The Netherlands, one year on

It has been a while since my last post. When I was tidying up this blog a while back I happened to notice that over 200 people are now subscribed to my posts by e-mail, which managed to fill me with enough fear to delay writing another post for… over a year.

I have no idea who these people are or why they subscribed. Are they supporters of Camp Quest? Friends? Family? Random people on the internet? I began to feel hounded by hundreds of imaginary people, angry that I’d be cluttering up their inboxes with cat videos or pictures of the latest dress I sewed, instead of SERIOUS ATHEIST TALK ABOUT ATHEISM.

Well, I guess I’ll be disappointing someone no matter what I end up writing about, so I may as well talk about my experiences after just over a year living in the Netherlands. We have both adapted so well that living here just feels so… normal. I don’t think either of us have ever even thought “Hey, I wish I’d never left London”, let alone expressed it. It doesn’t really occur to me on a day to day basis that what we are doing is actually relatively unusual – living in a country where you don’t speak the language, just because one day you decided you wanted to.

What’s good

Living a car-free existence, and being able to get to most places by foot, bike or public transport.

Haarlem is a small enough city that you can have a network of friends rather than individual friends dotted around, and that you can bump into people you know on the street.

Haarlem is large enough that you don’t have the small-town syndrome of everybody being all up in everyone’s business.

The intellectual stimulation of learning a language keeps my mind active every day.

Dutch people are happy, especially kids. It’s not uncommon to see a women cycling with 4 young kids on the front of her baksfiets and everyone is beaming at you. This sort of happiness is infectious.

Despite trying to shake off the stigma of being labelled an “expat”, I’ve come to terms with the fact that expats are a rather wonderful and unique community. You meet people from all sorts of countries, who tend to be open to new experiences and making new friends.

Maybe I’ve just been lucky, but I’ve found it far less stressful than expected to deal with going to the doctor, dentist, vet, optician or even the gemeente (council). The people I’ve come across in professional positions have been helpful, courteous and friendly – but actually friendly, not the American “Have A Nice Day” brand of faux-friendliness.

What’s less good

Food. This is probably due to living in the city centre, but the range of food available in supermarkets is pretty restricted compared to London. Also as most vegetables are grown hydroponically, things like tomatoes just taste like crunchy water. Gluten-free food still hasn’t quite reached the mainstream yet either, so my eating out choices are pretty limited too.

Clothes. The stylish Dutch women you see tend to be aged 18-30. At some point, whether it’s after having kids or just generally not giving a shit about what others think, Dutch women’s style devolves into some sort of perverse pseudo-practicality. They give the illusion of being practically dressed, and I admire the intention (if it is such an intention), but you know what’s not practical? White trousers. Also, jumpers/cardigans/capes with strange tassles hanging off in every direction, when you have to cycle. Maybe I’m just bitter about having to get every single pair of trousers I buy here hemmed by at least 20cm, but Dutch fashion sucks.

Tiny packaging for things that you want to buy in bulk. See: detergent, fabric softener, deodorant, cat food. It’s such a little thing and yet so infuriating.

There seem to be fewer restrictions here about how charities can raise money, so I have noticed more and more people accosting me on the street trying to get me to give them money, whether the “chugger” variety, or the good old “shake your money box and shout at them” sort. I’ve also noticed some charities engaging in a form of “flirty fishing” – using attractive (probably not Dutch) guys to approach and try to flirt with young women as they leave the station.

Forgetting how to speak your native language. I may write in more detail about language learning at some point, but all I will say is when you lose the ability to speak both your native language AND the language you’re learning, that’s when you’re actually learning the most.

But enough of this silly listicle disguised as a blog post

After a year, I can more easily see myself living here for another 30 years than I can ever see myself returning to London. My mother always used to say “horses for courses” (as a non-native English speaker she would pride herself on absolutely correct usage of English grammar and extensive knowledge of obscure idioms and sayings). Well, for now at least, this horse has finally found a course to run around.

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