Experts tell us that there are four stages to culture shock. The Honeymoon, Frustration, Adjustment and Acceptance. Most of this post smacks of the honeymoon stage, though there are some signs of the frustration stage creeping in…
My wife and I moved to The Netherlands one month ago and as far as we can tell, everything is going better than we’d hoped. Sure, we’ve had the occasional hiccup and headache, but day in and day out we can honestly say that life is good and getting better every day. It’s been so good that we’ve decided to slow down and soak it all in, the fun and the foibles, without the constant pull of social media. So this will be our first true update in a few weeks. The bad news is, it’s a rather long post. The good news is, we have a LOT to share!
When we arrived we had a couple of weeks to cool our heels in an Air BnB in The Hague, a city a few miles from our rental in Leiden, because our new home was not quite ready for us to move in. At first this seemed like a pain in the patoot, but we quickly came to appreciate the opportunity to explore a city that we would not otherwise see if we had moved right in to Leiden. Beyond the near constant sensation of utter astonishment that we were starting a new life in The Netherlands (I may or may not have wept with joy every few minutes that first week), we were struck deeply by how right everything felt. From the kindness of the people to a mind-bogglingly beautiful environment and the perfect pace of life, it is becoming clear to us both that we are home.
Are are a few highlights from the past month:
The kindness of strangers that seems to know no end is wonderful. It was so startling at the beginning that it felt like we were suffering from a bit of PTSD coming from the cray cray of the current American landscape. From day one we have been embraced by so many locals!I am falling in love with the Dutch – from friends we met before we ever got here to our Air BnB hosts (they are coming to our house for dinner this weekend!) to passers by in a train station who gently asked “how can I help” upon hearing Betsy say “I don’t know where…” Now don’t get me wrong, they are not all warm and fuzzy, some folks experience the Dutch as abrupt. But this gal rather likes their directness far more than the superficial shenanigans masquerading as southern manners.
Our house in Leiden is practically perfect in every way. We are very fortunate to have snapped up a home listed on B’s school’s intranet. Owned by a former teacher, this three story, 19th century house is quite possibly the most charming house I’ve ever lived in. The spiral staircase was a challenge at first, but now we are all bopping up and down the stairs as if we’ve done so our whole lives. The rooms are small, but cozy. The refrigerator is about the size of a dorm-room fridge and there is only one brick (and no insulation to speak of) separating us from our neighbors. But – we are totally in love with the space and location. Located on quite street just on the edge of the historic center of Leiden and mere steps away from any and everything we could want, well, this is where we belong!
Rather than posturing and hollering about freedom, people here just are free in so many ways. Have you ever been to a dinner party and sat next to someone who told you over and over how cool or smart or sexy they are? Correct me if I am wrong, but if you have to say it (to convince others or yourself) it quite possible ain’t so. Furthermore, I got to thinking about the tired old American slogan “freedom is not free” and to be perfectly frank, I’d rather pay more money in the form of taxes for our shared freedom than with the lives of other people’s children turned soldiers. Oops, sorry for the tangent, this is supposed to be a post about all the crazy cool we are experiencing over here!
The canals that wind through the city where we live are a constant delight. Whether walking across a bridge, sitting at a canal-side cafe or floating along the canals of Leiden with our landlord, I just cannot get enough of these silverly slips of heaven.
The parks, especially the expansive Plantsoen that is just one block from our house. Not only is it a treat for us, but with no yard and two big dogs, it is our lifeline to sanity and sanitation! Having to walk the beasts every time nature calls has been a big adjustment from our big yard in Florida, but we all love the strolls (for now, in the summer) and they certainly love all the new smells to explore. We also really dig cool off-leash dog park we found just a few blocks away that is a tiny island where the pups can run like the wild beasts they are in their hearts.
And of course, bicycles! We are loving our car-free life and truly adore the cycling culture here. Bikes outnumber cars and there are trails everywhere – and we mean everywhere – to make riding a preferred and safe mode of transportation in the city. We are learning the rules slowly (no international incidents…yet) and are thoroughly enjoying getting around, running errands and commuting to work on two wheels.
