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The "i am not a tourist" Expat Blog Competition
Expatica presents the 2nd "i am not a tourist" The Expatica Community represents thousands of people from all over the world. Whether you just arrived at Schiphol, bleary-eyed and confused, a few weeks ago or mastered the task of holding an umbrella while pedaling your fiets years ago, there's one thing that unites us all - we are not tourists! In celebration of Expatica's 10th annual "i am not a tourist" Expat Fair and all local bloggers, we invited the latter to submit a post illustrating their experience leading them to say, with affirmation, "i am not a tourist!" We received 17 very diverse entries and are proud to announce the winner and runner ups: The nominees in the "i am not a tourist" Expat Blog Competition are:
A few months ago, I came across an article detailing general Dutch opinions about some of the nationalities that have settled within their borders. They feel "ambivalent about the British." The French and Italians have [read more] nice holiday destinations but are "frowned upon for various reasons."
Okay, fine. But Americans? "Loud and empty-headed."
These two descriptors have haunted me since, rendering me into an eye contact-dodging, full-fledged low talker in public. Recently in a bustling cafe, I was flooded with feelings of shame... on behalf of a tableful of Americans. Their cheerfulness and sharp vowels overwhelmed the room. Their voices were all I heard. I wanted to apologize to someone, to anyone, to everyone. Loud and empty-headed rattled around in my skull like a pebble in a clothing dryer. I felt the need to breathe into a paper bag. In retrospect, I realized that my visceral response to a common scene in a city crawling with expats had little to do with the benignly chipper Americans, and more so with my own insecurities and overall feeling of cultural homelessness. My quandary is two-pronged.
I ache for certain aspects of America, Land of...
1. Sunny-souled servers at restaurants, nearly pouncing on patrons to refill empty (tap!) water glasses. Hey, we know most of it is in pursuit of a meaty chunk of gratuity, but still. It's really nice.
2. Mindless eavesdropping. I miss being surrounded by a language I understand and can manipulate like warm clay. Dutch feels like a mouthful of sand to me; I realize that it's utterly a result of my failure in prioritizing. As I write this post, two high school-age girls sitting near me are fluidly switching between perfect American English and (what sounds to be) effortless Dutch. I envy their ease. They have earned the right to speak English loudly. I haven't. Maybe those Americans at the cafe had, too. Maybe I was preemptive, or altogether wrong, in my dagger-eyed shame throwing.
3. A-grade websites as the norm. As someone who spends a decent amount of time looking for blog fodder, I have to manually unstitch my brow almost every time I am forced to visit a Dutch website. Seriously, Holland. So many shop sites here (some of them belonging to largish companies) look like they haven't been updated since Al Gore didn't invent the internet. Bad links, outdated information, gift cards that can only be used in person and not in the online store (which totes sucks when you rely on public transit with two little people in tow), etc. etc. etc., are the not-so-gold standard. I get really, really excited when I see a fluidly-functioning site now, when before, it was what I expected.
4. Familial assistance. Granted, no one can fix this one, short of making a 5,000-mile move, and it's not something that's intrinsically wrong with this place. But raising children far, far away from family is taxing in a lot of ways, and it makes me unable to commit to living overseas indefinitely. I cringe every time Julian affixes his lips to the computer screen to kiss his grandparents goodbye via Skype.
5. Wilderness. Okay, some relatively people-less open space would do. A place like Pawnee National Grassland, one of my happy places on this planet. I've been spoiled in my past, living near places where solitude was a relatively short drive away. Here, a high population density reigns. Although this fact means many good things (easy access to loads of amenities and cool public spaces), it also means people. All the time.
You wouldn't have guessed it after my complaint party above, but I am immensely happy here. My sighs of homesickness are practically inaudible when compared to my praise of the Dutch way of being and living, especially when it comes to raising kids. How do I love Holland? Let me count the ways...
1. In Nederland, cycling is a way of being, not just a mode of transportation; cars are a side note. So is the rain.
2. Children play. Outdoors. Together. The rise of digital playthings is terribly convenient and technologically cool, but so many kids don't know what it feels like to be windswept, to run home because their fort-building was interrupted by a magnificent rainstorm, to empty sand out of their shoes, to pick burrs off their wool coats after a scamper through a forest. Despite having a national population density of almost fifteen times higher than in the United States and, thus, not having much actual nature (in the same vast, national-park-way I do), parents here give their kids every opportunity to do everything on my list above, on a regular basis.
3. Personal space is sacrificed for the greater good. People give up giant yards and sprawling homes in order to have an abundance of green space, and they swarm there on the weekends, making for communal and gezellig neighborhoods.
4. The Netherlands is a pretty safe place, with a murder rate less than one sixth than that in the U.S. My favorite television series are about either serial killers, funeral homes, or serial killers, so you can imagine the thoughts that flicker through my brain day and night. Crime stats calm neurotics like me right down (as long as we're living on the low end of that chart, of course).
5. Amsterdam is uniquely beautiful and perfectly quirky. My perspective on this bustling little capital has only gone up and up and up since it our home.
I identify with these (and many other) aspects of Dutch culture so much that now I'm in the predicament of feeling culturally fractured. I get an ache in my chest when I think of my years in Colorado, spent under almost perpetually blue skies, often on the back of a horse in the more recent days. I long for the lakes of Wisconsin, the smell of freshly cut grass that permeates its summer months. But moving back to (one of) the states would mean leaving a big piece of my heart in Holland.
With our future here entirely enclosed in an opaque question mark-shaped case (1 year? 10 years??). Until that question mark turns into something more certain, I'm determined to sprout some roots.
First step: finally learning Dutch. Gulp.
Until then, I'll be working on raising my eyes, my chin, and my voice. Here's to fluency, and to feeling at home, even if your definition of the word is as stationary as a bird above the open sea.
I'm not a tourist but I 'm not really Dutch either...
With a suitcase, a really full bag, my viola with a tennis racket strapped onto it I board the plane. Alone. Depature was from Harare, Zimbabwe and the destination Schiphol international [read more] airport. Arrival time a fresh morning in May. Blond, blue eyes, nineteen years old, the start of an adventure called: going to university in Holland. Was I an international student? Was I Dutch?
One thing was certain even though I spoke Dutch I did not really understand the Dutch. I thought I knew what I should know. I thought I would be able to understand the ways of the Dutch. What a major culture shock! The wierd thing was that I had not expected a culture shock at all. In the meantime I have survived and started to thrive here so I have some advice for you.
10 tips to survive and thrive in the Netherlands:
1. Buy a bicycle. It's an easy way to integrate, do as the Dutch do. If you are sensible you will buy some good "fietstassen" (bicycle bags) too. Mine are one of the best investments I have ever made. They have served me so well I could write a whole post just about my "fietstassen".
2. If you are serious about learning Dutch get a button "Spreek Nederlands! met mij!" and pin it on your jacket. Otherwise people start speaking English to you when they hear your accent or hear you struggling to speak Dutch.
3. Buy a museumkaart which gives you free entry to nearly 400 museums all over the country. To give you an idea there are more than 30 museums in Amsterdam which you can visit with the card.
4. If you have a garden plant some tulip bulbs, it will make spring even more exciting. You can plant them now between September and December. I mean it is the country of the tulips so why not let them flower in your garden.
5. Make sure you know how to flush the toilet. There are many different kind of toilets here. Sometimes you need to push a button or pull on a chain. There are even bloggers that write about the toilet here: everything you never wanted to know about Dutch toilets.
6. When going to a Dutch birthday party remember to congratulate all the family members too, it's what you do here.
7. If you want to start a conversation while waiting in a queue just start talking about the weather. In the beginning I was irritated about the fact that everyone complained about the weather and was always talking about the weather but it is just a way to start a conversation. What a revelation!
8. Start cycling just for fun. There are nearly 35 thousand kilometres of cycle paths in our country. It is the cyclist friendliest country in the world. Discover the cycling culture! Even the BBC wonders why cycling is so popular in the Netherlands? Do you need suggestions for your cycling adventure? If so check this website Nederland Fietsland.
9. Taste the local food like stroopwafels, drop (liquorish) and herring. Did you that herring is the thing the Dutch miss most when they live abroad?
