|The scars run deep
Photo Credit: Martin Boose
Many moons ago, when I was a much younger and naiver expat, I met a group of people that chilled me to the bone. The experience scarred me for life, and made me wary of expat groups.
I read a blog post yesterday which made me laugh. Just for a minute or two. Before the post reawakened sleeping memory cells I thought I had buried deep, and my harrowing experience blasted back into my mind. I felt for an instant whisked back to that bar, whisked back to an expat life I used to know.
When you’re an expat, meeting new people is a priority. It can be the difference between sinking and swimming in a new land. Expats often gravitate towards other expats, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but just because you have the commonality of living outside your home country it does not by any means mean you have anything else in common, or that you are destined to be life long buddies. Trust me, I know that the hard way.
It wasn’t long after I moved to the Netherlands, and by long I mean it was a year or so after arrival, when I actually stopped being incredibly overwhelmed and wanted to meet other people who I thought would know how I felt and who would help me adjust to life overseas.
For a while I struggled with the feeling that whilst I am an expat I’m not the same as some other expats. At the time I worked with a lot of expats but they were expats who had no intention of putting down roots in the Netherlands, making friends with the locals or even learning to speak Dutch. After a few years in the Netherlands, they would be off again to another far flung destination. They were a different breed of expat, so certainly not in the same boat as me.
Making friends with the locals proved hard. Without a good command of Dutch I wasn’t really destined for any Dutch speaking groups and so I felt a little in limbo, stuck between the expat world and the world where the locals circulated.
|It should have been so much fun|
Then I came across a group that seemed perfect. On paper. Like minded expats who were with local partners, who were carving out a new life for themselves here in the Netherlands. And after some deliberation I went to a get-together in a bar.
Oh, what an evening it was. The worst evening I have ever had in the Netherlands. Quite possibly the worst social occasion of my life.
I was sandwiched between Mrs Depressed and her Angry Daughter and Mrs I Don’t Want to Be Here. Mrs Depressed loved her partner but hated her life, hated Dutch food, hated that people wouldn’t talk English to her everywhere she went, hated Dutch supermarkets, hated that she couldn’t buy the things she could buy in her local Tesco in England, hated that Dutch people were blunt, hated that she had no friends, hated Dutch stairs, hated all the Dutch administration she had been subjected to. You get the picture.
Angry Daughter thought her mother’s partner was nice but hated her life in the Netherlands and resented her mum for dragging her away from her home country. She longed too for the aisles of a Tesco supermarket.
Mrs I Don’t Want to Be Here had a baby but was considering running away from both her baby and her husband because she hated everything and everyone that even remotely seemed Dutch.
I listened (and barely spoke) for a few hours to nothing but how terrible life was in the Netherlands. I seem to have caught an entire group of expats in a bad place on their culture shock curve, and they did nothing but egg each other on to see who could make the most negative comment about expat life in the Netherlands or anything Dutch.
By the time I escaped I felt violated, battered and bewildered. Why wasn’t I experiencing life in the Netherlands as something so terrible and soul destroying? Was there something wrong with me that I actually liked life in the Netherlands? I had arrived at the meet feeling quite optimistic and perky. By the time I left I wanted to throw myself under a tram to ensure I NEVER experienced another evening like I had just had.
Needless to say it took me a long time to get the courage up to attend any gathering that comprised wholly of expats. I get that expat life can be tough, and it can help to talk about it over a good pint of Guinness, but there is a limit.
So now, I’m very careful about the groups I get involved it, and surround myself with positive, happy people, people who get that living in the Netherlands is a privilege and not a disaster.
How have your attempt to make friends as an expat gone? I would love to hear your success stories, and about those not so positive occasions…..