I was told that there is a favorite phrase of the Dutch – “It is not possible” – and I have found this to be true in dealing with banking, cell phone service and the post office. At first, the number of confounding steps required to accomplish seemingly simple administrative tasks was quite frustrating. But when I took a step back and thought about it from different perspectives, I was able to relax and go with the Dutch flow. If dealing with the headache of bureaucracy is the small price I have to pay for this amazing new life, well I think I can afford that. More importantly, I found myself imagining exponentially harder it is refugees from war-torn countries to settle into a new land. Devastated by violence, forced to flee from their homes, many with little to no possessions, many more injured or ill or dying…how on earth do they ever make it? So yeah, a little hassle over paperwork is certainly nothing to get my privileged white knickers in a knot about.
Being a dumb American who only knows one language is not exactly my favorite persona. Communication is so very important to me and being currently unable to conduct conversations, or even ask simple questions like “where are the toothpicks” in the grocery store is incredibly frustrating. Most of the Dutch speak English, but not all, so there is that. So I am working hard and fast to learn the language, emphasis on hard, no so much the fast. I have some essential words and phrases down such as ja, nee, alsjeblieft and dank je wel. And just this weekend I was able to ask for kaas met zwarte truffles at the grocery store. Okay, I was almost able to ask for it, but chickened out because I could not remember how to say “do you have”. One day at a time eh? Duo Lingo is my friend and rumor has it there are some bas ass Dutch nuns running a program where after two weeks of intense immersion, students come out fluent! Side note: this has also opened my eyes and heart even more to immigrants who are treated reprehensibly when they struggle with the language of the land (I’m looking at you, America). Ahem.
An after dinner candy that was offered as a caramel and tasted distinctly like vomit still has us puzzling over who on earth would find that flavor appealing!?!
Seagulls! One of our first days here we witnessed a seagull deftly pluck a whole baguette sandwich from a lady’s hand! The feathered fiends are a plague I tell you, from eviscerating trash bags filled with stroopwaffel wrappers and bitterballen crumbs, to their ungodly screams outside our window (yes screams – I swear they sound like slasher film victims) every morning in giant flocks starting just before the sun rises.
Last week I was sipping a tasty brew and enjoying a generous helping of frites and mayonnaise at a canal cafe when a massive seagull (and a few of her friends) swooped in to try and steal my meal. With only A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway as my defense, I finished my snack by swatting at the persistent pests without much grace or shame.
Who’s the cable guy? I am! When we subscribed to our new internet and cable provider, we had no idea that a box would arrive in the mail with a “good luck with that” sticky note on top! For real y’all, they shipped us all the equipment and instructions (in Dutch) for how to install and activate our own internet, wifi and cable. I’m thoroughly impressed with what this says about the intelligence and competence of Dutch citizens. Not only do most folks know two or more languages, but apparently everyone has an IT degree to boot! After a few hours of Google translate, a couple of helpful videos and following wires around this old house, maaaaybe a Kwak or two, we are happily surfing the web and watching TV in Dutch!
Well, that’s all I’ve got for now. We’ll try to post a little more frequently so future posts are not so dang long!
Content warning: the views expressed in this blog post are expressly those of an author seething with frustration about her home country while wearing rose colored-glasses about her future home.
In just about 70 days, I will hop on a plane with my wife to begin the next chapter of our lives together. It has all the promise of a grand adventure, but it doesn’t come without a portion of sadness, a pinch of anxiety and just a dash of WTH are we doing?!
I am paying closer attention to life around me and I’ve been thinking deeply about what I will and won’t miss. Truth be told, there are only a handful of things I will miss, most of them not things at all. But we will get to that in a moment.
Right before I began writing this post, I quickly consulted the oracle of Googly goodness to see what other folks have said they miss about America when they are abroad. I bet it will come as little surprise, but what I mostly found were a bunch of whiny, privileged, consumer-driven lists about fast food, phone service and freon. While I’m a woman of a certain age and I will miss my A/C on the occasional warm day in the Netherlands, I can say with a high degree of certainty that I will not miss anything on those other lists. But for now, here is the list of what I think I will and won’t miss. Actually, lets start with what I won’t miss.