10. Make a local friend and spend time together.
Now back to the question about where I'm from. The answer is a complicated one. I am not a tourist but I am not really Dutch either. I was born and bred in Africa but I have a Dutch passport. When I came to my "passport country" I suffered from a culture shock. I now know I was a hidden immigrant at the time. I looked very Dutch but I thought differently. My identity had been formed by all the years I had lived in Africa. Even though I spoke Dutch at home I did not know the sayings and the slang words. I easily connect with expats and internationally minded people, actually I love being in an environment with people from different nationalities. Years ago I discovered that I was a "third culture kid". That discovery helped me understand my confusion. It gave words to my feelings. I am a member of the "third culture kid" tribe. Actually I am a global citizen living in the Netherlands at the moment. In Dutch we would say "een wereldburger".
Just in case you have never heard of the term "third culture kids" it refers to a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents' culture, like I did. The TCK frequently builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any.
Moving to the Netherlands years ago was the start of my new adventure. I hope you meet as many interesting people as I have here, I hope you become addicted to cycling like I did. I hope you not only survive but thrive in the land of the clogs and tulips. Do you have any survive and thrive tips? Please share them here. [less]
The Englishman Who Spoke Good English
It has finally happened. After all the years of waiting and hoping and wondering how I would respond it has finally happened, the one thing I have been waiting for all this time.
It all started when I spotted [read more] a couple walking towards me in the street, clutching a map, both sharing the same confused look upon their faces which suggested they were utterly and completely lost. I already started to wonder if this could finally be the moment but I tried to push such thoughts aside and not hope for it too much. The disappointment would have been crushing.
Instead I waited as the space between us closed one step at a time. I tried to not look at them too much as we got closer and then... just as we were about to pass each other it happened...
"Excuse me... do you speak English."
I almost fist pumped the air in triumph.
It was the lady who had asked the question I had been waiting all this time to hear. Her husband was still too busy gripping the map and looking at it intensely. I don't think he was quite ready to admit that they were lost yet but I did not care about that. All I cared about was that someone had finally asked me, an Englishman, if I spoke English. She had even said it very slowly, over pronouncing each word in her Yorkshire accent in the hope that ‘the foreigner' would understand.
I decided to play it cool. I had been waiting for this moment for a long time and had an equally long list of highly witty come backs prepared but I did not want to throw the moment away too quickly. There was still one other thing that could make it perfect.
After five minutes of giving directions to the wife and five minutes of the husband's best ‘Honestly, I know where we are' impression we were about to part ways. For a moment I thought I had waited too long and missed my opportunity but then...
"Thank you. And can I just say... your English is very good."
I could have hugged her. I almost did.
"Thank you. I am English." I replied instead (number 234 on the highly witty come back list).
She looked embarrassed for a moment while we both chuckled about this revelation and the husband attempted his best ‘I was not listening but I just worked out where we are for myself' impression . I bid them farewell and skipped down the street.
- See more at: http://www.invadingholland.com/the-englishman-who-spoke-good-english/ [less]
Most romantic restaurants in Amsterdam
Where to go for a dinner for two in Amsterdam... How about a dinner on the water or in a grand canal house? Or are you looking for an intimate wine bar with a good chef and passionate sommelier? Here's [read more] a list of Amsterdam's most romantic restaurant, especially made for my two dear friends (you know who you are). Big kiss!
PS. Reservation recommended at all of these places!
Why it's romantic: they've got booths to sit in, giving dining couple sense privacy. Starting the evening with a glass of Champagne in the champagne lounge also gets you in a romantic mood.
Geisha, Prins Hendrikkade 106a, Nieuwmarkt area, Amsterdam.
Cuisine: Italian see ‘best Italian restaurants in amsterdam'
Why it's romantic: The views on the canals, great Italian food, friendly service (really!) and an excellent wine list.
Incanto, Amstel 2 on Muntplein, Amsterdam Cetre. T. 020. 423 36 81
Cuisine: Italian see ‘best wine bars in amsterdam'
Why it's romantic: Rustic interior decorated with wine bottles. A wine bar meets restaurant - let the love liquid flow!
Ambiance/formality: elegant (or informal - it depends on your own mood).
SoVine, Amstelveenseweg 152, Amsterdam Oud-Zuid. T06.526 186 06
Cuisine: French will be featured in ‘best French restaurants in amsterdam'
Why it's romantic: Set in a narrow canal house, built way before there was talk of the canal belt. The result: the staircases lead to different dining rooms with low ceilings, wooden beams and lots of privacy. Excellent cuisine and wine list.
La Pianeta Terra
Cuisine: Italian see ‘best Italian restaurants in amsterdam'
Why it's romantic: Small restaurant where beautiful (organic) Italian food is served with love. Also great wine and grappa list.
La pianeta terra, Beulingstraat 2, near Koningsplein, Amsterdam-centre. T. 020. 626 1912
Dylan Hotel: the lounge and terrace
Cuisine: French/international, will be listed in ‘best tranquil terraces of amsterdam'
Why it's romantic: Feel the grandeur of being in a grand canal house. On a cold, grey day snuggle up against your lover on one of the sofa's in the lounge. On a sunny day have lunch in the stylish inner-courtyard.
Dylan Hotel, Keizersgracht 384, Amsterdam-Centre. T.020. 530 20 10
Cuisine: French see ‘best wine bars in amsterdam'
Why it's romantic: A Parisian-style grand cafe interior serving French cuisine. At Graves they really try to go the extra mile, in an informal bar-like setting.
Graves restaurant - wijnbar, Gravenstraat 10, Amsterdam Centre.
Why it's romantic: Dine on a (glass enclosed) deck of a ship. Or go below decks...
Odessa, Veemkade 259, Amsterdam East Harbour (east of Central Station). T.020. 419 30 10.
Cuisine: French see ‘best French restaurants in amsterdam'
Why it's romantic: Feel at home between the wine bottles at this intimate restaurant. The chef and sommelier always make your evening special.
Utrechtsedwarstafel, Utrechtsedwarsstraat 107, Amsterdam Centre. T.020. 6254189
Ouderkerk aan de Amstel
For me, all restaurants along the Amstel in this culinary village is superromantic. If possible, arrive by boat. See best of ouderkerk aan de amstel
Cuisine: French see ‘best terraces in amsterdam Jordaan'
Why it's romantic: Where the herengracht meets the Brouwersgracht... that's where you'll find De Belhamel. Of course, on the terrace or at the window you'll have a stunning view on this busy canal cross roads. The art-nouveau interior creates an intimate ambiance inside.
De Belhamel, Brouwersgracht 60, Jordaan, Amsterdam.
Le Zinc et les Autres
Cuisine: French will be listed in 'best french restaurants in Amsterdam'
Why it's romantic: Set in a canal house with an informal ambiance and homey interior. Excellent food, wine and service. Je l'adore!
Le Zinc et les Autres, Prinsengracht 999. Amsterdam Centre. T.020. 622 90 44
Make your Breasts Wet
When we moved to the Netherlands two years ago, I had only a rudimentary understanding of the Dutch language. A lack of fluency compromises your ability to participate in a culture in the same way smoking too much dope [read more] impairs your senses; you know people are saying something that resembles words, but by the time your mind translates for you, the conversation has moved forward. With your language skills on low, you miss jokes. Eavesdropping is virtually impossible and the quick wit and dry humor that help define your personality in your mother tongue are taken away from you in one fell swoop.
It is quite tempting to remedy the situation by speaking English. After all, most people in the Netherlands, be they native Dutchies, Croatians or Spaniards can speak English reasonably well. But to do so means you are missing out on the ego-threatening discomfort and embarrassment that can be the wind beneath your language-learning wings. If you make an embarrassing mistake in a language-asking for your butt instead of the bill, for example- chances are you won't make that one again. Mag ik de rekening alstublieft? (May I please have the bill?) Mag ik my bill alstublieft? May I please have my butt? (Bil = butt).
Luckily, through exposure and persistence, you reach a point where you understand enough of the words in a conversation to follow along. After two years of daily exposure to frog language, I have reached that level and it has given me a boost of confidence in my daily activities. I can now comfortably eavesdrop on Dutch conversations around me and participate knowingly in conversations. That is until an expression is thrown into the sentence.
And the Dutch are not only very fond of their uitdrukkingen or sayings, they use them prolifically. There are whole books dedicated to the topic and they are also taught in Dutch courses. Seeing as the Dutch are a seafaring nation, many are nautical in theme. For example, if something was overlooked, we might say it's fallen through the cracks. I've heard this used quite often for sweeping government programs that are supposed to help the most needy, but the most needy often "fall through the cracks." The Dutch equivalent is "tussen wal en schip vallen" or to fall between the dock of a harbor and the ship. So just at the moment your ego is warming up at your level of comprehension, one of these babies is thrown into the sentence. And then your experience goes from head nodding and smiles to what in the ham sandwich did they just say? I understand all of the words, but the meaning escapes me.
