Expat Chronicles: Changing Pace
Thanks so much for all your well wishes as we’ve made this big transition. I can hardly believe we have been here for a week already! It’s true. Eight days ago we arrived in the The Netherlands, a bit jaded from our lengthly travels, but mostly filled with wonder to really be here. This move was such an unusual, surreal project. Now the goal is tangible and the shape of it becomes so very real.
For the month of June we are residing at a home in Enschede, which we rented via AirBnB. Our host is a kindly architect who lives above us. The home is unusual as it resides on some land, even though it is near city center. It is a nice transition from our farm life to live on this quiet estate for awhile. There are ducks to visit in the morning, a park down the lane and ponies at the next corner.
Really, everything feels so close in The Netherlands. It is so very practical to use a bike. The roads are flat and well-maintained, with many safe lanes for bikes. My favorite are the bike streets with signs posted “autos as guests”. These are full-sized, quiet streets which cars only use to reach their private residences or small shops. So interesting to see the priority placed on the cycler. This is how you create a nation with more bikes than cars!
We arrived on a holiday which flowed into the weekend. On Monday morning, I was so optimistic about all we could accomplish. I remember waking up and smiling at the thought of getting my BSN, a Dutch social security number critical to most basic functions, that very day. But, alas, I was still thinking like an American.
One thing that drew us to The Netherlands is reports of a better work-life balance. People typically don’t work overtime or weekends and enjoy 5 weeks paid vacation. This work-life balance is also expressed in a peacefulness that pervades the country. The streets are quiet, even though there are plenty of people about. The train is timely and clean, with “stiltecoupé” or “silent compartments” for those who wish to travel in peace. And, the customer service is measured. For most everything you need, you should make an appointment.
In America we want service right away. It’s considered rude to make customers wait hours if not days. Government services may be inadequate, but they’ll attempt to help you when you arrive on site.
Not so in The Netherlands. Whether shopping for a home, registering our existance with city hall or handing in immigration forms - everything needs an appointment. Nothing is available today. Probably not tomorrow either. Come back at the appointed time and all will go smoothly - no wait, all questions answered, a smooth experience. But wait you must!
What an adjustment.
Here’s an example. On Wednesday we made an appointment to view a home we are interested in. The appointment is for the following Wednesday! Really. On Monday when I inquired about our top choice home, I was told no appointments to see it were available all week. The realtor suggested we look at some other houses, and then if we don't choose to buy them, call back to make an appointment. Between public holidays and reserved appointment schedules, we are making very slow progress, my friends. But at least it is progress.
In fact, today was a big win! At my first immigration appointment all went very well. We arrived early and were helped early. I submitted my forms, paid the fee and had my photo and fingerprints taken. The attendant was very knowledgeable and kind. Now I have a sticker on my passport that proves I am in the process of immigrating. This extends my right to stay in the country and, in my case, allows me to work! Woohoo!
In the coming weeks we will continue shopping for a home. Our household belongings from the United States will arrive, which will go into storage for the time being. On June 17th we have an appointment with city hall to register our residence, which will allow us to open bank accounts and other essentials. So, things are moving along, just at a relaxed, measured pace.
This is a good pace for living. Once we are in a permanent home, able to establish our household rhythms, I’m sure it will be a blessing. For now it does lengthen our transition, which is costly and unsettling. But, so be it. I am working on accepting, adjusting, appreciating. So are the kids.
I am also working on strengthening my thighs! Haha. Daily biking is sure to do it. Elora loves going on rides, and actually, so do I. But, can you believe, I am the slowest one in my family? I get passed by every single Dutch person, even some twice my age. I need to get faster and build up to longer rides. By the time I’m a legal resident, I’ll be biking like a true Nederlander!
p.s. We have bike lessons later today.