Sunday, May 29, 2016

My Nevereverlands

I've been reading a book this last week called Dutched Up: Rocking the Clogs Expat Style, and I've been enjoying it very much. It consists of a collection of articles and stories written by about 25 expat bloggers living in the Netherlands, and all the articles are about dealing with the Dutch culture as they have found it. Some of the articles are pretty critical and a few have almost had me up in arms in defence of my adoptive country; others are philosophical and others openly positive. But they are all valid because they are all based on real experience, and I've found them quite fascinating. But it got me thinking. What is it that I like about living in this rather special country where honesty is valued above diplomacy and where you doe maar gewoon; dan doe je al gek genoeg (just act normal; that's already crazy enough).

I've had my own bewilderment over Dutch culture over the years. However, I'm now so used to living here that I'm almost suspicious when I go back to the UK and South Africa and encounter what sounds remarkably like double-speak to me. It really does! I know it isn't and I haven't given up my English indirectness myself, but I've just got used to not expecting it from others. I love my Dutch friends and have a lot of fun with them; we laugh about my tentative requests and diplomatic denials that leave more room for negotiation than I ever intended. "What are you really trying to say, Val?" I've been asked more than a few times. "Why don't you just say what you mean without all this polite decoration?" "But I can't." I say, laughing. "It just won't come out." That said, I'm a lot better than I used to be and I definitely don't flinch anymore when a chance remark of laser-like directness catches me in the jugular or a response made with the bluntness of a sledgehammer knocks me off balance. I am used to it; I no longer take offence or creep off and lick my wounds because I know this is simply Dutch honesty and they genuinely do not intend hurt or harm.

So again, what are the pros and cons of living here? There are of course things I don't like: the weather for one, but then I don't think I'd like that anywhere much in Europe. South Africa has, for me, the perfect climate, and I hate the rain, wind and cold. I don't like the bureaucracy much either; it's a pain, it's frustrating and mind-numbing,  the Blasted Dienst  (Belastingdienst a.k.a. the Tax office) being the worst, but I don't think it's much more awful here than in the UK and probably not as bad as it is in France from what I've heard. Added to that, I certainly don't much care for the do it yourself attitude to healthcare here. These days, I have to have something really wrong before I'll venture to the doctor where I mostly get asked what I know about my own condition. There are other things too but all that aside, let's look at the good things, and they are plenty.

Dutch Skies are amazing

I love the Dutch landscape. Yes, I love hills too and miss the mountains, but here you can see forever and really stretch your eyes; the sky is as much part of the scenery as the land and the skies here are stunning even when it's raining. I love the trees along the dykes and the waving reed banks along the sloten (drainage ditches) and canals. I love the water everywhere; I really love that! The boats, barges, quaint bridges and huge commercial waterways alike are my soul food. The fact that river and canal traffic seems to take priority over road traffic seems totally right to me, and I never mind waiting even up to twenty minutes for a bridge to open and close for the boats and barges to pass through. If I'm late for work, well so be it. Everyone gets caught by it sometimes. Oh and did I mention I love the boats? More than almost anything?


Boats , bridges and sky in this one

What else then? Well, I am still fascinated by the biking culture. Being a late starter on two wheels (I only got my first bike ever at the age of 36), I am riveted by the skill of Dutch cyclists who seem to be able to perform impossible deeds on a bike. My favourite sight is that of young mothers cycling with a child on the front and one on the back (and maybe even leading a dog as well) weaving their way through the traffic as if it's the most natural thing in the world. But I've seen people carrying and doing incredible things on their bikes. It's as if when they're born, they whizz out of the chute on tiny bikes and never look back. Granted it's pretty safe here because of the huge network of cycle lanes that criss-cross the country, and of course it's flat, which helps tremendously. About the only hills within miles of Rotterdam are the bridges over the rivers.

Dutch bikes in Amsterdam



The skating culture is another thing. Phenomenal! As soon as there's enough natural ice to bear their weight, the Dutch rush to don their skates and head out to play. It just makes me smile. From tiny tots to grannies and grandpas, they're all out there. There's much less fuss about whether or not the ice is thick enough because a lot of the time even a big puddle will do and no one's going to drown in that. Then if the winter isn't cold enough for natural ice, they make their own by freezing over random pieces of ground, just so people can skate in the winter.

Dutch families skating on natural ice

The Dutch attitude to dogs is also something I appreciate immensely. They accept that dogs are part of the family and so you can take your pet pooch anywhere on public transport while many hotels accepts dogs and there are even restaurants where the family furry is allowed, water bowl and biscuits provided. We won't mention the pooh on the pavements though...

Lastly (for now, and also because I'm not writing a book here), I love Rotterdam. It's my city and although I get tired of the noise in the Oude Haven at times, it's a special and unique place to live. The city itself is alive and vibrant and constantly changing. It's quite a joke that anyone coming to Rotterdam might ask "What's that building over there?" and the Rotterdammer will say "I don't know; it wasn't there last week." I love walking through the market early in the morning, across the square behind the church and along the back alleys into the Meent, one of the busy shopping streets. When the city is waking up and the cafés and bars are opening, there is a special atmosphere of fresh expectancy. Oh and yes, I love the river (as you've probably guessed). It is the lifeblood of the city. If the Netherlands were a body, Rotterdam would be its heart and the river its main artery. Wonderful.

Again, there are other things, but I won't go on - not today, anyway. But all things being equal, I think you might say that when you balance them up, I'm pretty much okay with living here, don't you? The Netherlands has been good to me, this stray sort of South African English woman.

So to finish, here's a question for all of you...what is it you love about your home? Answers please in the comment box below and make them as long as you like...