I was following one conversation swimmingly until this little ditty came along:"Maak jouw borst maar nat," which translates to "Make your breast wet." My mind quickly translated the words from Dutch to English, which left me staring oddly at the older church lady in front of me, wondering if she had a famous Amsterdam profession before joining the church. Before my imagination further discredited her character, I promptly interrupted her. "Wat heb je net gezegd? Maak jouw borst maar nat?" What did you just say? Make your breast wet? A round of chuckles ensued that made me feel culturally cute and ridiculous all at once. Luckily an explanation soon followed. This means be prepared for what's to come; it's going to be busy or a rough road ahead.
Every language and culture has its expressions and colloquialisms that can be confusing to foreigners. This is also true in the U.S. Even Americans can be caught off guard by expressions used by Americans from different generations or different regions of the country. For example, how would you tell a friend or family member who was overreacting to a situation to calm down? It depends on your origins. If someone from Southern California needed to convey this information, they'd simply say, "Chill out man." But if you're from West Virginia, your word choice may be more like "Don't go gittin yer gussie up."
Did you read this whole blog post? Well aren't you the cat's meow!
Mirror Mirror! How to decorate your Dutch mantelpiece
This post represents how much I'm informed about Amsterdam already. I discovered a typical spot where mostly Dutch people come. A hidden gem in Amsterdam. So I thought, I go and have [read more] a look to see what Dutch people do when they see a piece of furniture they so badly want. I went with my Dutch boyfriend to have an advantage when it comes to negotiation. He never heard about this place before, which made me already think that I'm quite a good German deal on Dutch territory. Well, going there, showing off my negotiation skills when seeing this mind-blowing mirror, which you see below, made my boyfriend say: "You are becoming more Dutch than I am. I wonder where you got this from!" Eventually, being home I thought to myself "Well, this is because I'm not a tourist, I'm Dutch as by natural talent"! But see for yourself the story below.
The Saturday flea market was ahead and someone was getting excited. Ij-Hallen is supposed to be the biggest flea market in Europe. So people, come to Amsterdam to hunt for vintage furniture and clothes.
My shopping list included several decoration items, such as frames, hangers, vases, and something that blows my mind. I guess I found it. Oh dear, this flea market has it all. My DIY heart was beating faster. Raw furniture waiting for a new life in every corner. See some flea market impressions and read about the love story of a interiors-addict and a golden mirror after the jump.
My eyes didn't know where to look first. In- and outside, flea market runners won't get enough of the massive amount of treasures. The first stall, the first love. A wooden stool that will have its revival sooner or later (get keen!). The next stall, the next love. Vintage silver frames that finally give my birds a new home. Here are some flea market impressions.
And then, I found it, lonely hanging from one of the stalls in the back corner of the old factory hall. The golden miracle. A piece with charm and heritage. The mirror and me. It was love at first sight. I would have paid any price, but a true flea market enthusiast doesn't accept the first offer. No, about such a mirror there has to be a negotiation. Eventually, I paid 12€ for my true love, which is a fair deal, isn't it.
Back home I was eager to see where my golden beauty would find its zen. There are several options, but I preferred to enjoy the mirror on the wall most of the time. That's why the wall over the mantelpiece in the living room seemed to be the best to give the mirror its well deserved spotlight. I'm looking at it right now and think to myself, he is the goldest of them all.
If you also have a mantelpiece, you probably know the headaches you get from it. You don't know how to properly decorate it, or you do know but you then you are not sure how to put it all together so it actually looks like a mantelpiece and not like a storage shelf. Well, there are a few too many possibilities to decorate your mantelpiece.
To make it a bit easier for you I show you my solution to a lovely mantelpiece decoration. But let's start where I did in the morning. Namely, with a white wall and an empty mantelpiece. (Don't get confused by this double mantelpiece - it's there for a reason. I'll explain later.)
I wanted to give this boring wall a fancy touch. Honestly, this wall I had already in mind when I saw the golden mirror hanging from the stall ceiling at the flea market. Trying it at home only confirmed my idea. This is the right wall. Now that I chose the wall, the action could begin.
Now that the mirror is finally hanging peacefully on the not so anymore white wall, you can continue with the happy things - decoration! Great, I thought. Like I said before there are so many possibilities to decorate your mantelpiece and the good thing is that there are no rules, actually. One rule I mentioned. The mirror should hang in the middle of the mantelpiece to create harmony. For emphasizing this new piece of happiness I grabbed some flowers, frames, books and magazines and placed them in a few small arrangements. They support the elegance of the mirror, so it shines even more.
Which one do you like better?
I would love to hear about your ideas to decorate a fireplace/mantelpiece.
PS: Now the explanation of the double mantelpiece you saw in the images. Well, behind the creme fireplace is another fireplace, which was rebuild as a stone mantelpiece with no real fireplace inside. It is a non-functioning fireplace. These kinds of fireplaces can look good, but ours doesn't. Unfortunately, it is not very deep, so we cannot stack it with fire wood or books. It was like this when we moved in. But we received a non-smoking fireplace with animated flames, which actually work as a heater. We decided to place the new fireplace/mantelpiece in front of the old one. We have the same in the kitchen. There is a big trunk standing in front. Maybe I will find another solution for the one in the kitchen.
Is the gentrification of North´s docklands complete... or can we hold on to that NDSM feeling?
In the 1950s the NDSM shipyard was Europe's biggest shipbuilding wharf. Back then it "smelt of oil and tar rather than marijuana, [read more] you heard the sound of hammer blows rather than alternative bands and hip festivals, it was inhabited by welders and burly workers covered in the grime of hard work from building beautiful ships rather than slick yuppies and tree-hugging hippies". (rough translation of comment by ilovenoord reader Rob Spelde)
After the shipyards were shut down in 1984, the wharf was left to deteriorate. Then the squatters moved in, followed by the artists and alternative entrepreneurs, who pioneered cafés, night clubs, artists' studios and alternative festivals in the old shipbuilding halls, the slipway and the derelict shipyard.
Once the NDSM became an established venue for the alternative scene, it also became attractive to the creative companies like MTV, IDTV and Red Bull, which relocated their headquarters to the upcoming area. This made the wharf hip and regular companies like the department store HEMA and HISWA boat show choose NDSM for their new offices. Now new apartments planned for what used to be an undesirable outpost. From derelict industrial wasteland to bustling creative hub to chic residential neighbourhood. The gentrification of the NDSM is almost complete. Things change. But can we hold onto that NDSM feeling?
Last weekend, café-restaurant Noorderlicht organised the Detox Days, a caravan of mobile saunas, hottubs and sweat tents descended on the Wharf giving Ilovenoord founder Luc Harings time to reflect:
I came here around 13 years ago, banished from ‘the city'. Once I landed in in North Amsterdam, the NDSM Wharf stole my heart with its open rawness... true inspiration for an artist. During a weekend detox in the Sauna caravan, I started longing for that true wharf feeling.
Nowadays, the NDSM ferry takes you directly to the wharf from Central Station. On your left there is the IJ Kantine, student housing in converted shipping containers, a glass office block built on old crane rails, the HEMA, a new Marina and steak restaurant Loetje. Getting on and off the busy ferry goes with a bit of pushing and shoving. I drop into art gallery Nieuw Dakota for an artistic surprise and neighbouring gallery Vous etes ici. I pass the MTV, Red Bull, Nickelodeon buildings on my way to Pllek.
A cup of mint tea and a mackerel sandwich on Amsterdam's best pebble beach on the River IJ. Nothing else like it - the ultimate panaromic view over the river, while kids play on the beach and dads build pallet huts with their sons. Tai Chi lessons on a Sunday morning...the ideal getaway. Hard to believe the grand café built from shipping containers has only been here for 18 months.
