The Scruffman in Europe

Old Jan 10th, 2010, 01:14 PM
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Oh, the challenge of being Mom and not knowing much about what’s going on with your dearly loved son who is wandering around somewhere out there! Greg has been in the Netherlands since December 1, and I’ve had only very brief communications from him. Apparently his internet access has been very limited and very slow when available. I watch the log-ins on his couchsurfing page – it shows where and how long ago he logged on, and I’m always relieved when he’s been on because at least then I know he’s still alive and well enough to get on the internet. Nonetheless, it’s been hard sometimes, partly because I’m terribly curious and partly because getting through the holidays without him was a bit of a bummer – we usually spend Christmas just the two of us. (Although I did get a Christmas day e-mail telling me not to worry about him, that he was doing well and “among good friends.”)

I finally got my long-awaited Christmas phone call the morning of January 5, so I can finally update the story.

<b>The Scruffman lives low in Leiden</b>

The Scruffman hitched a ride from Berlin to Amsterdam in a single day – he met a couple girls at a gas station and they took him all the way. His couchsurfing page now notes that he considers hitchhiking an interest, “although it’s usually more interesting than enjoyable.” He spent two days in Amsterdam with a couchsurfing host. He dismissed Amsterdam pretty quickly – his comment was that he found it very plastic and touristy, and he didn’t like it.

Greg then headed to Leiden to hook up with people he had first met in his hometown three years before. He arrived in Leiden on December 3, and he has been there ever since. His hosts told him he could stay as long as he likes, so he decided to stay through Christmas as he had nowhere else to go, and thus would have company for the holidays.

Nukesafe, you’re right – he loves the Netherlands! In fact, he has decided he would like to be Dutch. He is now talking about coming home to work for a while after his trip, studying Dutch, and then getting a work visa to go back. We all know how realistic this plan is, but hey, dream away.

He is staying in a squat. This particular one is in a former bar. The bar has no windows, so it’s like a cave, and there are ten clocks on the walls, each with a different time (and all of them wrong), so once inside, there’s no real sense of what time of day or night it is. There are five or six residents at any given time, only one of whom appears to be permanent. Others rotate in and out periodically. The denizens of this den dumpster-dive for their food every night at supermarkets – Greg reports that they get great fresh vegetables, bread – once even chocolate!

Every Friday they host an eetcafe, for which they cook food (most of it dumpster-dived) and sell it for 3 euros per meal. This money is used to pay for the utilities – because although the bar is squatted, it is a legal squat, so they have electricity, heat, water, a shower – the works. Twice a week they make food and take it to the homeless.

Under the law up until January 1, 2010, squatting is legal. Here’s how you do/did it. You find a building that has not been occupied for at least 12 months. You get a crowd of people together and break down the door. You rush in, reinstall the door, and barricade every entrance so the police can’t come in and throw you out. You stay for five days. You get one bed, one table, and one chair into the place. Then you can call the police to come and register you as living there. The only part of this arrangement that is illegal is the breaking-and-entering part. Living in a building you don’t own or rent is not illegal. Once you are officially living there, it’s very hard to throw you out – some squats have been going 20 years. Greg knows about this because he helped break in and set up a squat in a church in Haarlem.

Apparently the law changed at the beginning of the year and squatting will no longer be legal. However, at his squat nothing has happened. He says there are 50,000 squatters in the Netherlands, and if they throw everyone out at once, they will have 50,000 homeless people. Plus, as those of you living in Europe right now know, this has been a very harsh winter. I imagine they’re in no hurry to have 50,000 people living on the street in this weather. However, the future of squatting is uncertain.

I asked him what he does during the day. He said he cleans a lot because there are a lot of people coming through. So it sounds like he spends a lot of his time “shopping” (at supermarket dumpsters), cooking, and cleaning. I guess he would make a great housewife! He has also traveled around some – I have seen log-ons in Rotterdam, Utrecht, Den Haag, Haarlem, and Flevoland. I’m somewhat disturbed by his admission that he gets around on the train, but doesn’t pay fares – he (and I assume his new friends) have become masters at dodging conductors.

