Friday, 14 June 2013

My A-Z of the Netherlands:"E" is for Expatriation/Emigration

“Your visions will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.” 

"Did I dislike living in the Netherlands? No. And yes. I liked the Netherlands. The Netherlands did nothing wrong to me. As a matter of fact, let me explain this a bit because it's certainly not a simple experience that I had. My experience there overall [both good & bad times] really opened my eyes. The world could totally be something else than what I had thought or was used to. It taught me a lot about myself too because I constantly found myself looking at how I felt, feeling and looking at it from within more often, which is something I guess I normally did but never consciously realized." (the bold is mine), June, 4 )

How I see a lot of myself in this last sentence...

I never been so in touch with my own feelings as during these last five years.

Moving to the Netherlands was quite a challenge for me since it never crossed my mind to live here. Suddenly the opportunity happened and we decided to come. We didn't think too much about the cold Winter ahead,  the language difficulties or about the lack of friends and family here. We just came. In fact, we felt that we needed to gain some distance from the world that we always knew and to find new ones, broaden horizons, take some challenges. Looking at our life then, there were too many signs telling us to move, to change, to dare...

In our first months here, I felt like the "legal alien" sung by Sting in "An Englishman in New York". I felt, deep under my skin, the cultural shock.

I don't drink coffee I take tea my dear
I like my toast done on one side 
And you can hear it in my accent when I talk
I'm an Englishman in New York

I felt stretched, challenged. Even by Nature...

I never experienced in my entire life such cold temperatures, strong winds, short days and such lack of sunlight. I missed too the natural and cultural Portuguese landscape diversity. Every time I took the train, I found the landscape monotonous and the towns similar to each other.

I was not used to have only a sandwich, a salad or a soup with butter for lunch. I felt hungry many times specially during the first month when we lived in a hotel in Amsterdam  I missed the Portuguese easy way  to find a hot delicious homemade lunch in every street corner for a very affordable price and I also cried for a decent coffee.

I disliked the houses too, specially due to the concrete walls and ceilings.

Many times, I  felt confused and lost because I didn't know the language.Or in the train station when listening to the announcements or when receiving formal letters.

The shops opening time is also different from Portugal. Once I left home on a Monday morning to go shopping and all the stores were closed. So I returned home empty handed...
I began to feel fragile...

On and on the rain will fall 
Like tears from a star like tears from a star 
On and on the rain will say 
How fragile we are how fragile we are 
How fragile we are how fragile we are

Suddenly I noticed I had no Dutch references (except some knowledge about the Dutch Golden Age and some painters). I never heard about their newspapers or magazines, I didn't know anything about their music, poets and writers, cinema, bookstores or gastronomy. I was living in an unknown world. I had no links, no references. "Where do I start? What do they listen to here? What do they read?". My cultural references were English and French, not Dutch.
Along with this sense of being lost, I realized I didn't know anybody here to go out and to enjoy a coffee with. In my first weeks here, I wondered many times about whom to call in case of need... You must remember we were in December, a very cold month, the days were shorter and people chose to stay at home enjoying the evening with their usual friends and family. In these circumstances, it's more difficult to make new acquaintances than in the Spring when everybody is outside in their balconies or backyards and it's easier to start a conversation (about gardening, pets, children, you name it).
This period was quite hard on me: I found myself experiencing  the darkness of the days, the lack of references and a great loneliness, everything at the same time...
In the following Spring, I started the Dutch classes in Utrecht. Most of my classmates knew a bit of the language - or they were living here for 4 or 5 years or their partners were Dutch - and the teachers usually spoke to us in Dutch. I had no clue about the language and the sound of the words sounded very harsh to me. I felt like a child again, learning the first words. In the meantime, I discovered I had several serious health issues to take care of and I had no luck with the doctors. So...

I needed to find a way to feel better, happier...