In the ‘carpark', Fiats are parked next to Mercedes, convertibles next to station wagons. Crammed in between the travellers' busses and old trams. But not for long, soon paid parking will be introduced. Then the city's hipsters and families will have to bike it on the ferry. So on we go past the ship launch slipway - memories of Henk! NDSM's landmark crane has been removed for renovation so it can be converted into a hotel room. Past the bunker, once a nightclub venue. Towards the new bridge, container city on the left and café restaurant Noorderlicht on its green hill on the right. Paradise. I remember long evenings in the first captian's hut, ten years ago, or more when it was called the Houten Kop. The memory of bales of straw, candles on a few tables, its unforgettable atmosphere, good food and cold winters makes me sentimental. It burnt down - they say the cook forgot to turn off the gas.
Back at the sauna, Adams and Evas plunge into the hottub, treat themselves to a massage, enjoy a Finnish or Swedish sauna and peel off their layers in a 3-hour sweat ritual. I've lived in North for many years and have seen a lot change. The wharf is a prime example. Is this gentrification? Is it for better or for worse. What does it matter, my face is covered with green mud and I'm drinking eco-beer in a hottub.
I am not a tourist!
When I passed my exams to secondary schools - my mom and I went to a trip to Italy. It was a great trip during which we visited different cities and saw many sights. We went there during the summer and it was very crowded. [read more] In Rome - we run into a group of German tourists - and heard one of them say: "Oh - these tourists!".
I was shocked! After all - he was a tourist himself! Many years - 3 children and multiple international moves later - I found myself thinking something similar while sitting in a beach club in Scheveningen. It was a beautiful sunny cold day. Funnily enough - these tourists were German as well.
And I think that at that very moment it struck me that I am not a tourist. I am an expat - I may not necessarily belong - but a tourist - I am not. I feel very proud of myself when I order in Dutch rather than in English or German. And I feel even prouder of myself when the waiter responds in Dutch as well. My husband speaks Dutch. My children speak Dutch. We are not tourists. We live here.
The other moment that helped me realize how not at all a tourist I am - is the fact that after 4 years of living in the Netherlands - I finally managed to make some Dutch friends. We met through my children's daycare and when my eldest daughter started school - we decided to stay in touch. Before that - all my friends were expats. Now - I have some Dutch friends as well - and love it.
But I was never a tourist in the Netherlands. My reason for being here was never to come - admire the sights - take a few pictures and come back. My reason for being here was and still is my family. I was the foreigner - the outsider - the odd one - but never a tourist.
I had a baby - no sorry - three babies in a foreign country. I bought a house. I have learned a new language and I made friends. I have found a job here. My child is going to school. Every day - I go out - run errands - cook dinner - work a little or just go for a walk. I have attended dancing classes - swimming classes - language classes and social media classes. My girl attends ballet classes. I went to physical therapy with my little girl. I took all three of them to the Consultatiebureau to get them vaccinated - measured - weighted and evaluated. I took them to the doctor when they were sick. I revelled in hearing my children speak all three languages and feeling at home here.
I may have been surprised by many things here - healthcare being one of them. I had the police called on me - and many times I found myself wondering whether the Dutch really are rude or are these just cultural differences. But I am not a tourist. I am an expat - which means that I am not from here - but I am here. And I am here to stay.
The fact that I am a TCK - a Third Culture Kid - makes my life easier in this regard. Once I had my network of like-minded - wonderful and inspiring people - I finally felt at home - and it didn't matter at all that I didn't speak the langue really well. It didn't matter that my accent - and the fact that I spoke yet another language with my children gave me away as a foreigner anywhere I went.
It didn't matter that I missed my family and friends that I left behind in my hometown Warsaw - and my other hometown Hamburg. It didn't matter that I still had to learn all these new things because I was at home.
No - I am not a tourist. Definitely and absolutely not a tourist. After 4 years of living in the Netherlands - I have learned - experienced and grown so much. Through my blog - I am able to share my stories - give advice and hope to help and support other expats. After 4 years - my knowledge of this country has grown - as did my love for it.
I love living in the Netherlands. The beauty of it. The closeness of the sea. The way people smile at me - especially when I am out with my children. The history - the tolerance. I love the fact that the Netherlands are so small that it doesn't take much to go somewhere else- and the Netherlands have so much to offer. I love my new house with its big backyard and our fruit trees.
There are many things I love about the Netherlands. The tourists? Not so much.
The law, the law...
The mayor of Amsterdam has announced that the city's cannabis coffee shops will remain open, today's Independent reports. This follows a move to force them to only provide this for those able to prove residency. [read more] With tourism such a huge draw and over 90% of the coffee shops customers being tourists, it has been argued that the economy would suffer. However the mayor has argued that this move would merely increase criminality and anti social behaviour.
What has really impressed me with the Dutch people I have met is how they never touch cannabis. Most of the local students I meet all tell me that it is something that they do as teenagers, and then get bored with the idea. The dynamic nature of Dutch society makes the use of such a depressant a hindrance to fully experiencing life. That is not to say that the Dutch are puritanical in their social mores, every weekend the bars and cafeterias are full of people enjoying a drink and having a good time. This is very much a social occasion, and hardly ever see Dutch people drinking with the reckless abandon that seems to blight British and Irish city centres.
By contrast the red light district is often packed with tourists who are filled to the gills with cannabis, alcohol and hedonism. I was reminded of the sense of escape which tourism provides in reading A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid. The end of the first chapter contains the following passage;
"That the native does not like the tourist is not hard to explain. For every native of every place is a potential tourist, and every tourist is a native of somewhere. Every native everywhere lives a life of overwhelming and crushing banality and boredom and desperation and depression, and every deed, good and bad, is an attempt to forget this. Every native would like to find a way out, every native would like a rest, every native would like a tour. (Kincaid, 18)
It reminds me of an old joke I heard years ago, about a woman who notices her neighbour poking around her garden. "What are you looking for?" she asks. "My glasses", came the reply.
"And where did you leave them?"
"But why are you looking outside?"
"Because the light is better out here!"
It just goes to show that with so many people trying to find something, it always seems better to look somewhere else, but looking inside is perhaps the best place to start. Thoreau once said that most men lead lives of quiet desperation, and it seems that especially in these dire economic times that we need to become fully alive to a broader range of possibilities. The sight of groups of loud young men staggering around Amsterdam in search of some kind of freedom in hedonism is no longer just intimidating, it is quite depressing as well.
Would the legalisation of cannabis in their countries of origin make it as boring to them as it is to most Dutch people? Perhaps it could be compared to the use and abuse of our notorious legal drub, alcohol. This is abused to extremes in many countries, as many readers in Britain and Ireland will be all too aware. My own opinion is that alcohol and drug abuse are all to often both a symptom and a cause of wider social problems. It is continuing against a backdrop of high unemployment and limited opportunities for many young people today, many of whom will spend their lives trying to climb a very slippery slope and catch up with the living standards and work experience of an older generation.
I still have mixed feelings about the legalization of cannabis. I do realise that illegality makes huge profits for criminal gangs, and wonder if its legalisation elsewhere would lead to similar issues in other countries. Perhaps the universal availability of marijuana and prostitution would see a decrease in drugs and sex tourism to Amsterdam, and that in every country those who would abuse this freedom is a small minority anyway. It is just that the toleration of this here that concentrates one and a half million tourists from all over the world in this country, and being away from a familiar environment that acts as a licence to such extreme hedonism.
Perhaps one could be cynical and suggest that the Dutch could not do without the money that tourism brings in, when the world is mired in recession and the Netherlands has few natural resources. With over 90% of consumers of cannabis being foreign, it clearly is a moneyspinner that cannot be ignored. However the counter argument is that money is spent on it in every country, but elsewhere the money is firmly in the hands of large and very organised criminal gangs, most of whom are quite diversified in their dealings. This means that it co-exists with violence, and that the profits from its sale often fund other forms of criminality. So in that instance I agree with what the mayor has said, and that the decriminalisation of cannabis is the lesser of two evils.
It is a shame that the interest of many visitors to Amsterdam never goes further than this hedonism, as it contains numerous museums, art galleries and beautiful buildings to admire. The city has always been more advanced than its European neighbours in many respects. In the seventeenth century the comparatively high urbanisation saw a greater focus on trade and industry than elsewhere in Europe, most of which was still predominantly rural and feudal. This urbanisation saw the rise of a middle class, which was willing to be tolerant of freedom of thought and religion. It is surely no accident that many Enlightenment ideas took root here, such as Spinoza for instance The middle classes are often held to be a sober pious lot, and are often accused of self righteousness and snobbery This of course brings back the old cliché of the chicken and the egg.. Oscar Wilde turned a popular form of snobbery on its head in saying that, "Work is the curse of the drinking classes." Perhaps he had a point, and we should all try to liberate ourselves from both material and spiritual poverty to feel truly free.
