Sabbaticals always seem to present challenges to a person trying to run a household. Most of the challenges are presented by the non-Western appliances that seem to come out of a scary Stephen King novel. The first 3 weeks of our 1996 Hong Kong sabbatical seemed to revolve around trying to use the washing machine without losing any pieces of clothing or our minds. Not to be outdone by Asia, the Netherlands also has cantankerous appliances that can only be successfully operated if you were born here, have a local birth certificate and own stock in Flockinschtok detergent.
The second evening in our flat included a lovely dinner of spaghetti covered in a very anemic tomato sauce which Katie promptly dragged her white sweatshirt sleeve through. Judging by the sauce's bland taste, this was possibly done to give it more flavor. After dinner, I decided to test out my foreign appliance skills by using the Dutch washer. I thought it would be a good idea to test the machine by washing the sweatshirt by itself. This turned out to be a good idea since the drum was only big enough to hold 3 socks so washing a sweatshirt pushed this poor washer to its absolute capacity - think stuffing the gun powder down the neck of the cannon. Wanting to increase my chances of success, I thought it wise to read the manual which luckily had a section in English. (My Dutch so far is a little sketchy) The instructions started with "Loading the Machine" - a good place to start. It explained in detail how to open the door which was about the size of a dinner plate (remember tiny capacity). The instructions then said, "put the clothes into the washer, but first make sure there are no pets in the drum." My initial 15 seconds of "Huh?" was then followed by 3 solid minutes of hysterical laughter. Since this helpful hint was included in the instructions, I figured this must give washer users some options when Fido or Fluffy are found lounging in a cold metal drum. #1: Pull the animal out. #2 Add clothes and begin the wash cycle to teach the pet a lesson. #3 Choose the extra long spin cycle since we never liked that cat anyway.
The next step was figuring out how to select a wash cycle. I knew this might be harder than pulling animals out and adding clothes. The instructions did tell me that at the end of the rinse cycle, I had 2 options: #1: (and this is a quote) Take your clothes out dripping wet, or, #2 Push the button to begin the spin cycle. I decided to not use option #1 - ever. I guessed at the cycle I wanted by looking at 12 little pictures of clothes, towels, blankets and animals. I finally decided on a picture of a cute little shirt because it was closest to the cute little sweatshirt I was about to subject to European water torture. I next guessed at the temperature since the manual didn't cover that tiny detail. (Remember, this is centigrade, not farenheit) I bravely left and went into my bedroom to say the best washing machine prayers I could think of.
Judging by the stop-start of at least 327 cycles, all of which ran at 62 miles an hour, it was a good thing I had prayed. By the time the washer stopped, 2 hours had elapsed. When I removed the unfortunate sweatshirt, I noted that, even with 124 rinse cycles, there was still soap bubbles in the drum. We also had water on the floor and I was pretty sure it was all suppose to stay in the machine. It was decided that we needed to call our rental manager for some expert Netherlandish advise. He came to our apartment, assessed the situation and told us that, yes indeed, this was not acceptable behavior for a European washing machine, even when operated by an American. The repairman comes on Monday. The spaghetti sauce is still sitting proudly on the sleeve, a memento of our trip to Eindhoven. One less souvenir to buy.