understood about 85-90% of what was said in movies and on television. Certainly enough to follow a story line.

    My Spanish isn’t quite as good yet. I can hold a basic conversation with people beyond donde esta el bano (where’s the bathroom)? I’m closing in on proficiency, though, and the more I’m in Panama the better I’ll become. I doubt I’ll ever be fluent, but VERY proficient would make me happy.

  3. Spanish? I will never learn it because I have a bad attitude about doing so. One sticker I have on my truck is: Why the hell do I have to press one for English? Just like religion I don’t like having stuff shoved down my throat. And the spanish language is taking over our country. We will definitely be the minority within the next two years. Yep, I am a rebel when it comes to stuff like this.

  4. I semi agree with you Swamprat. It pisses me off when I have to press anything to speak English in this country. Down here in south east Florida I get asked quite often “habla espanol?”

    My answer is: Si, pero no aqui. (Yes, but not here)

    Esta los Estados Unidos. Hablamos Ingle aqui. (It’s the United States. We speak English here.)

    Quando estoy en Espana, Mexico, Guatemala, Panama, yo lo hablo. Nunca aqui.
    (When I’m in Spain, Mexico, Guatemala, Panama I speak it. Never here.)

    You’d love the looks on their faces when I tell them that.

    About a year ago, coming out of the bank a couple of blocks from my house a girl came up to me and said, “Excuse me, do you speak English?”

    I told her,

  5. I semi agree with you Swamprat. It pisses me off when I have to press anything to speak English in this country. Down here in south east Florida I get asked quite often “habla espanol?”

    My answer is: Si, pero no aqui. (Yes, but not here)

    Esta los Estados Unidos. Hablamos Ingle aqui. (It’s the United States. We speak English here.)

    Quando estoy en Espana, Mexico, Guatemala, Panama, yo lo hablo. Nunca aqui.
    (When I’m in Spain, Mexico, Guatemala, Panama I speak it. Never here.)

    You’d love the looks on their faces when I tell them that in Spanish.

    About a year ago, coming out of the bank a couple of blocks from my house a girl came up to me and said, “Excuse me, do you speak English?”

    I told her, “desole, seulement francais.”

    On the other hand, I’m retiring to Panama. The language there is Spanish and it’s as rude of me not to speak to them in their language as it is for someone to ask me to speak their language here in my country.

    The whole time I lived in France I can only think of two times I asked anyone if they would speak to me in English. When I arrived one of the first things I did was buy a Harrap’s dictionary (I’m looking at it on my desk, now 20 years later) and I learned two phrases:

    Est-ce que vous avez… and je voudrais avoir.
    Do you have? and I would like to have… When I was shopping for something and couldn’t find it on my own I would look up what I wanted in my Harrap’s, bleach, for instance, and then find a clerk and say, “Pardon, Est-ce que vous avez du javel?” It made all the difference in the world how I was treated.

    Je voudrais avoir works for restaurants. You can pretty well figure out what’s on a menu without making any sitcom mistakes and when the waiter comes to take your order you say the three magic words Je voudrais avoir and point to the item you want. How many times have you done that here in a restaurant in the States that was written in English?

    But getting back to your original sentiments…I really don’t care if someone comes to live here and doesn’t take the effort to learn English as long as they don’t ask me to accommodate them by using theirs.

  6. I was always taught from a young age when in Rome do as the Romans do. To this day I live that statement. Unfortunately, we are becoming or rather have become a society that no longer see’s things as right or wrong, just fair. Fair for who? The illegals, the gays, the muslims? Yes, is the answer to that. We go through hoops to make sure these people’s rights are not tread on. But when it comes to us? Well, more and more we are labeled the terrorists. We the people who have stood for our freedom, who have suffered the loss of those who fought for our freedom, we are ones who no longer have the freedom’s our forefathers wrote down in the Bill of Rights or the Constitution of the United States.

    Jeesh, sorry for the rant. Getting off of the soap box and apologize for using your blog for my feelings and/or opinions.

  7. Swamprat, I’m going to ignore my first impulse and let your rant stand.

    Speaking as a descendant of some of the very first English speaking people to settle in this land (1630) and started stealing it from the people who were here first, the best thing I can do is to recommend you stop listening to the lunatic rantings of the likes of Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Michael Savage and Lou Dobbs, all of whom are the cultural equivalent of mad cow disease, and remind you of what is written on that iconic statue standing at the entrance of New York Harbor…

    “Give me your tired, your poor,
    Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
    The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
    Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me.
    I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

    Also speaking as someone whose very first presidential vote went to Barry Goldwater and once even voted for Richard Nixon before opening my eyes and growing up, I have to say I have nothing but contempt for people who label themselves as “conservatives.”

    Nothing, ABSOLUTELY NOTHING, good ever came out of being conservative. Conservatives dwell in the murky myths of the past and I would remind you that back when this country was fighting for its independence the conservatives of THAT age were more commonly referred to as TORIES, and as far as the French are concerned if it wasn’t for them we’d STILL be singing God Save the Queen.

    Now, if knowing how I feel about things means you stop reading my blog, well, so be it.

    Win the War on Terror….STOP BEING AFRAID!!!

  8. “Give me your tired, your poor,
    Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
    The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
    Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me.
    I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

    And I believe in that. What I don’t believe is how we the people are starting to cater to those who don’t like our ways, our freedoms, our language, our morals and want to change it.

    I will never stop reading your blog. I understand where you are coming from. I respect other countries and their ways. I would never do anything to change thousands of years of culture when visiting. I expect the same from those that come here. That’s all I am saying.

    Okay getting off this subject. Let’s get back to houseboats and living on the water.

    Thanks for even taking the time to respond. That means much to me.


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