It Always Comes from Afar, One Day
In summer I heard of his death, not unexpected. There were few reactions, many slow, and yet I felt the loss distinctly, a sting under my ribcage although I had not set eyes on him for years. "I [read more] would have gone," a friend wrote, thinking of his last days in France, "But you know how difficult he could be." I had not been his favourite student, not even favoured. I didn't weed his garden or paint his walls. Early in our acquaintance, at his insistence and in much company, I spent one dreary November week in his house in the mud filled French countryside hugging a hot water bottle, and vowed never to return. I didn't.
With regret, I wished that I had told him the story, the part he never knew, of how I came to be his student. While he lived, while I was near to his massive presence adored by so many of his students, I refrained although I knew his shoulders would have shaken with mirth, and he would have called out to me in German, "Child, child." His uncanny green and hazel eyes always insisting that we all call each other the informal you, whether in French or Dutch, and implied in English. Nevertheless he swayed above me in his native German. "Kindchen," he'd say, feigning to be scandalized.
To me it seemed to be fate. I believed then in destiny because I had no future. My last year in Paris was the bitterest of the four. Born the same year, the two voice teachers and seasoned French divas I studied under were facing mandatory retirement. One admitted, passing a manicured hand over her chignon, she was exhausted at the sight of students, while the other, a lioness with a fiery, dry mane barely middle age on paper, looked terrified at the loss of her social life and the coming months, or in her fantasies, decades, dependent on the company of her stalwart maid. The sopranos battled each other, their ex-husbands' ghosts, berated their studio accompanists all of them looking uneasy behind the keyboard, and took out their frustrations on students, bouncing us from one floor to the other on petty errands. We would call the women, out of their earshot, by their last names.
"Call me Udo." He said wearing a black turtleneck, sitting next to an uneasy looking pianist behind a black upright on a blue linoleum floor. He'd said hello in his pleasant baritone voice, looked at me from under precocious snow-white hair, and listened, one ear cocked, to me squeak through Hugo Wolf's "Das Verlassne Mägdlein." He complained that no-one else had shown up from the audition list. He waved the list.
My local conservatory, a modern building a block away from my unheated chambre de bonne in the seventh arrondissement, was hosting. The masterclass fee was low, an entire week, providing a very reasonable opportunity to catch the attention of a new teacher, a faculty member of a Conservatory in the Netherlands. A further reduction of two hundred francs, as I was a resident of the seventh arrondissement, settled the matter. I had two months to assemble the money.
My monthly list of expenses to cover in Paris included my conservatory fees, and my metro pass. This last item had for many months gone unpaid. I jumped the stiles, illegally coasted around town on buses, or walked a great deal. Bottom on my list was food. Knowing that I wasn't the type to be victim of anorexia nervosa, an American friend, who came to check up on her father recently relocated to the French capital, found me uncharacteristically wearing a size zero. As it turns out, our lives have crossed at the most extraordinary moments.
We'd met in a field strewn with refitted WWII barracks and lonely children without English as a first language, Berkeley University housing for international students with families. Our common language was dysfunctionalism. Inseparable through the years, yet not one, frequently disapproving of each other's choices, my friend and I stood together, careful to watch for oncoming traffic that the other did not see, and handed out cards in the endless cribbage games, part luck part calculation, of our sisterhood. We two were family and I was not family. Her father, recently sprung from sixteen years in a Vietnamese prison, was surrounded by a set of cronies nurturing illusions of regaining grandeur via his release.
His charming girlfriend, employed at an exclusive bank, the giver of "tickets restaurants," ensured that I too became a receiver of French meal vouchers in return for English conversations designed to prepare my friend's father for his immigration to the states. His interest in my intimate relations prompted me to engage in conversations in which fictive Jean-Yves, avid trombonist and sensible butcher, largely figured. I wore baggy clothes to our ever dwindling appointments. Finally, the wiry senior citizen, enemy of the communist regime, decided that I, poor child, should learn about The War. I must admit my high school education had been rather blasé about the matter. "We won't get into that mess," paw-pawed the history teacher, a sandy haired sportsman. It then became de rigeur that the ex-convict read aloud to me about the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, a three month slog that was a decisive loss to the French. On my last day in his company he returned from the kitchen with an entire package of Vietnamese pressed pork roll wrapped in banana leaves. On occasion, I had been the recipient of half a pork roll but never a whole one, which was let's say so big say and very pink. Shoving me against the hall wall, he waved a big French bill under my nose. Think of it, he was telling me, we can make an arrangement. In his world, the former ministry world, mistresses were business transactions. He deposited the bill in the breast pocket of Jean-Yves' shirt in which I was masquerading and leaned forward to kiss me, demonstrating that dental care in Asian gaols was somewhat lacking. Escaping his embrace, the pressed pork roll swinging alongside my knee in its plastic bag, I exited the building as fast as I could in my too small shoes, a gift from a friend, and the exact remainder of the needed masterclass fee in my shirt pocket, no small change, heading towards a new life in the Netherlands.
I arrived here in Netherlands in 2006 from the U.S. A year later my girlfriend (now my wife) migrated. We are both working in Dutch companies
During the course of 7 years - we studied the dutch language - did courses - made friends - and even passed [read more] our integration exams. We attend dutch social events - can participate in a dutch conversation - understand some of the jokes.
I married my girlfriend (she is American) - in a typical Dutch way in Amsterdam Gemeente on 1-OCT-2010 and had a reception on a boat on the canals.
This year - our son (first-born) was born on 24-APR in Amsterdam - and we are now following and understanding the Dutch maternity care - and loving it.
This month - we plan to apply for our Dutch nationality.
So - we feel to be well-integrated in the Dutch culture. [less]
Rhea Ong Yiu
I still don't go shopping on my bike,
I still don't fancy topping my bread with hagelslag,
I still don't like the taste of beer,
or licorice or any kind of drop.
Milk is definitely not a part of my meal,
neither is burkool, stampoot,
and [read more] the entire family of mash.
You can probably find a million reasons
to call me Un-Dutched
But let me tell you what
My heart beats orange,
And I love it just like that.
The years do go by so fast, and just because I've actually lived (and survived) here for the last five years doesn't bring me any closer to becoming a full-pledged Dutchie, but my heart beats in tune with the hustle and bustle that make this beautiful country so full of life.
I arrived in the Netherlands at the height of winter 5 years ago, fresh off the plane from a lovely tropical archipelago in Southeast Asia called The Philippines. I did not have prior experience with winter, but my first brush of a near death experience had everything to do with the subzero temperatures and extreme windchill, characteristic of the Dutch winter, getting lost in a cold, dark industrial park on my 1st day at work. I didn't know much about Dutch people before then, but the lady who went out of her way to help me that evening held the key that opened my heart for this country.
The good impression I had of the Dutch people did not stop there. As I began finding my place in this society, I started to embrace the directness, the subtle hints of sarcasm, the loud, shallow and fun side on less serious moments, the open-mindedness and acceptance of old and new alike, and the unrelenting pursuit for new adventures... I can think of a lot more to add to this list, but these everyday traits are so influential in defining the identity of the Dutch people. For someone who comes from a totally different world, it is interesting to see how these little things do move the cheese (pun intended!) in this country.
I am nowhere near close to handing over my passport, not even close enough to properly enunciate words such as "Verantwoordelijkheidsgevoel" (which apparently means responsibility)... but I have made the decision to be here. Five years ago, I was but a spectator. Today, sans the language, the pickled haring and some of its quirks, I would proudly wear my orange heart any day. No doubt, I found my home(away from home).
Rina Mae Acosta
My Mom is a Foreigner, but Not to Me
When I learned that Juliane Moore authored a children's book titled "My Mom is a Foreigner, but Not to Me", it hit a raw nerve. The book instantly made it on my Christmas Wish List.
I'm [read more] a mother to an 18 month old toddler son in a country that I am only beginning to call home. Ironically, I'm also the child of strangers from a different shore. My mother immigrated to the United States with three year old me and my one and a half little brother to join my Filipino father, a naturalized American citizen. We were among the very last to leave the motherland, leaving behind the legacy of a poverty-stricken country and inheriting all the hopes, dreams and ambitions of several generations of my father's family.