24 comments:

  1. Hi Val - we used to go to Amsterdam a lot and like you, I always admired the Dutch women on their bikes - so effortless, so elegant... So I ordered, at vast cost, an authentic Dutch bike. It was so heavy I couldn't ride it! I couldn't manage the brakes either... English hills were too much... Fortunately I found a Dutch ex-pat to buy it! What do I love about Hastings? The sea, the views, the quirky madness of the place, the variety of landscapes nearby, the feeling you are living in another world, cut off from the rest of Britain, yet you can still get to London easily....

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    1. Stephanie, yes, Dutch bikes are heavy. Mine is ludicrous and with my shopping on it, it's even worse. I have to get off and push it over the bridge. I always lived Hastings as a child. Glad to hear it's being good to you too :)

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    2. That was meant to be 'I loved Hastings'...sorry 🙃

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  2. Great post, Val. And echoing something I bleat on about sometime - differences are just fine. They aren't right or wrong, they are just differences, and we can celebrate them!

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    1. Yes, it's always something to keep in mind, isn't it?

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  3. Hi Val - I can quite see what you're saying ... but only having lived in SA - yet Cornwall is a world apart isn't it?! Life is much more fun to be a part of differences ... we just need understanding to happily engage with others - and respect the country we live in - sadly something that seems to be forgotten by many.

    South Africa and Cornwall ... yet I was glad to get back to England from a very hot SA after many years, to find I'd hit one of the hottest years back here ... I needed the coolness - now I want the gentle heat!!

    The most important thing ... is the culture - I really missed that 2,000+ years of life we have here that is regularly available ... as it is in Europe: but the culture is an essential - I hate to lose again.

    Cheers Hilary

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    1. Culture is important; you are right, Hilary! I missed it too in SA. We have plenty here in NL. I just couldn't fit everything into one post. Maybe I'll write a book about it....

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  4. Hoi, the opposite goes for me, Dutch in Wales now on a narrowboat in England before Old South Wales, 5 years in New South Wales.
    All have a piece of my heart, you will not find a country which can be called 'perfect'. Now we mix more and more cultures i can even get 'zoute drop' in England.
    De Tjalk exploring the English canals and perhaps if possible a narrowboat cruising the Dutch waterways.

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    1. Hi Magda! So great to see you here too! I love your Twitter feed! We have really swapped places, haven't we? You are right. Nowhere is perfect, but if you are adaptable, you can find love for wherever you are and it makes for great experiences. Thanks so much for reading this!

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  6. I wish I had learned to skate when I was a kid! I'll never get in the years of practice needed to make it feel like an extension of me - still, at least the bike does, so I am grateful for it.

    I really do love living in England, not just family and friends, history and architecture, but the natural landscape. At present the political landscape doesn't suit me, and so maybe I'll reply to this post in a few months time, when I hope there'll be more sweetness and light around!

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    1. Ah, Jenny, I love your blog because it is full of your love for London in particular! I really sense your attachment to England too.

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  7. Great post, Val. I love Toronto because it has the most culturally diverse population on the planet (and so the best restaurant choices), the most wondrous of summers to make up for the dreadful winters, and because all concert tours stop by. ��

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    1. Great reasons to love your home city, Anne-Marie! And Toronto sounds wonderfully vibrant!

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  8. I like the cheese...and the tulips... and the lovely pics you post! language sounds a bit of a nightmare though!

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    1. Thank you, CarolStar. Yes, the cheese is pretty good; so is the apple tart! Oh and yes, I love the syrup waffles and the almond filled cookies too. Some of the food is totally yum! Mustard soup and stamppot (a sort of mashed potato based mix) too, but a big no to raw eel and herring...ooof!

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  9. Ah' Val !
    I enjoy living here in Ireland for a variety of different reasons far too numerous to enumerate, having said that the poetic use in language is one that I find very endearing, wether it be in English or Irish. Apple tarts are every where each village has dozens of them, same to with the Rhubarb ones and Irish butter is absolutely delicious, likewise with our cheeses and Salmon.
    So where is this England that people mention, for it is not in my vision ;-)

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    1. Haha, Mel, good one! I like the sound of that rhubarb tart!

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  10. Lovely piece Val, really evoked the spirit of the place for me :)

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    1. Thanks, Chris. I realise now there are so many more things I could mention that maybe there is a Dutch Ways in the making :)

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  11. Another great blog, Val. Except for the cold and the people-created problems (like at the tax office), it sounds nearly perfect. Especially easy water travel. Like you, I'm a stray at the moment. I'm not really sure where I want to be. I go to sleep at night thinking about living in Arizona, USA (I've never lived in Arizona) and exploring the desert and building things with rocks again before I get too old to be able to pick up the rocks and cement them together!

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    1. Steph, you need some sunshine, my friend...and some rocks too! I will be sun-seeking this summer and also during the winter. I cannot cope with another winter without sun.

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  12. What a lovely read Val you really are a glass half full person. I've never really thought what I love about Glasow. I would say that most places I go here give me memories of my childhood and my parents. What I love about the part I have moved to is its near my daughter,the people are lovely and it's all very compact ,everything is handy.
    It doesn't take long to get to the hills or to the sea. I love the humor of the Glasgow people who still complain about the rain and the cold but also complain about the heat if the sun is out for half an hour. Going to the doctors is the same here now ,you have to wait for a phone all back from the go who will decide if you need an appointment.

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  13. A lovely post Val, you did your adopted home proud. I love living where I do. The ever changing landscape as the tide comes and goes. The gentle slow pace of life in Tollesbury, there really is a different Tollesbury time! The fact that the children here have an outdoor and healthy life and are reasonably safe, more like my own childhood. The community spirit of Tollesbury. I could go on but I won't, you just have to come and see yourself! And I of course will come to see your beautiful home xxxx

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