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Sunday, 8 July 2012

Dutch bluntness and Facebook saviours

View from my window as I write this

Last week I was asked to write another article for ExpatArrivals, this time in a more serious tone on the Pros and Cons of living in the Netherlands. Easy I thought, I've been here nearly a year I already know all the pros and Cons. I was a little taken back when my contact suggested a deadline. A deadline for me? surely not, I'll finish it in a day or so. Well the deadline is the 18th of July, I've been working on it for four days and only have the bare bones of an article put together. I'm beginning to wonder if I've bitten off more than I can chew.

I’ve been researching, reading, checking out other internet sites, and  been out and about talking to other expats and locals armed with my mini notepad and pen. I’ve listened, smiled and once or twice I’ve felt the hairs rise on the back of my neck as my questions have been misunderstood.  I wasn’t asking how bad the British food or dress sense is – I know already. On the whole there have been some lovely enlightening moments when people have shared their positives about living in the Netherlands and very few negatives. The one negative that came up again and again, is that foreigners (buitenlanders to the natives) often get the wrong idea about Dutch bluntness.

Of course I heard of this Dutch bluntness, I even read about it in my Welcome to Holland book, many of the expats websites talked about it, some even called it rudeness. But I always assumed (I doing it again, making an ass of myself) that it was either a trait only found in the major cities or (and this is what I really thought) that the ‘rudeness’ experience by some expats was somehow a reflection of their own behaviour.

That was before!

Last Sunday while Andy was off with the Igad winning team in Cambridge making this fab game:
I was filling the lonely hours with Stephen King (great author but no substitute for human companionship), when somebody stuck their finger in our doorbell. Peering through the spyhole I saw my 80 year old neighbour. Her finger still stuck on the doorbell as I opened the door.

My neighbour is an ex teacher, who speaks beautiful English and likes to pat me on the head when I manage to say goedemorgen (goodmorning) with anything like a decent accent. This morning however she appeared to have forgotten my lack of Dutch, she was agitated and swaying from foot to foot.  

‘Komen, komen’ (come, come – I know that much) she said tugging my arm.

So I did. I grabbed my keys and followed her into the lift. Once it was clear I was following her she relaxed, and with a perplexing look proceeded to examine my lunchtime attire. Taking in the unbrushed hair, stained jeans, baggy top and knowing me - toothpaste stains on my lips. It was just like watching a light-bulb moment in a comic, as excitement replaced confusion in her eyes and a big Joker like grin spread across her face.

‘Ah you have a baby in you’ My neighbour said patting my tummy.

With the help of sign language I explained it wasn’t a baby 'in me' but the result of putting too much food in my mouth.

Me - apparently

Did she look embarrassed?

No - did she hell!

Instead I had a lecture on eating habits and riding bicycles (funny how her English came back then) and I slunk back to my apartment and put a self-pity quote on Facebook.

In the shadow of the Grote Kirk
It’s a sad fact of life that when a middle-aged non pregnant woman is congratulated on her impending baby. Nothing will ease the pain, nothing except perhaps friendship and wine. Facebook is most defiantly the expats friend, because within 20 minutes of my self-pity message came an invitation for just that. The remainder of the day and much of the night I spent in the shadow of the Grote Kerk (Breda’s beautiful church), enjoying the sun, or hiding from the rain, drinking the occasional glass of wine, talking, talking and a bit more talking.

There are times in an expats life when Facebook becomes a saviour. There a time in an expats life when family are the saviours.

There is a woman I know who lives in a little village on the outskirts of Worksop. At times I know I disappoint her, I’m not especially demonstrate and I don’t like to talk about emotions – in fact I’m down right prickly if cornered. But with the safety of the blog behind me I can speak freely and say - I wake up every single day grateful that she is my mum. There has not been a single day or event when she could have tried harder or done more. As a mum she is an enabler, an inspiration and impossible to emulate. If I had one wish – it would be that she would to put herself first, if only for a little while.

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