Living in the Netherlands has caused me to have an existential crisis (understatement). I grew up feeling and believing I was (am) American. I was merely a Filipino by convenience, mostly to appease my parents and my fondness of Filipino cuisine. Home to me was the San Francisco Bay Area (San Francisco and Berkeley).
I watched countless hours of Sesame Street, The Little Prince, Fragglerock, Duck Tales, Gummy Bears, Punky Brewster, Full House, The Rugrats, Mr. Rogers, Doggie Howser, Family Matters, The Fresh Prince of Bell Air, The Golden Girls, Growing Pains, MacGyver, Boy Meets World, The Wonder Years, and ER. I was practically raised on TV, just like most American kids of my generation. Childhood was littered with memories of dodgeball, hopscotch, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, youth orchestra, and piano lessons.
My brothers and I became obnoxious Americanized Filipino kids to the disdain of our ultra conservative, traditional Filipino parents. We were quite good at imitating their accent, of making sweeping generalizations about the Philippines colored by the experiences of our parents, and begged them to wake up to the reality that they were raising their kids in the United States, not in the Philippines. Eventually, my adolescent and adoltestant years gave me the freedom to pick and choose aspects of Filipino culture that appealed to my American sensibilities. I embraced being Filipino-American.
Yet, when I went to join my now-Dutch husband in the Netherlands, I was slapped for the first time with racist overtures and derogatory prejudices. I was ostracized for being different. This was not imagined. My race and subsequent judgments about my race established their perception of me and led to many colorful interactions. My San Francisco bubbled popped.
There were so many instances when I could feel people's discomfort the moment I open my mouth to speak, their ears betraying what their eyes were showing them. Others would complement just how well I spoke English and sounded like an American. Polite questions of "Where do you come from" would be met with my standard reply, followed by the more intrusive question, "Where do you really come from".
Perhaps part of my heightened sensitivity to being a foreign mom in the Netherlands is that my beautiful half-Dutch son is officially categorized by the local Dutch municipality as an Allochtoon. My sweet, sweet boy born in Utrecht with a Dutch father and American mother is labeled as "originating from another country". Oh Holland, dear Holland, please love him as one of your very own because I promise you he will one day make you very proud.
More than once has my parenting skills, especially because I carried my baby, been described as being reminiscent to African mothers in the bush. I don't know whether or not they were insulting me, giving me a genuine compliment or simply perplexed at the concept of me carrying my baby. Remaining optimistic, I guess they were just mesmerized by the fact that my baby rarely cried and possibly in awe of my mothering skills. After all, Dr. Harvey Karp (Happiest Baby on the Block) asserts that in traditional cultures such as those in Africa and in Bali that practiced baby-carrying, colic doesn't exist.
Mental note: "Don't you worry your pretty little mind; people throw rocks at things that shine ..."
Though as challenging as it is being a mother from a different shore, I also love how living in the Netherlands has opened up my world to wonderful people all around the world - Singapore, South Africa, Italy, Australia, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Pakistan, Portugal, Turkey, Morocco, Greece, Poland, England, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Russia, Latvia, Sweden, Nigeria, and Switzerland. Let's also not forget about the amazing Dutch who get me and those that don't really but still open their heart to my foreign ways.
We are still on the fence of truly embracing the quintessential Dutch tradition of Sinterklaas. We rarely ever eat potatoes, a typical component of a Dutch dinner. There is no Apple stroop and Dutch hagelslag (chocolate sprinkles) in our cabinets. Forget about Fristi and Chocomel ever finding its way into our fridge. And my blossoming foodie toddler refuses to eat bread, an essential staple of the standard Dutch breakfast and lunch.
I cannot wait to read "My Mom is a Foreigner, but Not to Me" to my son. And the longer we stay in the Netherlands, the higher the chances of me and him possibly facing cross-cultural battles. But that's a long way away.
As far as my 18 month old toddler son is concerned, I'm his mommy. I sing to him all the songs I grew up with- namely, You Are My Sunshine, Baby Baluga, Head Shoulders Knees and Toes, The Wheels on the Bus, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and the Itsy Bitsy Spider. I speak to him exclusively in English, my native tongue. He'll grow up knowing that I'm a proud daughter of California and will always bleed blue and gold. He has warm meals three times a day. I plan to teach him to be grateful of all his blessings, counting them like stars in the sky. At the right moments, I'll tell him that "I love to watch you play". And I pray that he will always know and feel that he is loved.
I hope to teach him mindfulness of others.. I want to relish in the wonder that's reflected in my son's eyes as he discovers the world around him.
I want to teach him to really listen to other people's stories. Thus, I must start sharing my own with him. When Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie poignantly stressed the danger of a single story in her famous TED talk, she addresses how "a single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but they are incomplete."
I am not an au pair, a domestic helper, a mail-order-bride, or an illegal immigrant. I was educated in the best public university in the world, hold a master's in Health Economics (but choose to stay at home with my son), speak fluent American English and came from a relatively conventional middle class family.
By sharing my own stories through my blog, I aspire to contribute my own unique voice as a Filipino-American. I hope that by sharing my own voice, I start to break streotypes. I too, am an expat mother living in the Netherlands.
I'm looking forward to re-discovering the Netherlands, one seen from the eyes of a more patient, forgiving and understanding mother. Thus begins a new chapter in my life - Finding Dutchland.
Ice skating over frozen lakes & canals - it's a breeze!
Dutch winter Sunday's are meant to be for lazing around, indulging yourself with hot chocolate or a cuppa tea and a great movie. You see, for people like me who were grew up [read more] in a warm country, such as Australia - outdoor ice skating is something that only people do in a romantic movie.
Well, after many years of living in Holland, I am still not use to the Dutch winter. I don't like the Dutch cold weather, the rainy days wind in your face while trying to ride your bike. Yes, there are no heels but it's still tough. I prefer complaining about the too many hot days in the year than how freezing the winter days are!
But strangely enough, I've learned to love ice skating! I have my partner, Rutger to thank for challenging me and motivating me to give it ago.
I am proud to say that I skipped the beginners ice skating route and went straight to buying a pair of viking skates! And now I even know who Sven Kramer is! The Dutch long track speed skater, all around champion. Just google his name, Sven Kramer and winter Olympics 2010 and you will know who I mean! Anyhow, I was advised by my Dutch family to buy the adjustable ice skates that little kids use. Adjustable ice skates? It's like telling a child to go and swim in the kiddies pool when he know he can swim in the big pool, where all the adults hang out. So instead, I found my viking skates on marktplaats. My first ever purchase there and I got through it in Dutch. Picking up the skates was the next task and not as easy. I distinctively till this day remember been so determined to ride my bike in the cold, a 10km ride while it was snowing and in the dark, all because I wanted to do it myself. With my very broken Dutch, I was greeted by a lovely young woman who was happy to hand over her second hand skates that had been maybe warned a couple of times. I think she must of thought to herself, good luck to you, you gonna need it! I think she was also just as curious to know about me, that I was about the Dutch winter culture - how I got to Holland and why I was so keen to learn to ice skate.
OK, it was not easy at first but the secret is to not give up and don't get those silly adjustable ice skates. Unless its for a small kid . Having only skated a couple of times and ver on skates without ankle support, aaah yeah, its not a smooth ride at first. Luckily for me, a summer sport such as surfing come in handy because you need a good balance and strong legs. And as they say, practices makes perfect.
A few weeks went by waiting around, checking out the news, for the weather forecast. I also found myself getting worked up, and excited about it been so cold because the bigger the chance the lakes and canals would completely freeze over. Besides that I was looking forward to something else other than ice skating in circles over the rings that were once grass fields. The temperature stayed below -0 degrees and finally, it was officially OK to start ice skating over the canals and the lakes.
My first time ice skating over the lake at Reeuwijkse lake, close to Gouda was M A G I C A L. We had an early start, 7am before everyone else got there - of course there were people there but it was so peaceful and the sound on the ice, the cold air around, surrounded by white trees. Holding on to Rutgers hand as he showed me the way around to a new world, his world, something very familiar to Dutch people. Skating form a lake to another lake was just strange and yet thrilling, crossing the road or going under the canal bridges. And along the way, stopping for hot chocolate and the famous unox erwtensoep (green peas soup) that only taste good out there and not at home!
Not so long after did I star to realise that not all Dutch people do this, and especially not too many or any of my expat buddies. You have to enjoy the challenges that come with sport and you need someone like Rutger that is Patient and motivates you to go faster and now and then gives you a push to pick up the pace again - like the parents do to a small children while riding their bike against the wind....and weeeeee of you go again.
