During a two month stay in Utrecht, Netherlands, as I was experimenting with the beginning stages of a budding career as an architectural/travel photographer, I was able to earn an amazing 10 euros under the table. At the time I was living in a flat with another American girl that had married a Dutchman. Two weeks into my stay, I came up with a brilliant plan to self-employ our two unemployed American selves. We would advertise our English paper grading services to the university students in Utrecht and reel in the small change. We set the rate at 1.5 euros per page and resolved to be stern that the pages had to be double spaced and in a 12 point font. Soon after, we started making flyers and created a new email account for this purpose. My friend’s Dutch husband thought we were under pricing ourselves but we dismissed his counsel.
I don’t think we ever thought too seriously about the endeavor but had the time to give it a try. The next day we took the bus to the University college area of Utrecht outside the city center. We got permission from the university student center to post our flyers on their walls for about a month. We also went to a language school and English speaking college in the area to put up our ad that read ‘Two Friendly Americans to correct your English Papers.’
The first two months we received no contacts. We explained the lack in business to it being the start of the semester and that papers and exams would probably start becoming due at the end of the year at which point my friend was going to the US for a month and I would be leaving Utrecht altogether. Sometime in the beginning of December, an email came in asking for our services. It turned out to be a physics paper. Of course, the attached file was not double spaced or in a 12 font but by this time I could hardly get myself to tell the person to format it correctly and resend it. So I read and corrected about 11 pages of arcane physics and emailed to meet so that the paper could be explained and I could be paid. I suggested we meet at the main bookstore in Utrecht’s city center called Boese that was right next to the public library. As luck would have it there was a Boese branch on the university campus that was close to the school’s library with a pizza stand nearby called Tripoli. My ‘student’ emailed back with the reply that he knew where I was taking about with an extra note asking if it was near Tripoli. I then automatically assumed that Tripoli was perhaps the name of the small square diagonal from the bookstore and emailed yes. Although I like to waste time and meander through the city, I never learn their names or what the squares are called. I noticed this when a friend visited and immediately referred to a street she had walked on once and I had no clue what she was talking about although I had walked down the same street everyday.
The next day, I waited in front of the bookstore in Utrecht’s city center, a good 20 to 30 minute bus ride away from the university. After thirty minutes I concluded a no show, and went to write an email stating what had happened and went on with my day. When I returned home at around dinner, I checked my email to find that my ‘student’ had also waited and wasn’t too happy either. Once I realized the mistake was on my part, an email and a call later I was heading out to the city again to make a successful attempt at meeting my student, this time in front of Utrecht’s main post office. My student turned out to be a middle aged German Physics professor that was in the process of writing a grant proposal to a laboratory in the US that was due the following weekend. In the cafÃ©, I realized he had managed to pick what to my ears sounded like flawless Dutch within a year of living in Utrecht. When I hear stories like that I always think to myself how did they do that? Then came the awkward moment of getting paid, the professor had remembered our ad saying it was per page, at which point he began counting the pages. I prematurely stopped his counting and told him that since I had inadvertently botched our first meeting that five euros was fine at which point he knocked some sense into me and told me to at least take ten.
As I was making my way back home, I was reminded of a museum visit I had made in Utrecht to the National Museum from Musical Clock to Street Organ. Our guide had been a young girl with short curly hair that had to perform a bilingual version of the tour just because of me. I was the only non-Dutch speaking person within a group of Dutch mothers that had brought their children to the museum. Therefore, our guide had to play the piano, sing at times, and showed us how all the musical instruments worked in addition to speaking in Dutch and English. Just watching our guide had been an exhausting experience and now thinking about it helped me come to the realization that speaking English in the Netherlands really is worth about ten euros.