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!