But with every great story there is a chance that things can can go wrong. And if you see ice skater with a rope on the backpack, don't judge. It might come in handy. Sometime later, perhaps a few days later we were getting to the end of the course and the only way to get there was to keep skating. I was very tired and very cold by this stage that I kept holding on to Rutgers hand so I would keep up. It was also busy and the ice was not longer smooth as my first time. Everything is white and when you are tired, hungry out of energy, all gets blurry in no time. I saw the crack ahead of me, it was a small horizontal line or crack. Everyone else was avoiding it and jumping over it. That sounds funny, I never even discussed the possibility of what you do in these type of situations. No time to think. Just panic - tense up - and aim at the crack - and splash - It's freaking freezing - my leg is stuck - help - what do i do - help...Yes, I stupidly managed to fall in the crack. Not even all Dutch people do this kind of things! Geez lucky, only my entire right leg went in and the whole was not big but enough to make me uncomfortably stuck. I think seconds went by when someone pulled me out. Rutger couldn't help as he was on the ground, thanks to me, he was dry and safe. First thing I noticed was that over my shoe laces I could see frozen ice drops. That's how cold it was.
You see, that's what I discovered with ice skating. It is a bit like surfing, you are waiting for the weather forecast, and its always different each time you get out there. And you take the chance to go out there when its possible. However, ice skating over canals is exceptional. It was after two years, till we had the opportunity to ice skate in Holland again.
This time we decided to stay close to home. It was an overcast day and with out the sun, it was a very very cold Sunday. It was bumpy start, since it have been snowing but I mange to make my way through the snowy bumps and on to the smooth ice. I even heard some crackling sounds of ice!!!. Of course that scared me, even after two years, you recognise that sound. Though nothing happened, just a normal thing that you might hear over the frozen canals!
It was so quite around Delft Zuid, a short 5km ride from my place. The ice was fairly new and smooth. It's so easy to forget that there are lot of things that involve with outdoor ice skating on natural ice. For instance, you need to work on your balance, swagger your body gently from one side to the other. You need to learn quickly how to deal with frozen toes, very cold wind on your face, climbing over walking path bridges and skating under bridges, that's the easy part. And when you get the momentum going, and pick up some speed, it feels fantastic, and you forget about the tough moments you have to get through. It's great to see the people around you enjoying the experience and the atmosphere. Even if the sun is not out, everyone is friendly and very chatty.
On the way back, I was not at all confident about skating under this (very low) bridge. So, I took my time to suss it out and see how everyone else was doing it. The came a very tall man (skating at a good pace), he squeezed in before me and went under and hit his head on the steel piece of the bridge!!! Ouch, it was bad. The poor man's head was bleeding really hard. Have you ever seen blood splattered over the white ice? It looks serious. I could not believe what just had happened, let alone, know how the poor man felt! After witnessing that event, I decided to ignore the idea to "learn" how to skate under a bridge and crawled instead under the bridge and called it a day.
Later, the short 5km bike ride back home became my biggest nightmare, and the worst, cold experience in my life (well, at the time yes). A little dramatic it may sound, but it WAS. Skating in -10 degrees outside, with toes that feel like they might drop off. There is a point that a warm weather soul like me, can no longer handle the cold anymore and its no longer fun and adventurous. Freezing weather and skating does not come natural to me, but it's a very special thing to experience.
It's a great way to see and experience the Dutch culture, you will look at old Dutch painting with people ice skating with more detail, and only mange it was tougher for them back then. You will understand why the Dutchies are so crazy about Unox. You will start wishing for colder weather. Get excited when you get your skates freshly sharpened. You will find quietness out in the middle of a lake, something that you can't find in Holland because its busy every where you turn. Ice skating over frozen lakes and canals have been my worst and most cherished moments of Dutch culture and lifestyle. And I would get out of my comfort zone and do it all again.
What I like in the Netherlands and why I'm not a tourist...
After the first period called "honeymoon phase" where everything seems pretty and great in a new place, expats often tend to compain about the new location. I passed [read more] this phase many years ago but can still tell that living in the Netherlands is really great and why I'm really not a tourist.
First of all, I love my Dutch friends. This is probably the main reason I feel at home here and why I feel very uncomfortable when others complain about anything Dutch. I like the tolerance of most people here. In fact, in the Netherlands people need to be tolerant because of the population density. In my experience, neighbours tend to be more tolerant here than in the other countries I've lived in. During the yearly burendag, initiated by Douwe Egberts in 2006 and since 2008 joined by the Oranje Fonds, neighbours get together in order to get to know each other. In our neighbourhood we celebrate this with a big BBQ and games for the children.
Then there is this feeling of gezelligheid and the freedom. In an interview I once said that I consider the Dutch mentality as refreshing: "Dutch people are happy people, they enjoy their lives and value the life outside of their career." Some may not agree, but having lived in Switzerland and Italy before coming here, I must say that the way to live here and to enjoy the free-time is much relaxter and people are much more easy-going.
Dutch people know how to party! Yes, in the Netherlands people know how to party, how to have fun! At Birthdayparties it is custom not only to congratulate the birthdayboy/girl, but also everyone else in the family! "Gefeliciteerd met de verjaardag van je zoon/dochter/man/moeder/vader..." And generally speaking about parties, I have to say that I've never felt uncomfortable or bored at a party here. There's always something going on and people know how to make you feel comfortable. - I know that at this point some of my British or non-European friends would mention the greeting with three kisses because they feel very uncomfortable with kissing and shaking hands with people they barely know (and sometimes even friends), but for me it's nothing special. I'm used to kiss and shake hands, hug.
I also like that I can take my bike to go almost everywhere here. We all have bikes, my children since a very early age. With my bakfiets I used to do my groceries with all three children in it (I can load up to 100 kg), but I don't do this anymore, because they all can ride their own bikes now. I still prefer doing my shopping with my "favourite (threeweeled) car" though. The fact that everything is so close makes this aspect of the daily life very easy. What I really appreciate here is that people rides the bikes in a different way: In Switzerland or Germany, people usually have road bikes (or mountain bikes) and they ride in a bent position, face down, whereas people here sit up straight on their bikes which gives it something much more friendly and relaxed.
The Netherlands is not such a big country. Everything is relatively close. In The Hague area, if you're interested in culture, you can visit musea in Rijswijk, The Hague (Mauritshuis, Gemeentemuseum, Meermanno, Kinderboekenmuseum, Museon, Fotomuseum, Escher in het Paleis, Beelden an Zee, Gevangenenpoort, Letterkundig Museum, Haag Historisch Museum etc.), Leiden (Botanical Garden, Naturalis, Museum Volkenkunde, Rijksmuseum van Oudheden etc.) and of course Amsterdam and Rotterdam etc. The Museumkaart enables you to have free or reduced access to about 400 musea in the Netherlands and even in some places in Germany.
If I should ever have to leave the Netherlands, I would terribly miss the closeness to the sea! Probably because I grew up next to the Alps (I could see the Monte Rosa from my room window) but going to the beach always feels like holidays to me. And the beach is huge! We have great strandtenten on the beach where you can spend a whole day, the children can play and you can have a coffee or a meal. You are free to walk for miles and in the winter months people are even allowed to walk their dogs.
And the vast sky... I like the vast sky. Every time we come back from Switzerland, we take a deep breath and enjoy this Dutch sky! I know that some people complain about the weather, but honestly, I've never lived in any country here in Europe where people were happy about the weather. What I like here is the generally milde climate. Generally because we just had a few very cold and long winters. - You can see the sky almost every day. While I lived in Zurich I remember that in the winter I barely saw the sky for months. We had to go up in the mountains to find some sun in the weekends, but in the valleys etc. it was quite sombre.
Children are welcome. - Dutch really love children. I've experienced having a child in Italy and thought that there can't be another country where children are as much loved as there, but I was wrong. Here in the Netherlands I found the same kindness towards children that I was used to in Italy. I always got help to lift the stroller in a bus or tram (where is always space to leave a stroller) and children are welcome in all the restaurants and public places.
Dutch people are very friendly. I rarely encountered people with a grumpy face on the street and usually, when I smile at people, they smile back. I tried to do the same at people in other countries and was frustrated because nobody did even notice my smile... I know that some people complain about the Dutch rudeness, but I would rather call it straightforwardness. To someone like me (who doesn't like to pussyfood around), this directness seems actually refreshing.