Turn the clock to zero, boss 
The river's wide, we'll swim across 
Started up a brand new day

I focused on my internal skills. "What do I know about myself at this moment that could help me in the present situation?" I knew I had a strong curiosity, I enjoyed to learn and I was a hard worker. Ok, then. Let's do it! Let's start learning. I began to design some travel itineraries. I wanted to find out my favorite places here as I had in Portugal. I decided to participate in the local festivities and traditions too. Step by step, my connection with the country became stronger. I also decided not to mix only with Portuguese or expats. I wanted to mingle with the locals too.Along this process, I felt I was in secondary school again: learning a new language, a new geography, a new history, a new landscape, a new society...Some moments were very hard for me, but during this process I became stronger, since I learnt a lot about myself and what I should do to become happier.

I learnt (only to give some examples.)....

abdication - of the regular sunlight, the delicious Portuguese food, the coffee, the landscape diversity, the  plaster of the Portuguese houses, the wide variety of medical private practice, the possibility to go directly to a specialist doctor, the Public Health Care co-payments ( I love you taxas moderadoras! If you only knew how much I pay here even not visiting the doctor all year long...)
acceptance - of the wind, of the inconveniences caused by snow, of the cold, of the lack of fish diversity, of the expensive compulsory health insurances, of the fact that I'm not sharing in person some important moments of my dear ones in Portugal,...
to slow down -  the Dutch have a more balanced life, there are more chances to work in part-time, there is respect for housewives work, it's expected that you enjoy some quality time, the word gezellig (pleasant, cozy) becomes part of your way of life...
to be more gentle and not so demanding with myself - many times, I was told by my Dutch friends that I was trying to do a lot of things at the same time and in the hardest way.And they were right.
to be more patient with myself - take my time and give me the time I really need.
to wait - for my Dutch language skills, to have strong friendship ties, to see the house ready, for the Summer holidays, for the Dutch waitresses in the restaurants and cafes, for the sun,...
to say "no" (and this one, for me, was very difficult to learn).
to live day-by-day and make the most of the present day.
to enjoy the sun to the fullest when it comes.

Currently, I like to live here as I liked to live in Portugal before. I enjoy both countries for different reasons. I have a more sensory relation with my homeland: the smells (specially of the fig trees), the taste of the food, the sun in my skin, the sound of the waves, the wines, the mountains. In the Netherlands, I like the way how they celebrate life and make the most of it, enjoying every moment to the fullest. The Dutch taught me to accept life as it is. Don't fight or argue with life. Live it! If it is snowing, no problem. They light candles in their living rooms and invite some friends and neighbors for a nice cup of coffee. If it's sun, oh! these are the glory days: let's lay down on the park or in the backyard, drink a glass of white wine, make a barbecue. The most important is to enjoy it while it last!

How did the Netherlands change my everyday life?

I live in a house with a front and backyard.

I learnt how to paint a house (the walls). Here most people paint their own houses. I painted our former house in Almere Centrum and now we are painting this one too.

I learnt only to keep the essential. This house is smaller than all the others where we had lived in before. So I needed to give away most of our things because they didn't fit in here. The bedrooms and the bathroom are smaller, the kitchen is open to the living /dining room, there is no hall, but a narrow corridor and the house has no attic.

I learnt a bit of gardening. I have already painted fences, cleaned brick pavers with a water pump machine, planted hydrangeas, camelias and daisies. I love gardening and garden centers.

I learnt the importance of a nice neighborhood specially when we are away from our family and friends.

I learnt to enjoy a light lunch.

I restarted cycling.

I restarted my strolls.

I started a blog and to photograph on regular basis.

I travel more due to the central location of the country.

I feel integrated,  I speak a bit of Dutch and...

I have already my favorite things in the Netherlands...;-)

My favorite movie: "De Twelling"
My favorite singer: Wende Snijders
My favorite magazine: Daphne's Diary
My favorite restaurant: Pulcinella
My favorite pastry: Poffertjes
My favorite dish: Erwtensoep
My favorite town: Bredevoort 
My favorite natural reserve: Oostvaardersplassen
My favorite amusement park: Efteling
My favorite event: Dickens Festijn in Deventer
My favorite moment: a sunset in the Marken dam.
My favorite tradition: Sinterklaas
My favorite Dutch expression: "Dank je wel!"

