Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Final Curtains

Please don't get your hopes high when reading the title, I'm still blogging, I will not stop writing (applause, thanks!). Instead, I will try to decipher one small secret of the Universe. Curtains. Dutch curtains!

As a new resident of The Netherlands you get to have visitors from your mother land, a few times a year. Of course they'll all go to Amsterdam to see places and habits difficult to imagine for a normal (mostly male) individual. And when they come back they have only one thing in their mind, when to return to the places of great and sweet dissipation. Anyway, as all good things come to an end, they must also complete some other tasks, which appear to have a compulsory character: walking around in our neighbourhood. And almost always, the summary of what they've seen comes down to this: lovely flowers in the gardens, no matter how the houses are, they are all well garnished with beautiful plants in a euphony of colours. But, "I cannot understand how could they not have anything to cover their windows! No curtains, no draperies, no nothing. You can just see everything in their houses".

These are the facts actually. I believe that 3 houses in 4 do not have curtains on the ground floor. You can also read about this habit in every single "Holland for dummies" book that you get when you move here. The reasons for that are not extremely clear. The nice, official, and politically correct explanation has been so far that "the Dutch have nothing to hide".

For many years I thought that having or not having curtains is just a matter of taste. I personally don't like bare windows in the day light and me being inside. I feel like waiting for a train in a God forsaken train station. In the night I have no problem, as you can't see outside. All right, people can see you, but what do you have to hide? If you're a man and you, hypothetically, like to walk around naked, that's fine. The worst that can happen is for the people to think that your wife must have married you for your money :).

I stopped thinking of this until I bought my own house. When you rent, you get whatever they give you, any Ikea rag will do it as fine as anything else. But when you have your own house, you really want to make everything right, to combine the colours so that the draperies will go with the stuff you have, from the house plants (including the Christmas tree, don't forget that) to the coffee mugs (if you leave them on the coffee table it'll be art, not mess).

The first thing that you need to do is to choose a shop. Luckily, we had a very large store (and a few slightly smaller ones) that specialised exclusively in curtains. A fairly new one, open in a former motorcycle show-room (no wonder that one got bankrupt, who'd buy a motorcycle on this weather?, but that's another topic). So I measured the windows and off we went to have a closer look around. As we entered the shop, which was indeed teeming with curtains, each of us took his/her job very seriously. My wife - to choose the colour/pattern/everything, me - to look at the prices and make calculations.

My job was easily completed. Prices were reasonable, 30 euro per metre, the expensive ones. I did the maths in an instant, 30 euros times 5 m times 2 (curtains and draperies), all in all 300 hundred. Ok, they should be pleated, so let's say 400 top. Much, but it's fine, you don't buy them daily. As I finished my job relatively quickly, I started to look around in the shop. Don't know how to exactly express this, but when I'm in a shop the size of a football pitch with only 5 people in it, including us, I start getting a feeling of uneasiness, something that can be expressed in layman's terms as smelling a rat.

The sales people had plenty of time, so the service was top. They offered us a chair and a coffee/tea/snack. The rat became bigger and bigger, but I was very confident in my maths capacities so I stayed calm and, honestly, curious.

"Sooooooo", she started with a smile the length of Chile, "have you found anything?"

"We've seen something nice indeed", came our merry chirping, as we'd seen something nice indeed. "Would you give us the whole price for the lot?", added I while handing her the piece of scrap paper where the window dimensions were written.

"Sure. What kind of pleats would you like?"

"Don't know exactly, but give us a nice example"

Before we knew it we were presented a list of pleats, from the simple and decent ones to the burdening Versailles-like ones (for those you really needed some golden draperies, no kidding). We just chose the simple ones. Then we saw in the computer programme the actual length is multiplied by two. Two! Twice as much! Jesus Curtains! Factor two. Had we chosen the Versailles ones, it would have been factor 3.5-4. So that's the big deal. I realised in a moment that the greatest achievement of the curtains marketeers was that they managed to convinced people that the curtains need pleats.

Needless to say, we stopped the discussion at once. I could compute it for myself as well and 600 euros was an amount we wouldn't spend. We would find something more affordable, being robbed was not part of the plan, so out we went.

One month later we came to the ultimate conclusion, the one that is always drawn after futile investigations: "That's it!". We can't do anything about it, it's a dirty world and we'll have to play by its rules. We're going to  have them as they are, end of story.

This being said, we went back to the store, to pay their price. We re-began the process of choosing and pretty soon we narrowed it down to two. Each about 30 euros/metre so the decision was taken based on other criteria, in which we again got some great help (I think the personnel were really happy to have us, to shatter the boredom, as they outnumbered the customers). Long story short, we asked for the final price again, only that we were prepared to get the blow of the 6-7 hundred with dignity and stoicism. The guy took the measurements and started the calculations. Have you ever followed these people, how they do the calculations always adding and subtracting some weird numbers, which have no apparent connection with what you think? And through the tangled process of computations, he turned the A4 calculator to us, so we can see the price ourselves. 1450 Euros! Suddenly the 700 seemed the bargain of the year. We took the last sip of the coffee and proceeded in the good old Elvis style: left the building.

Now we have beautiful curtains, of course bought from the same place, only that went there yet another time. The price got down tremendously after some negotiations and some agreement and we didn't have to pay the monstrous amount. The shop didn't make it though. They closed it after a year or two and brought something else in it. Pity for the rest of us, as they had very good coffee.

As for the Dutch not having curtains, the reason is clear now. They don't give a shit!

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