Ring My Bell! from ExpatrordinaryAmsterdam

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Navigating this busy town of bikes, trams, trains, cars, people people everywhere, dogs, cats, loud and angry birds amid the waft of marijuana all around, takes a level of quiet aggression I forgot I had in me. Kind of like living or traveling in NYC. Just not as rude. The Dutch are peaceful kind blunt resourceful resilient strong tall folk.  When I say strong, I mean STRONG. And when you live in a country where gas prices are $6.70 a gallon, more likely than not, your legs pedal you around town instead of driving a car.

It is not uncommon to see a mom or dad with two, three or even four kids strapped in some unique way to them and/or their bike as they pedal to their destination. No helmets, no care in the world except getting where they are going at lightning speed. A baby strapped to the chest in some kind of newfangled baby Bjorn thing, or in a seat in the front or the back of the bike  – or both, or even with a big box-like attachment to the front wheel underneath like you are pushing a wheelbarrow, (bakfiets) but by bike. I am forever impressed with this healthy approach here in the lowlands, of getting from point A to point B on a daily basis. There is no need for a fitbit here. Counting 10,000 steps, or pedals – ha! I laugh at that. The Dutch are at 10,000 by the time they get to work in the morning. Bike lanes are not to be messed with and if you hear that very familiar sound of the “bing” the bike bell, while walking, crossing the street, stepping off the tram or bus or just coming out of the Albert Heijn with your groceries,  or better yet, trying to bike like the Dutch do, GET OUT OF THE WAY, LIKE RIGHT THIS INSTANT!

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Yesterday I saw a Dad with four kids attached to him and his bike in all kinds of ways laughing and chatting on their way through the city. And I see things like this all the time. Even in the pouring rain. Can you imagine an American parent doing this EVERYDAY? NEVER. Even if we had the bike lanes, the bike traffic lights, the right of way, the means, the bikes, the kids…. still, NEVER! It would be outlawed and deemed way too dangerous without enough belts, helmets, bells, etc.

So, when in Rome….and trying to assimilate without wasting time, we went to our local bike shop around the corner and asked for three bikes – used – (cause they are likely to get stolen at some point), and while we were waiting, two younger parents with two younger kids biked over – complete with helmets to pick up new locks (cause theirs are likely to be stolen too). My first thought was, Oh God, AMERICANS HERE THEY COME! No other nationality here would be caught dead with a helmet on. No pun intended there. As I slowly inched my way away from the nice safe American family to pretend I had zero in common with them, we tried different size bikes with and without handle brakes, and finally bought three used bikes – mine has a wicker basket in the front. We bought two locks each – one for the back tire and one giant one that weighs like 20 pounds (add that to my Fitbit count) and goes in between the frame and the wheel and something sturdy to lock it to. We did not buy helmets. They don’t sell them at bike shops anyway. Welcome to the real world of another world. And two weeks in, our bikes are still with us.

Ode to the Potato

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Moving to The Netherlands as expats for the second time has been much easier than the first, thankfully. We arrived in Amsterdam in mid-August just before school started for our teenage daughter. We moved to a country we lived in previously, even if it was 20 years ago. And we moved to a country that loves the potato. As much as the Americans do. As much as the Irish do. As much as the French do.

The Dutch must have the best fritjes (french fries) outside of Paris. They are delicious. No matter where you order them, they come hot, salted, a teensy bit on the dark side, but not overdone and most importantly, they aren’t greasy. And they come with mayonnaise. We Americans have ketchup, the Irish have vinegar, the French have mustard and the Dutchies have mayo. I love the mayo. Everyone is happy and content when the potatoes arrive. This is one constant and comfort we seem to be clinging to in our new life here. The potato. And the potato is clinging to me, unfortuantely.

 

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As a middle aged mom who dropped my first born off at college back in the US a little over a week ago and then hopped on an international flight to Schipol with a 7th grader, two dogs and husband in tow, plus seven bags that cost $700 in extra baggage fees, I feel pretty stretched. Not only with dollars. Stretched with lists miles long in my head, with grief of missing my son back in the US, with inner pangs missing my family and friends I so wish I could have packed and taken with me, all with the effort of taking in another culture again, another regimen of life and trying to speak rusty Dutch to locals who only want to speak English. At least I can read it, sort of…

Moving and setting up house is fun in some ways, and trying in others. Packing took weeks. Unpacking took two days. Learning how to use new appliances in another language, where to take out the garbage and recycling and how to use public transport without a chip card, or purchase anything without a local bank account yet, is beyond frustrating. Then settling my daughter into a new and very large international school comes with its own set of emotions. And trying to enjoy this new cool Euro lifestyle all at once is challenging.

Luckily, no matter where I am in this city, I can sit at a local nearby cafe and order a beirtje (small draft beer) and a side of fritjes. Maybe an order of bitterballen too. As I dip my fritjes into that yummy Dutch mayonnaise, all stress leaves and I feel comforted in sharing the same fondness the Dutch have with the potato. There is that connection of two worlds colliding through the vegetable we are all grateful someone decided to first throw in a fryer.

As I take in my first week of living in Amsterdam I am pretty proud of myself. I haven’t fallen apart, I suffered through a week without a local bank card, (more on that later), without TV, radio or a constant stream of subscription mags. I’ve embraced my new normal. I confess, it helps that I packed every thing I knew I would need to make our lives here just a little easier and feel more like home. Even though my husband was like “we have 20 boxes for one year here?” he does appreciate the ziplocs, the Reynolds wrap, the Splenda, the picture frames and books that remind of us of who we are, or once were. Because after living here already just one week in, I feel changed. We will return at some point to the US different, but still, I hope, with the same fondness for that old potato. And for me, a gym membership.