I have recently celebrated my Dutch anniversary. I have now been a resident of the Netherlands for three whole years.
My oh my, has that time flown. I have seen eleven of the twelve provinces (I still have to get to Drenthe), visiting some beautiful cities such as Middelburg, Haarlem, Alkmaar, Maastricht, Groningen and Arnhem. Then there’s been some unforgettable little villages, like Baarle-Hertog, Giethoorn, Oudewater and Willemstad.
I’ve danced around on Queen’s Day, learnt the rules of korfbal, sneaked into the Holland Heineken House and cheered on cyclists and ice skaters. Plus, I’ve worked in Amsterdam, studied in Leiden and lived in Dordrecht. Not bad.
However, when I think back, I don’t really feel as if I’ve been living in the Netherlands for three years, but rather Europe. Of the thirty-six months since I flew here from China, I’ve only been in the Netherlands for seventeen of them. More than half of that time I’ve been elsewhere; all over Europe in my work as a tour guide, back home in Melbourne a couple of times and even a month travelling in Southeast Asia.
Well, that’s all changing now. I’ve just started a regular, 9-5 job in Rotterdam and that means expat life is set to become a bit more normal. I’ve never really felt like an expat here in the Netherlands – I haven’t really made any expat friends and I just haven’t had any regularity over the three years to fall into any sort of rhythm.
So that means that there’s plenty of things that the Dutch do that I simply don’t understand just yet. Maybe it’s just a matter of time before I truly get such quirks.
For example, I still don’t understand that when it’s somebody’s birthday, why I have to congratulate everyone who has a connection to the birthday person. I mean, picture it. You arrive at the birthday person’s house, and you say congratulations to them, their partner, their best friend, their best friend’s partner, their great-grandfather and their second cousin. And they congratulate you back, as if you had something to do with your friend making it through another 365 days.
I don’t get why somebody thought it would be hilarious to break the bell on my bike. And I don’t know why this affected me so much, as if I’d had some emotional connection to a bell I’d never used.
I really don’t understand the obsession with milk and juice. I mean, seriously, why do the Dutchies drink milk at a restaurant? Why do they ask for apple juice at a party? Guys, you invented Heineken. You get to drink it in more places than simply a football stadium.
There’s the fixation with house plants. The popularity of the bakfiets. Shops being closed on a Sunday. Boerenkool. Yogurt in milk cartons. The fact that if you ask for someone’s opinion on something, they will give it to you, even if you really didn’t want it in the first place and really just wanted them to read between the lines and tell you what you wanted to hear. And I still flinch with the un-bleeped out swearing and un-pixelated nudity on the nightly news.
I want to see more of this little country, this little corner of Europe that’s historically way too big for its boots. So cheers, Holland. Or the Netherlands, whatever you want to be called. I still don’t really understand you, but it’s certainly fun trying.