We fill our house with flowers (oh, the tulips!). We ride bikes everywhere, and I mean everywhere. To school, to the grocery store, to the gym, to the store around the corner. We eat french fries dipped in mayonnaise and sprinkle chocolate on our bread. Calories, who cares? We work them off on the bike or by foot, because believe me, you do not want a car in Amsterdam. Where the heck would you park it?
None of this really came as a surprise. The husband’s Dutch, the kids are Dutch, we did all those things when we lived here before.
But I honestly don’t remember loving it this much. Mostly what I remember is not loving it. Holland is crowded and the weather’s the pits, and like I said, there’s nowhere to park your car. I know, I know, those are silly, frivolous reasons to not love a place, but when you live here, really live here, when this place is your forever-home, those things start to wear on you. And it’s not just the weather, it’s the weather combined with the overcrowding combined with the fact that though this place may be your home, it’s not your home country. After a while, even Amsterdam gets old.
But this time? Not so much. Maybe it’s because it’s temporary, or maybe I’m just older and wiser and not so concerned with the silly, frivolous things I used to be, but this time around, I’m loving every second.
So. We’ve been living in Amsterdam for almost three weeks now, and (dare I say it out loud?) the transition has been pretty seamless. My daughter has a new school, new friends, a completely new life. I keep waiting for the dip to hit, for the bottom to fall out and the homesickness to begin, but so far… Nothing.
Part of what helps is that Holland doesn’t feel foreign to any of us. My husband is Dutch, I lived here for twelve years, both kids were born here. We speak the language and know the culture. We have friends and family down the street, around the corner, and a short bike or train ride away. We feel as at home here as we do in the States.
Yet my daughter has always been more American than Dutch. She prefers English. She watches American shows. The American culture fits her to a T. There are other American students at her new school—an international one boasting fifty-four nationalities and dozens of languages—but in an ironic twist, she’s proud to be considered one of the Dutch kids. She goes to school smiling, and she comes home smiling. It’s been a nice…well, not a surprise, exactly, but I never expected it to be this easy.
Is there pixie dust in the water? Is it the calm before the storm? I don’t know. Maybe things will be different by my next post, we’ll see.
But in the meantime, I’m enjoying the peace.
Every four years around this time, I drape myself in orange and go a little nuts. And I’m not the only one. This year’s World Cup will be watched in over 160 countries, and by four billion fans. Four billion! To put that number into perspective, only 111.5 million people watched this past year’s Super Bowl.
Yet Americans are notoriously meh about soccer ~ known on the rest of the planet as football. Why the disinterest in the world’s greatest game? I can’t understand it, especially when it’s World Cup time, like it is now.
Here are my top five reasons why everyone should find a little World Cup fever.
- It’s a worldwide thing.
Listen up, baseball. Just because you call it a World Series, doesn’t mean it’s a global tournament. The Olympics is the only sporting event that even comes close to the international involvement that the World Cup generates, but as far as I’m concerned, nowhere near the passion. Just look at all those people in orange up there. You’ve got to really love your team to wear that color from head-to-toe.
- The fans are freakin’ awesome.
Okay, so I’ll admit I’m a little biased toward those crazy Dutch, but every country has loud and colorful fans. And what better way to show your support than to don your country’s colors and cheer for world domination? It’s patriotic and it’s fun.
- No commercials except at halftime.
Unlike the American trifecta of national sports, nothing stops the soccer clock for a commercial plug. Not injuries, not time-outs, not even crazy fans streaking naked across the field. Those two forty-five-minute blocks stop for nothing, except maybe a sudden and unexpected natural disaster or a terrorist attack, and then I can pretty much guarantee the networks won’t be cutting to that annoying E-Trade baby.
- Oh, the drama!
Fans fight, host countries cheat, players bite and scream and roll around on the ground. The intrigue around the tournament is more entertaining than a thousand soap operas. Who needs The Housewives when the World Cup is on?
- Hot men, duh.
And I’m not just talking about Ronaldo. There’s Giroud and Pique and Beckerman and a whole crop of sweaty, dirty hotties running up and down a field. And sometimes, if you’re really lucky, they take off their shirts.
What about you? Are you watching? Who are you rooting for this World Cup?