I'm happy to see so many old and/or disabled people in the street! They can go really everywhere with their rollators and they do!
I'm not a tourist
I'm not a tourist - I'm not a local
I'm an in between - and I'm a bit of all.
I'm not from this country, I'm not from abroad,
I'm a bit of every country I lived,
and I partially belong to them all.
I can say Scheveningen and hagelslag,
I love haring, snert, beschuit and vla,
pannekoeken, poffertjes and oliebollen.
I like the canals and the open sea,
the vast sky, the wind, the four seasons a day,
the biking and the walks in the dunes.
But most of all I love "de gezelligheid",
"alles komt goed", "en het word tijd".
Ik ben de weg niet kwijt, ik heb alleen maar tijd
om te genieten van de zon, de wind de regen.
Het valt me niet tegen!
Ik spreek de taal, ik begrijp de grapjes
ik vind het leuk hier te wonen: de uitstapjes,
het leven met kinderen, die zijn hier erg blij
ik ben niet van hier maar ik hoor best erbij.
Windmillfields and 2little monkeysinBreda
Stepping over .........
Many things have got me thinking recently about how I feel about living here and in the Netherlands.
One of my very first posts on this blog was about being an Expat and whether you ever actually belonged. There I asked [read more] myself the question if I would ever feel the same about the Netherlands as I did Spain - I said to ask me in a few years.
Well - a few years have past... I live in a Dutch street - a Dutch village - my eldest daughter goes to a Dutch school - I have had a baby in the Netherlands - she goes to a Dutch child minder - I sing in a Dutch choir - I work in a Dutch company - I ride my bike everywhere as second nature - I complain about the weather and the trains......
Ok I teach English - I speak English to the girls - I still have to have my tea but even that has diminished into more herbal teas - no coffee yet! - we still celebrate Christmas and Reyes - we sing in Spanish - we are go with the moment no plans people still - just.
So - what has changed - well I am beginning to feel like I belong - that I have found my feet. I am beginning to feel settled here - this is my new country. I even feel I have to defend it at times and miss it when I am away.
Online chats with other mums made me realise this - worries about other mums not speaking in the playground to you. I dont find that anymore - I have become one of them I suppose - they chat to me not only in the playground but in the supermarket too. I have had coffee with a few of them after Funky Monkey has been to play. Cycling with the baby on the front of the bicycle and Funky Monkey alongside is now not a scary awful event but one of every day life.
I find myself not thinking about why is this so but just go with it because its the norm and I am now used to it. Ok so I still hate how everybody congratulates me - my husband - the kids - the dog and the next door neighbour when its my birthday but I can live with that
I am accepting better the Dutch and their country. I think that is when you finally feel at home when you accept the people and their culture. Acceptance is a big word and it can take many years to accept a foreign place at home - but Holland is beginning to feel like home.
During a telephone conversation with a friend yesterday I told her about these feelings and said I am stepping over to the dark side - but it does not feel scary or wrong at all - it feels good.
The Trials and Tribulations of Bluey the Bicycle
This is Bluey the Bicycle. Bluey and I first became acquainted the week when I first moved to Amsterdam and ended up purchasing her at the giant Albert Cuyp Market (which I have promptly never [read more] returned to since). Bluey is a good old classic Dutch oma fiets- literally "grandma's bicycle"- which is the name given to these sorts of cruiser bicycles in the Netherlands.
Now Bluey has been a great bicycle, and it is really not her fault that she got me as an owner as I tend to not be the best caretaker... and I don't just mean the memorable first few days when I tried to remember how to use a pedal break for the first time since I was ten, or the many rust spots on the frame from hitting her with the heavy bicycle lock during parking (the picture above is a rather old one). No, so far the following things have happened to me since I've been a Dutch bicycle owner, in roughly chronological order:
- The first trial was a few weeks after I'd arrived in the country and after returning to Amsterdam Centraal from a train journey I noticed my bicycle was missing and no longer parked where I had left it. On the one hand a stolen bicycle is mildly exciting because it's one of those things everyone must allegedly have happen to them in order to be a real Amsterdammer, on the other hand Bluey and I had only known each other few weeks and it was upsetting to think of our relationship getting cut short.
Luckily it turned out Bluey was not stolen by a crack addict who promptly threw her into the canal but rather the city, who routinely clears out all the bicycles parked illegally in front of the station (the problem is legal parking is often chock-full with abandoned bicycles, so if you're running late like I was cycling there isn't a great idea if you want to find a spot). When this happens they take your bike to the bicycle depot and you have to go retrieve it and pay a 10 Euro fine, but the real punishment is losing a half day of your life going out into the middle of nowhere on a bus that rarely runs to a place presumably many people would want to go. And the depot itself might as well be renamed "Where Bikes Go To Die," as they're required to keep all abandoned and illegally parked bicycles in Amsterdam for six months in case someone comes to fetch theirs, but most are never claimed - Luckily Bluey and I were quickly reunited, and got the hell out of there!
- Moving along, Bluey has also gotten a flat tire twice. This is a fairly normal thing in this country of course, but the first flat tire was due to a thumb tack that was lying in the middle of a road, and it was mysteriously near a bicycle shop that agreed to quickly fix the flat, so I never quite shook off wondering if there was a sinister motive for there being a thumb tack in the middle of the road in the first place.
- Speaking of sinister motives... last month when I moved I spent the first two weeks parking Bluey in front of my new house along with all the other bikes that were there. After two weeks Bluey's back tire had once again gone flat, but not due to a puncture- somehow the air had just been released. Which would've been a weird minor thing, except for the part where the very same thing happened just two days later.
Now the first time you take a bike to the shop with a tire like this they just look at you funny, the second time they ask you if you have a problem with your neighbor. Turns out someone in my subdivided old canal house started a personal vendetta to have bicycles no longer parked in front of our place, and poor Bluey got caught in the crossfire. Bluey now gets parked down the street, but my Dutch friends all found the entire affair hilarious because I live in one of the nicest, safest areas of the city (the last time something violent happened it was when some Germans marched through with uniforms and guns), and I still managed to get into a turf war which I promptly lost.
- The final transgression against Bluey happened just last week, when I did something very stupid and lost my spare bicycle key which I kept meaning to make a copy of ever since I lost the first one but never had. In the walk from down the street to my apartment which is maybe 100 meters of road. Let's just say people are not always very attentive on the final stretch home when it's late at night.
Now the real issue here is what on Earth do you do when facing a formidable Dutch bicycle lock and no way to unlock it, but very much in need of your mechanical stallion? (Fun fact: the Dutch word fiets for bicycle is thought by linguists to come from an abbreviation for a German phrase for "mechanical horse.") Consultation with a mechanic on duty at a nearby bicycle shop and the fact that I hadn't actually locked Bluey to a bike rack, just the front weel to the frame, meant I was advised to steal my own bicycle and bring it over (and because he thought I was cute he agreed to cut the lock off for free if I bought a new one there). I just had to awkwardly bring the thing a few blocks over from the current position to the shop.
By the way, it turns out I now know why bike theft is so common in the Netherlands- even when it's a beautiful Sunday afternoon and you are stealing your own bicycle by carrying it several blocks, not one person will bother to stop and ask what on Earth it is you're doing!
So goes the life and times of my experience as a Dutch bicycle owner- I'm not sure if I'm a particularly good one, but Bluey has yet to complain personally about her situation. I will say though that at each of these stages someone has told me "don't worry, you're not a real Amsterdammer until that happens anyway!", and based on the other bicycle related mishaps two things still need to happen to me.
The first is at some point I need to get my wheel stuck in the tram tracks and fall over. If this is the price to pay I refuse to ever become a real citizen of this city, as that just sounds far too painful.
The second is Bluey needs to be stolen for real, and I never see her again. I hope this never happens either- we've just had too many memorable experiences together!
The Expatica Community represents thousands of people from all over the world. Whether you just arrived at Schiphol, bleary-eyed and confused, a few weeks ago or mastered the task of holding an umbrella while pedaling your fiets years ago, there's one thing that unites us all - we are not tourists!
In celebration of Expatica's 10th annual "i am not a tourist" Expat Fair and all local bloggers, we invited the latter to submit a post illustrating their experience leading them to say, with affirmation, "i am not a tourist!" We received 17 very diverse entries and are proud to announce the winner and runner ups:
The nominees in the "i am not a tourist" Expat Blog Competition are: