Work It


While jet-setting (or train-setting) the globe, dating women with foreign names, and eating dessert for breakfast all have undeniable charm, there is a rather unfortunate necessity that is rearing its head of late - work. Or rather, the need for money to gain access to more of the above, which usually involves work.

The self-actualization gurus often advise us to build on our strengths, and not spend so much time trying to shore up our weaknesses. So with 3 languages under my belt and English being the best of them (and giving up on the idea that I'll ever be remotely useful with a power drill or drywall), I am giving translation services a shot.

The Dutch are quite possibly the most skilled non-native English speakers you'll come across. It still amazes me in stores and restaurants just how effortless their English is, particularly those young'uns under 30, who have not only received formal education in the language since the age of 10-11 years old (roughly 3 hours per week), but who have also been raised under a global media culture that is largely English.

Despite this, however, their business materials and websites are still lacking in completely proper English, including humor that is cultural and simply doesn't translate well. Understandable of course (I imagine Bob and Doug Mackenzie or Seinfeld probably wouldn't make a lot of sense here either) - no matter how much education or exposure one gets, if it's not your native language you won't write it perfectly - but it does create an opportunity for, ahem, skilled wordsmiths.

So via a Dutch-Calgary connection, I met with the owner of MagStream, a very interesting company based in the Netherlands. They create and power online publications - newsletters, brochures, magazines. *(Note - if you go to their website prior to Nov.1 or so, the updated "clean" version may not be up yet... lest you mock my editing skills).

They are housed in a large, open-concept space in The Hague (Den Haag here in the native lexicon). Stepping into the building - a large converted tobacco factory called Caballero Fabriek - is a little like stepping into the future. If you've ever walked into an Apple store, the feeling is somewhat similar (although you feel less broke after walking out).

Inside the MagStream office

The modern .com office, complete with obligatory foosball table

The offices of design firm/gallery "Trapped in Suburbia"

The central lunch area, shared by all companies in Caballero Fabriek

The overall building houses over 50 companies, largely design, web, and creative small businesses. Some of the tenants refer to it as the Dutch "Silicon Valley".

Despite being the only dork who brought a camera to work... a workday spent speaking with the owner, putting my marketing and English skills to work and providing some suggestions and an overall website clean-up all meant for (cue angelic sound of "ahhh") billing in Euros.

After being, to put it delicately, bent over by various overpriced taxis, train rides, hotels, and bars, it is very nice to make even a small entry in the positive side of ledger. I will expand upon just how expensive Europe is in a future entry. Not news to many of you, I'm sure - but there is still sticker shock even when you are expecting it.

Another interesting and very appealing aspect to Dutch society - when taking the train home at the end of the day, the businesswoman across from me was enjoying a beer. Not from a paper bag either - complete with small plastic glass and mini-table bolted just below the window. This may not raise eyebrows on this side of the pond, I realize. But a capital idea that North American society needs to adopt.