It is 7:30 on a Sunday morning here in Haarlem. It is still dark outside and the house is silent. The radiator is making its soft clunking sort of sound. Even our talkative cat, JoJo, is still asleep somewhere in the house.
“Somewhere in the house” makes it sound huge. By lower-middle class, suburbs of GA standards it is. I don’t remember how many meters it is or what that would equal in feet. It’s much smaller than we’re used to but somehow exactly enough. And right now it is blissfully still.
So what’s it really like moving to a new country at the ripe old age of 150? It’s amazing and terrifying and exhausting and mind blowing. The history and beauty here is astounding. I know we have history and beauty in the US (and long before we barged in) but we didn’t live on a street Nazis could have stomped down. We didn’t bike down the cobblestone streets of a city established in the middle ages. These are the thoughts that baffle me as I’m standing outside Game Mania while my kid talks Fortnite with the clerk.
It’s true most people here speak English. And nearly everyone I’ve met has been incredibly patient and gracious when I sputter out “Sorry, nee Nederland.” Even the elderly lady in the pet food aisle of the grocery store immediately switched to English to chat about how she spoils her cocker spaniel with treats. But it is still scary. I still find myself mentally whispering, “please don’t talk to me please don’t talk to me” as I avoid eye contact with store clerks or stall vendors… terrified they will speak Dutch. OF COURSE THEY WILL SPEAK DUTCH, YOU IDIOT! And when they do, and I look at them like a deer in the headlights, they either gesture and smile until we’ve figured things out or they jump into English like it’s no big frigging deal. And yet, I panic.
So everyone here speaks English but guess who doesn’t… the street signs. And for a girl who has a terrible sense of direction anyway, I am quite literally lost most of the time. A good friend said, “You aren’t lost, you are on an adventure!” This is perfect. Unless the wind is blowing my bike backwards and it is raining and I’m cold and I just want to get home. Those are the times I want to click my heels and be back on familiar territory in my warm, dry, not-about-to-tip-over car.
You know who else doesn’t speak English? The announcer on the trains. Your ass better be paying attention or you will go right past Heemstede-Aerdenhout and end up in Vlissingen Souburg. So while everyone else is reading or quietly chatting (only the American tourists are loud on the (clean, comfy) trains as far as I can tell), I’m staring at my phone, watching the little blue dot slowly move toward my station.
On biking: It’s true that once you know how to ride a bike, you always know. The tricky bit is DOING it. I know how to give birth to a child. Doing it again might be daunting. Okay riding a bike is nothing like giving birth but … it can be difficult when you are 150 years old. And that’s just the basic riding-a-bike issue. Now try doing it on narrow bike paths with a billion (or a handful) of people passing you or WAITING FOR YOU TO GET OUT OF THE WAY. *sigh* What seemed like a lovely bike ride to the store is now a nerve wracking game of Frogger or Pacman or one of those games where I’m sure I’ll be run over or eaten. It can be physically and mentally exhausting.
Once I’ve reached the store I lift my bike into the rack, lock the lock and tuck my key away. I enter Vomar Voordeelmarkt to find my favorite 3.00€ bottle of wine and know it was worth the trip. Until I have to translate which checkout lane takes cash and which accepts bank cards and I’m asked if I want a receipt and I freeze because … “Sorry, nee Nederland.”
See what I mean? Amazing and terrifying and exhausting and mind blowing. Every. Damn. Day.
Everyone: How’s the move to The Netherlands going?
Me: Closing on the house, selling almost everything (except Tony’s polyurethaned frog souvenir, Ben’s “One and Only Ivan” book, Charlie’s slingshot and my coconut monkey head), packing everything else, acquiring a billion suitcases for said treasures, figuring out how to ship them, getting temporary housing, getting rental insurance on temporary housing, registering kid #2 for one month of middle school, figuring out the appropriate amount of supplies to buy for a kid going to one month of middle school, scheduling last-minute physicals/eye exams/dentist visits, attending school open house x 2 kids, delivering donations, taking kid to sleep away camp, cleaning house for the new owners, finding an affordable and available Holland apartment, convincing Dutch landlords that we are awesome and should be their tenants, submitting change of address, cancelling utilities, driving the big kid to/from work, driving myself to/from work, picking kid up from sleep away camp, visiting every friend and family member possible because we are going to miss everyone something awful, and … remembering to breathe.
What I didn’t expect when we made the decision to move to The Netherlands was the sense of dismay and worry that washed over our family’s faces. Our friends thought it was an amazing idea they wished they’d had the nerve to do. Which doesn’t make it sound like the best plan (needing a lot of nerve and all) but at least their brows didn’t wrinkle when we talked about packing up.
After much thought, I wrote our family a letter of explanation to help ease their worries. It went a little something like this:
As we wrap our minds around our upcoming move, I wanted to share some information to help you understand why we’ve decided to take this leap. We spent months investigating opportunities and life in Holland before visiting 5 different cities there.
Here’s what we’ve learned:
Although Dutch is the first language, English is widely spoken.
Expat kids can attend Dutch Language Immersion schools (for free) to prepare them for public school.
Because of DAFT (Dutch American Friendship Treaty), it is very easy and relatively inexpensive to move MightyPants there.
It is also possible to work as freelancers for a Dutch company.
Universities in The Netherlands offer degrees in English. European undergrad degrees are only 3 years long and will cost us (for public schools) substantially less than US universities.
Although housing is more expensive, we will save THOUSANDS of dollars a year on health insurance/medical costs each year and will not have to worry about going bankrupt if we get sick.
No car payments/car insurance. Everyone bikes/walks/takes public transportation. The country is very small and it takes very little time to get from one end to the other.
For “hippy/liberals” like us, The Netherlands will be a place with very little-to-no racism/sexism/religion-based laws (with the exception of Zwarte Piet, of course).
All of Europe is at our doorstep.
The main crime in the Netherlands is theft (watch this!)
It’s easier and cheaper to qualify and apply for Visas, less cold, and closer to Italy than Canada.
Being away from family will, of course, be difficult. But giving the kids (and ourselves) this adventure means the world to us.
P.S. If it doesn’t work out, we’ll come home… and bring stroopwafels!
My current situation is much like trying write a publishable book. It’s a daunting, terrifying, one-in-a-million, unlikely sort of thing until… you walk into a bookstore and see shelf after shelf lined with gazillions of books by people just like you who were brave enough to take the leap.
This is how I feel about my next adventure. It’s an insane, overwhelming, what-the-hell-are-we-doing sort of thing. But then I see how many have succeeded in making it work and how happy they are with their choices and I think Why can’t we?
So here we go. We are doing the thing.
365 days from now my husband, two kids, the cat, and I will be living in the Netherlands.