What I won’t miss
More than a few acquaintances have expressed gape-mouthed astonishment that we are giving away or selling most of our things. And for a couple of broads with nearly a century (combined) under our belts, that’s a lot of stuff to let go of. And you know what, I really won’t miss that sofa, or those plates or that rug, the pants I never wear or the shirts I’d forgotted I even had. Very few of the things I own are of intrinsic or emotional value. Most that are, will make the voyage. Some we will have to let go, like our camper that has brought us so much joy in such a short time. But these are just things and by my way of thinking, life is too short to be possessed by our possessions.
I will not miss the oil changes I always forget to do ’til she’s wheezing and sputtering. I won’t miss flat tires. I will not miss driving in rush hour traffic (or season traffic in Florida). I will not miss paying for insurance or gas. I will not miss my heavy carbon footprint.
Fast food, not even the fried chicken.
I am looking forward to walking to the farmers market twice a week to explore fresh, weird & wonderful food. Betsy is a fantastic cook and we are both over the moon to traipse around our new city and country learning how the locals eat.
I will not miss “debates” with “conservative Christians.” I will not miss the posturing and politics of “Christian leaders” who grow rich peddling fear and loathing. I won’t miss the Christian industrial complex that takes more cues from capitalism than Christ. And I’m really, really over politics masquerading as Christianity used to manipulate the masses.
Everything about America, from day one, has been about the bottom line. The truth is, America was founded, not on the quest for freedom of thought and religion (like our quaint little school books would have us believe), but on a quest for wealth, a lust for power and a desire for dominance. Sure, we penned some right nice ideas in the Declaration of Independence and our Constitution puts forth some grand democratic ideals, but in reality, if you are not a rich, white, heterosexual, land owning male, it was never really about you. Now more than ever, I can see that we are and always have been a government of the dollar by the dollar and for the dollar.
The glorification of busy.
It seems that the notion of sabbath taking, true and deep rest from our work, is shameful in America. We are on an ever moving treadmill of doing rather than being. I am ready for a a significant change of perspective and priorities.
Homophobia everywhere, every day.
Just the other night I sat with my wife at a pub in Florida, sipping a good beer, laughing with a few good friends, and right across the bar sat two disgruntled people who glared at us and pursed their surly lips as we dared to flaunt ourselves in their faces by just happily being ourselves, holding hands. To be quite blunt, this ever-pervasive experience tops the list of why we’ve decided to make the jump. I have mixed emotions about leaving y’all to fight the good fight, but I’m ready to just live openly and without the daily dose of ignorance and loathing, please and thank you.
Really, just stop. You know what it means, we know what it means. You embarrass me as a southerner, you embarrass me as an American. Read a book, listen to people, grow up and stop it.
What I will miss
The number one thing I will miss is not even a thing. I will miss my daughter more than I have words to convey. It is a tender ache already laced in and around my every fiber. Sure, she is thriving in her own life, deeply immersed in college, but I miss her every day and night just being a few hundred miles south of her right here on American soil. Though I’ll be just a six-hour flight away, it’s hard to untangle my heart from the notion that I will be living an ocean away from my Z. She will visit, almost as soon as we get there, and frequently I know (because Amsterdam), but this I’m sure will prove to be something about which I will need a great deal of reflection and meditation. And maybe a session or two of full-on Steel Magnolias ugly crying.
I will miss the smattering of loving family that still are crazy enough to claim me. And I will miss the handful of friends that it’s taken me a lifetime to find. I’ll be leaving behind friends in Georgia and Florida who feel more like family than most of my own kinfolk. Friends who, by all accounts, love me and root for me even when I forget how to be the good friend they deserve. Yeah, I will really, really miss my people.
The second thing I will miss is not a thing either…
I will miss Georgia. I will miss her troubled yet delightful cities. I will miss Atlanta and Decatur, both the familiar and the frustrating. I will miss her mountains to the north and her coastline dripping with magnolias and moss. I will miss the bloom of wisteria in the early spring and the first flicker of lightening bugs dancing between dogwoods of summer.
I will miss Florida. I have to be honest and say I did not believe that would ever be true. I will miss our little home and big yard and the many sacred spaces we have carved out together. I will miss the lushness everywhere I look. I won’t miss the miles and miles of strip malls, but I sure will miss the miles and miles of beaches, rivers to kayak and dark night skies framed by palm trees.