OK, just to be clear, I don’t approve of all the law-flouting he seems to be engaged in, at least as it relates to dodging train fares, and I sincerely hope he doesn’t get himself into trouble. Otherwise, I think he’s certainly been resourceful in finding a way to survive on next to nothing. I believe at this point, during the 3-1/2 months he’s been gone from home, he has spent perhaps $1,500 total, including transportation!
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Old Jan 10th, 2010, 01:24 PM
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He sounds exactly like several European kids I know. They get by just fine. How old is he?
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Old Jan 10th, 2010, 01:30 PM
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gertie - 21, almost 22.
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Old Jan 10th, 2010, 01:36 PM
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It sounds like he's doing what lots of European kids do at that stage. I certainly did. I didn't tell my parents though. He'll come back (if he does) a different person!
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Old Jan 10th, 2010, 02:41 PM
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Thanks for the update! It is good to know that he is surviving and enjoying himself.
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Old Jan 10th, 2010, 03:01 PM
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One of my sons once squatted in the Libyan Embassy (People's Bureau)in London back in the '80s. If you remember, the Libyans fired on a crowd demonstrating outside, and killed a British policewoman. This really pissed off the Brits, and they laid siege to the Embassy for 11 days before expelling all of the Libyans from the country.

As soon as they left, my Son, who was going to university in London, and a number of other chaps broke into the building and set up residence. When the cops came to throw them out, the guys argued that they had not broken into British property, but that of Libya, and that the Police had no jurisdiction there.

Upon consideration, the authorities decided that they owed the Libyans zip, and let the squatters stay. My boy lived happily there for quite some time, before he eventfully dropped out of school and hit the road, much like your Son, the Scruffman. I must say he has turned out to be a wonderful and responsible human being, of whom I am extremely proud. I'm sure Greg will turn out the same way.

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Old Jan 10th, 2010, 03:32 PM
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Artsnletters, you and your son are amazing. I am so glad he is taking this trip and you are sharing it with all of us here on fodors. Honestly, you should write it up and sell it to a movie production house, sounds like a great movie! Thanks for keeping us up to date.
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Old Jan 10th, 2010, 03:44 PM
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Do you think he's happy? This is probably a dumb question since he'd probably leave if he wasn't. Cooking and cleaning just doesn't sound like fun for anyone, much less a 21-year old.
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Old Jan 10th, 2010, 04:03 PM
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"A well rounded life" - imagine the fees to teach someone this degree of resourcefulness, negotiation skills; inter cultural understanding, not to mention the travel, accommodation & other costs! He'd be a great Corporate Head, Headmaster or Educator one day if he chooses. And if not, he'll be the most interesting person at everyone's table.

I'm laughing at my vision of you peering through your fingers at his posts, artsnletters ... like watching a film where you're not at all sure you want to see the next bit - but can't quite resist either.

Thanks for keeping all us invisible "Aunts & Uncles" up to date.
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Old Jan 10th, 2010, 04:29 PM
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nukesafe, my son would have been right alongside yours. I share your confidence that he'll turn out fine in his own time.

gregeva1, he is planning to write it up himself. I'm quite a decent writer, but he is a better writer than I am - I know the grammar, but he knows how to be entertaining. Plus, you know I'm only getting the tip of the iceberg! Of course, I'm hoping y'all will buy his book when it comes out! I kind of wish he was the blogger sort of guy, as he could probably make some money off this while he's on the trip.

Jackie, he sounded really great, happy and engrossed in his adventure. And recall, he's decided he'd like to stay in the Netherlands forever. I suspect he's doing a lot more than cleaning and cooking (he does like cooking, though, which is a good thing since he's a vegetarian and if you don't cook it usually means you're eating total crap) and just doesn't want to tell me about it. Either he doesn't want to get into it because I'll want to know everything, or perhaps he thinks I might be distressed by some of it. (Although I'm not easily distressed.)

Bokhara2, in many ways my son was an extraordinary person before he left on this trip. He had a pretty interesting childhood, in its way, and he was not doing the standard young adult thing either. I share your sense that he's going to end up being one of those fascinating people you sometimes encounter who've had adventures and experiences no one else has and whose vision of the world is unique.
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Old Jan 10th, 2010, 06:15 PM
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Artsnletters, my DD who did a five month cruise ship gig playing music last year, took the train from Civeitavecchia to Rome and didn't buy a ticket as other crew members had told her they don't check once you are on the train. However she stressed about it the whole time she was on there, and bought a ticket on the way back.
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Old Jan 10th, 2010, 06:53 PM
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Your son sounds great. I have three boys, the first two have already travelled alot and the third (age 20) will be doing something similar this summer going to Europe. I had never hear of 'couchsurfing' sites before. Like 'home exchange' for the young. Its great. My middle son spent time hitching in Nicarauga and Panama but also rode his 'dirt bike' from Alberta Canada to the tip of Baja Mexico, in winter, with a surfboard on the side. Talk about a worried Mom. I can relate to you so much. I would check his bank account (we had a joint account for his travelling) to see where and if he was withdrawing money so I was sure he was still alive!
We are heading for India in 9 days. Perhaps we will run into the Scruffman there?!!
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Old Jan 10th, 2010, 07:01 PM
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Artsnletters: You are certainly a role model of a mother,and I am gratified to hear this story. You have given your son wings, and he is already an international citizen because of it. Your courage is remarkable,esp. since you are not apparently living in any bed of roses yourself.

