I frequently find myself saying ‘here’ when I really mean ‘there’. As in, ‘That’s not unusual here’ or ‘We like to eat Marmite over here’. And I realised that this is the first time in my life that my ‘here’ is not the UK. I’ve visited other countries, but I’ve never lived anywhere outside of Britain and it’s taking some getting used to.
In fact, there’s been a lot of adjusting over the last two months. It’s strange really to think that we have only been here two months. It feels like a lot longer. I don’t mean in the sense that time has been dragging. I think it has more to do with having so many new experiences. I remember by first semester at university felt so much longer than any subsequent semesters, because I was in a new place, meeting new people.
The biggest adjustment, I think, has simply been the slow sinking in that I’m in another country. Sometimes I forget, until I leave the house and hear people speaking Dutch.
Not being able to understand the language has certainly been a disorientating experience – though sometimes I actually quite like it. The other day I caught a train to Tilburg. Usually I struggle to read in public places because I can’t filter out the conversations around me. But because I couldn’t understand anyone on the train, I was able to blissfully ignore them and read my book for two hours. However, I am starting to get a little sick of having to say ‘Sorry, I don’t speak Dutch’ when people start talking to me, so I’ve registered for Dutch lessons and I’m determined to learn the language.
It might seem obvious, but I’ve really been surprised by just how different this country is. I thought moving to Amsterdam would be an adventure, but I suppose I thought my life would continue much as it had. Instead I’ve been completely thrown out of context. Not in any specific way that I can point to, but the frame of reference is gone. Everything, down to the way street signs look, is different.
One aspect of the Netherlands that most intrigued me before I moved here, is its flatness. What will it feel like, I wondered, to be in such a flat place? A few weekends ago we cycled out to the small town of Muiden. It was a beautiful, clear day. The air was cold, but the sun was shining. As we cycled through stretches of green fields and open water it occurred to me that it wasn’t so much the landscape as the skyscape that stood out to me. In a way, the flatness of the land obliterates the land itself, leaving the sky and its big bellied clouds to loom down over everything. The land shrinks to a thin band on the horizon and the eyes are drawn to a world of blue, white, and grey.
The flatness of the landscape can also bring on some strange optical illusions. On the train back from Tilburg I decided to look out of the window, instead of burying myself in my book. Flat fields, stretching impossibly far out into the horizon, flashed passed. Then, all of a sudden, a hill. For a brief second I found myself genuinely wondering whether it wasn’t a hill and whether the train was in fact tilting, like one of those Virgin Pendolino trains. It was as though my brain was so used to flatness that it couldn’t quite understand the concept of a hill.
It will definitely be interesting, when I next visit the UK (even the thought that I will be a visitor in my own country is strange), to see how it feels to be ‘there’. But for now, I am ‘here’ and I think I like it.