My father was born in the Netherlands – therefore I was somewhat familiar with Dutch culture before I moved there.
However, he was only six years old when our family migrated to Australia; so the language, and many traditions faded throughout generations.
I was raised with many ‘back in Holland..’ stories; all of which I couldn’t get my head around as a child: where is this intriguing land of beautiful tulips?
Fast-forward 20 something years, and there I was; riding my bicycle through Amsterdam, frantically ringing my bell at tourists taking leisurely strolls right in the middle of the bike path. Having lived there for five years, I’ve now accumulated stories of my own, and have picked up on many lifestyle characteristics; some which I’ll take with me forever.
One of my first lessons was that in order to function at the same pace as the local society, my relationship with the weather must become a resilient one.
Rain, storm, or snow; unless life threatening, everyone powered through their daily routines without seeming bothered by the discomfort of unfavorable conditions.
To postpone catching up with friends due to it being ‘too wet outside’ was simply unacceptable. Besides, waiting for good weather in the Netherlands was a long shot; so it was best to work with whatever came along.
Nowadays, if I feel discouraged to step outside while it’s cold or raining, I think back to this mindset as a source of ‘get up and out the house’ inspiration.
Speaking of the weather: throughout any given conversation in the Netherlands, I found it vital to mention the current state of it at least once. I used to consider this a dull form of small talk; but it slowly developed into a coping mechanism. There were times where the sky was gray for weeks on end – the lack of daylight was often an emotional hurdle. So by having a quick laugh or vent about it with someone else offered a small dose of comfort and reassurance: that I’m not alone in the struggle of blue-sky deficiency.
Finding people to share such small talk and to socialize with was challenging at times. But once I started making connections, and arrangements to meet with others, I was delighted by the punctuality of almost everyone I came across. Whether it was for a formal interview, or a casual beer; arriving on time was key. Time and place were normally arranged well in advance, sometimes even weeks. Although I found this a little over the top for simple coffee catch-ups, I also found peace in knowing that time has been specially carved out and set aside.
My social life was previously filled with uncertainty around when or if someone would show up at all – it was a pleasant relief to put these stresses to rest.
In order to enhance my social life and professional opportunities, I figured it would be best to learn the language. It seemed like a relatively easy one to learn. Many words are similar to English; grammatical rules didn’t seem overly complicated – sure, I’d need about six months to catch on.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. Five years later, and I can still barely form a sentence. Having surrounded myself with English-speaking friends, and by working in a role where English was the company language; I slipped into a comfort zone of sticking with my native tongue. Just because a language seems easy, I’ve learnt that it can still be extremely challenging if I allow it to be; which I did. Avoidance, lack of practice, and switching to English at every possible opportunity created barriers in what could’ve been chances to learn something new. I’ll be sure to approach my next language learning experience differently.
My time in the Netherlands was filled with highs and lows, comforts and struggles. Though I may not have realized it at the time; these small, everyday habits combined with the cultural and lifestyle lessons I’ve learnt along that way have shaped how I approach and organize my daily life.
Living abroad has such power to adjust one’s mindset, and I’m forever grateful to have had this experience.