I'm crossing now - in spite of the economical crisis in Holland and in Europe - a path of fields of gold: I feel more open to life, more self-confidant, more courageous. Let's see what future brings, here or elsewhere...
; - )

Stay well and warm!

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, 

The courage to change the things I can, 
And wisdom to know the difference.


APS said...

Gostei muito da narração das suas experiências holandeses (deixei os vídeos para amanhã..:-))
As minhas memórias de estrangeiro nunca foram longas e, por isso, foram sempre feitas com outro estado de espírito. Mas há pequenas coisas semelhantes, como por exemplo o "harsh" que também sinto quando ouço falar o "flamengo" (neerlandês).
Aprender a dizer "não" também sempre foi fundamental para mim. E um certo pragmatismo no viver, que os portugueses nem sempre sabem usar (tenho até um amigo que disse, um dia, que "não tinha jeito para viver").
Já vai longo o comentário. Boa noite, ou bom dia, Sandra, conforme a hora a que o ler.

Presépio no Canal said...

Boa noite, APS! :-)
No fundo, esta vinda para cá ensinou-me que a vida ainda me pode surpreender (e muito!) e isso para mim foi o mais importante. Who knows onde estarei daqui a 5 anos... Até pode ser em Portugal. :-)Mas acima de tudo, acho importante ir deixando a vida acontecer...
Quanto ao pragmatismo, dá muito jeito, sobretudo em épocas de crise, Dou-lhe um exemplo: o centro artístico local vai encerrar dia 1 de Agosto por motivos de insuficiência orçamental. Os profissionais que o integram não perderam tempo em lamentações: formaram uma cooperativa e já lançaram uma newsletter a publicitar. Achei isto fantástico. :-)
By the way, estou a ouvir o ""In a Bar". Tenho de ver se compro o CD.

Margarida Elias said...

Concordo com APS e adorei o post - gostava de visitar Efteling... Sou uma simpatizante da Holanda, mas compreendo as dificuldades de estar longe daquilo que se conhece - e também preciso de aprender a dizer não. Bjns!

Presépio no Canal said...

Obrigada, Margarida, pelas tuas palavras. O teu acompanhamento constante ajudou-me muito (mesmo!)ao longo destes anos por aqui. Um beijinho muito grande, minha amiga. :-)

Unknown said...

Nice Post. Estou em Haarlem há ano e meio e vou agora mudar-me para Amstelveen, mas no geral não estou a morrer de amores por este país.

Quando acabar o 30% Ruling (mais 7.5 anos) ou talvez ate antes, acho que me vou pôr a andar para terras lusas.

Uma coisa fantástica que viver aqui me trouxe foi aprender a dar valor e a não dizer tão mal de Portugal. Muita gente que lá ficou não sabe o quanto está à frente... mesmo com ratings de credito mais baixos.

Presépio no Canal said...

Creio que é o Nuno que está a comentar, certo? :-) Compreendo o que quer dizer.
Veja-se o caso dos custos que temos na Holanda com a saúde. Ainda ontem, li no jornal local, que o nosso hospital precisava de poupar porque tinha menos "clientes", devido ao aumento do eigen risico (risco pessoal) para 350 euros. Parece que há muita gente a evitar de ir ao médico por causa disto.
Em PT, os meus custos de saúde não ascendiam os 150 euros/ano; aqui, vá ao médico ou não, sai a batelada mensal que se sabe + o custo com o risco pessoal...

Ceres said...

Como "fellow expat" indentifiquei-me com as fases que aqui descreves. Vivemos sempre de coração dividido pela nova vida no país que nos acolheu e pelo nosso Portugal que deixámos para trás e onde a vida continua sem nós.

Presépio no Canal said...

Ai, Ceres e tu és veterana nestas andanças. Sabes dar o valor. Admiro-te pela coragem que tiveste em ir para Austrália. Não sei se teria (por causa da minha mãe, preciso de estar relativamente perto de Lx). Um beijinho e tudo a correr bem por aí. :-)