When my family and I moved back to the States a little over a decade ago, we extended an open invitation to our niece and nephew to come any time. To visit, to study, to stay for however long they liked. After all, what better way to get a taste of the American culture yet still feel safe and familiar than with their half-American, half-Dutch family? They were young then, too young to make the overseas flight alone, but we repeated the offer often enough they knew we were serious.
And now, finally, one of them took us up on it. In January, our nephew Rik will be coming for an entire semester, as a high-school exchange student at The Galloway School.
Rik has his own list of reasons for wanting to come, but here are some of the selling points we’ve been spouting to him and his sister for the past decade:
- Stand out on college applications. In the Netherlands, getting into a good college is a heck of a lot easier than in the States, but depending on what study you choose to pursue, getting into the right program can be a challenge. No matter where Rik decides to apply for college, his semester in the States will put him head and shoulders above the rest — and in a country of giants, that’s saying something!
- Learn a new language. Dutch kids start foreign language studies in grade school, so English isn’t exactly a new language for Rik. He hears it all around him — on TV, on the radio, on the streets of Amsterdam — but anyone who’s taken a year or two of high school Spanish knows learning a language isn’t the same as speaking it. Rik will get the best of both worlds with us — total immersion at school, then come home to a place that feels and sounds more familiar.
- Gain a new perspective. The Dutch follow our culture, they adopt our fads, they are allies both politically and economically. But they also love to criticize us. Americans are too fat, too conservative, too loud, too materialistic. Hopefully, by spending time in the real America — and not the one he sees on TV — Rik will gain a more balanced and fair perspective of our culture.
- Explore the world. Okay, so Atlanta is not exactly the world, and Buckhead is a high-class bubble. But for a Dutch person, a trip to Starbucks or Whole Foods is a treat, and normal, everyday routines like carpool and a Super Target run are fascinating. He might not be exploring the world, but he will experience our American life.
- Embark on the adventure of a lifetime. I have no doubt this will be the adventure of a lifetime for Rik, both good and bad. Spending five months away from his parents, his sister, his friends will test him in ways he probably hasn’t yet considered. But I hope by spending those months with family, by having a cousin show him the way at school and introduce him to her friends, the experience will be overwhelmingly positive for all of us.
- Make lifelong connections. Long live social media — and I’m not even talking about Facebook and Twitter. When it comes to sharing fun snippets of your life, Snapchat and Vine are where it’s at. By the time Rik packs his bags and heads back to Holland, another hip new medium will have taken over cyberspace, but my point is, technology makes it easy for Rik to stay in touch with the friends he makes while in the States, friendships that will hopefully last him a lifetime.
What about you? Have you studied abroad or hosted a foreign exchange student? Any words of wisdom or advice for us as we prepare for the invasion of the not-so-mini Dutchman?
The other day, a friend and I were complaining about the unusually wet weather in Atlanta, and she asked me where the sun went.
“Holland,” I told her, and it’s true. It’s like Mother Nature decided to switch things up this year, whisking our sun across the ocean to dry out Northern Europe and sending their low, leaden skies to dump torrential rains all over Georgia. Vampires get more sun than I’ve seen this past month, and I found myself wishing I were there instead of here, homesick for a place that’s no longer my home.
There are so many things I miss about the Netherlands, especially when the weather is balmy like it is now. Lazy days on North Sea beaches. Biking through fields of flowers. Amsterdam and cafes and canals and french fries with mayonnaise. Friends and family.
Before I moved to Holland all those years ago, I never really gave much thought to the fact that I’m an American. My nationality was as much a part of me as my curls and hazel eyes. And then suddenly there I was, in a country where I knew exactly one person. I was a foreigner, an outsider, an expat. Ugh! It didn’t take me long to detest the word expat. Am I less of an American patriot just because I moved to a foreign country? I daresay anyone who has ever been in an expat’s shoes will tell you the experience only heightens their feelings of nationalism.
But after more than a decade in the Netherlands, I’m part Dutch, too. Some of my favorite places on earth are in the Netherlands. Some of my favorite memories happened there. Some of my favorite people still live there. It took a long time and an enormous effort to put down roots, but then suddenly, without my even noticing, they took hold and became firmly entrenched. There to stay, even if I’m not.
Even though at this very moment, I wish I were.