I would have found myself to be very selfish in your shoes, and too needy not to try to keep my son around.

Of course, my son, too showed more courage than I have by joining the Merchant Marine when he was 18 instead of going to college. DH and I held our breath for a very long time, while DS had been around the world by the time he was 19. Of course, he had a job and a place to sleep, granted on a supertanker.

His walkabout gave him a great education about what "Home" is all about, how people live in the big wide world and I think set him up to be a very independent human being. What I'll never stop admiring is that he did it all as a very shy only child. I wish he had your son's gift of making friends.

It was a long time ago, and all we got were postcards every month or so, no phone calls at all as I recall.

He eventually went to Engineering School, also got an MBA, now has short hair (in fact balding a bit) and runs his own business.

I'm going to put him in touch with these thread about Scruffman, I think he will be very interested.

God Bless you for what you are doing to make the world a better place, by sending out a well prepared emissary. and God Bless him for what he is doing.

Makes you kind of happy to hear a story like this. I'm certainly hooked.
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Old Jan 10th, 2010, 09:30 PM
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Well, I still hope that Scruffy makes it to Paris sooner or later, but the Netherlands is a great place to settle for awhile. I don't know anyone who has never been tempted to live there, at least temporarily.

I know there will be a lot of naysayers about this, but I would not worry too much about overstaying the Schengen visa exemption rules with a North American passport.
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Old Jan 11th, 2010, 06:40 AM
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Thanks for keeping us up to date on Scruffman! I hope that you will let us know when he publishes his book. I'll be first in line to buy a copy.
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Old Jan 11th, 2010, 11:40 AM
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I suppose that if I actually meet him in Paris, I should not breathe a word about these threads.
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Old Jan 11th, 2010, 11:53 AM
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nelsonian - well, it's good to know he's not alone.

live42day - it's couchsurfing.org - you need to do some planning in advance, to fill out the profile in detail and get some friends to join and write up reviews about what a great person you are. Then, of course, you must correspond with people until you find a willing host. Your middle son's adventure would <i>really</i> have kept me up at night! I'll just have to worry about mine when/if he gets to Africa....

taconictraveler, I've got to get everybody away from thinking I'm brave. I don't, in the end, really have a choice. It's his money and his decision. I am trying to help out, because as long as he's going to do it, I'd like it to be a success and not a disaster. But thanks for appreciating my role in creating an ambassador to the world.

irishface, you know I'll be back here to plug it!
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Old Jan 11th, 2010, 11:59 AM
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kerouac, the timeline has been pushed back a bit, so it's <i>possible</i> he'll come (1) through Paris (2) after the 20th, with both of those parts being entirely up in the air at the moment. He has a friend in Paris to stay with, so that is extra incentive to at least make a stop. I'd love to have someone meet up with him and let me know how he's doing, plus from what I know of you, I think you two would really enjoy each other. And then everyone would get another perspective on him as well.

I don't want him to overstay because he'll want/need to come back through Europe on his way home and I don't want him to have problems with that. Plus, his India visa expires in early April, so if he wants to go there, now's the time.

I will be back in the next day or so to post about his current plans, to the extent I have a clue about them - or even he has a clue about them!
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Old Jan 11th, 2010, 12:02 PM
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<<I suppose that if I actually meet him in Paris, I should not breathe a word about these threads.>>

Actually, I've told him I'm writing it up and that he has a "fan club" - I've counted over 60 people who've checked in at some point, many of you several times. He seemed somewhat amused by the idea. I've done more serious amateur travel-writing on another site, so it's possible he thinks it's more of that. I still haven't told him about his nickname, though.
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Old Jan 11th, 2010, 12:26 PM
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Artsnletters: I know you don't think you're brave, but in my view it is your REACTION to his DECISION that enables him to become the ambassador -- and that reaction is what I admire so much.
I'll bet there are a lot more than the 60 people who have actually posted about Scruffman who are cheering him on at this point!!
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