I have been an expatriate (expat) living here in The Netherlands for going on nine years. It might seem surprising to you, but I have yet to make a real friendship with a Dutch person other than my husband, of course. I am friends with Dutch people by association. I am friends with my husband’s Dutch friends and I am friends with the Dutch partners of my expat friends, but I have yet to make a new Dutch friend on my own.
I blame my lack of fluency in Dutch. When you have a conversation with a friend, you want it to be relaxing. You want to freely express yourself. Most people feel best doing that in their native language. There are also some cultural issues at play here that I haven’t completely sorted out.
I have been lucky enough to meet some great expat women (and their families). Expat life has some added dynamics to it that can be difficult to understand and get used to. I oftentimes feel an instant comradery with women from English speaking countries that I never felt in the U.S. It is such a relief to find someone to speak easily with and, most of all, to vent with about the oddities of The Netherlands in particular and of living abroad in general. There are just so many innate nuances to the culture a person has grown up in and they only really become apparent when you live for an extended period of time abroad. It can be fascinating, but the novelty wears off and it is nice to have someone to vent with.
The aspect I find most difficult is the transience of the relationships. Expats for the most part are only in The Netherlands for a relatively brief period. For me, this means pushing myself to introduce myself and put myself out there far sooner than I feel comfortable with.
I learned that lesson the hard way years ago. We had some lovely neighbors at the time (and still do, but I am referring to a different family). I always liked talking to them, but always chickened out of inviting them over for dinner or asking the woman around for tea. Finally, when I got pregnant with our first, I was really looking forward to getting to to spend more time together because I knew the start of my maternity leave would overlap with the end of her’s. So we went by one Sunday afternoon to share the good news only to find out they had an announcement too. They would be moving soon as part of his work. I was so disappointed – mostly with myself.
It has taught me both how to brush myself off from such disappointments and invest the extra effort to put myself out there. Otherwise, it is a very real likelihood that a friendship will pass me by. (Photo: Tea Time by Fabrizio Sciami)