Oh and parks! Our nation’s beautiful national parks! Geeze o Pete, I hope the asshats in charge don’t destroy them while I’m gone because I really love my parks. Our parks, wildly diverse in their landscape and lore, are thin places if one but gives themselves permission to wander and wonder. Please enjoy and take good care of them while we’re away, m’kay.
Wild Goose is an event, both a place and a whole lot of people, that have helped me live into another way. It seems to be an example of best of this country could be if it really wanted – hopeful and diverse, open and warm, generative and rejuvenating.
At Wild Goose we:
showed up in our camper with very few things,
spent a lot of time walking,
shared our food, drink, umbrellas and really, all our stuff,
listened deeply to a lot of different faith journeys,
took a whole lot of sabbath,
welcomed everyone to be themselves just as they have been created
and draped anything & anybody that would stand still with peace and rainbow flags.
For just a minute up there in Hot Springs, we were reminded that a better way really is possible. Maybe even here. I sure hope here. But for now, we are getting ready for our own journey in search of that better way, on a little street, in an old neighborhood of a cool city in Holland called Leiden.
Some of y’all may know that in July I will be moving with my new wife to the Netherlands. The inspiration for this leap across the pond bloomed one traumatic night in November when the changing of the guard ushered in the new regime of madness under which we now find ourselves.
See, Betsy has lived and worked abroad before, nearly a decade in Singapore and Budapest, and we had been planning to eventually move to Europe together, so on that devastating night, she began reaching out to former colleagues to see if there were any faculty openings for which she’d be qualified to apply. Apparently, the answer was yes. So, after nearly four months of interviews at a school in The Hague (her last interview happened to be on Inauguration Day) and nearly just as many sleep deprived nights waiting for an answer, the universe handed us a big fat YES! We are beyond excited to be making this leap together!
Although our own country has made immense progress (thanks to the tireless work of activists of all stripes and a previous administration that led with hope rather than fear) the US seems to be in serious retrograde where haters are celebrating their ignorance in unprecedented style! So, in less than 90 days we will be living and working in a culture not dominated by sexually stunted, willfully ignorant, fear-mongering religion.
I can hardly wrap my head around what it’s going to be like to no longer have to convince the government that we deserve the same portion of legal rights and protections as any other person. We’re moving to the first country to legalize same-sex marriage back in 2001. We won’t have to walk through our days deciding where it is okay to just be authentically and fully ourselves without fear of reprisal, professional termination or even violence. In the span of a few months and a 6-hour flight, we will go from abominations unworthy of basic human dignity to just a middle age married couple just trying to love one another, our friends & family and our work as best as we know how.
And as I’ve been peeking over the horizon to see the twinkling dawn of this new reality, I realize how far from American religiosity I have already come and how wonderful it will be to no longer beg for crumbs from the table of the American protestant church.
So, after a lot of thinkin’, praying’ and talking thing over with my wife (I do so like writing that), I have come to the conclusion that’s it’s time for a change. After this post, and maybe a flurry of Flashback Fridays, my blog will begin the transition from conversations about being gay and Christian in America to musings about being an expat in Holland trying her dead level best not to start an international incident while ordering a cup of coffee and a tompouce.
See, I’ve been saying (with varying degrees of grace and fury) the same damn thing in the 263 posts I have published over the past few years. So before I begin the transition of my blog from one sort of rambling hot mess to another, let me remind you of a few critical things. I’ve even created this here handy-dandy PDF that you can print out and hang on the fridge or use to line the bird cage.
God is love.
You are loved by God.
You are created to experience love.
Living into how you were created to experience love is not sin.
The bible is not God.
The church is not God.
You do not have to be part of ANY community where you are asked to live a lie.
There are some radically inclusive people of faith. If you don’t know any, PM me on Facebook.
There are some radically inclusive Christian congregations. If you don’t know any, PM me on Facebook.
Your sacred worth and civil rights are non-negotiable.
There is no such thing as A homosexual lifestyle.
It is okay to love Jesus and cuss a little.
So, that’s about it for now, friends. Be on the lookout for the new blog called “WTH!? Welcome to Holland…” where I’ll share my many adventures in trying not to be too obnoxious while looking for thin places in new spaces abroad.