Trapped in My Accent

by Allison Ochs, MSW
Edit Change Management

When I moved to Europe as a 19-year-old, I knew one thing – I was American. I have since spent 29 years living abroad: my entire adult life. I am American, but I have changed. I'm feeling more European, specifically Swiss.

Recently, I was working with a group of teens. One of them made the remark, "I don't mean to be disrespectful but we are in Europe, and this might not be relevant to us." I smiled, "I understand. The thing is, my entire professional career has been in Europe, so I guess I would say it is relevant. This is about you." The kid was being a provocative teen and looked stumped. A while later in the presentation, it came out that I spoke German and French and the same teen slumped further. He was Spanish and must have thought, "Hey lady, I am European. We are more progressive than you Americans when it comes to sex and sexting."

A few weeks ago it happened again. This time an adult was the culprit, saying I was "too American" without even knowing me. I complained to my husband, "Will I ever free myself from this? What can I do?" He laughed, "Aside from faking another accent, no. You are who you are and people who don't know you will just assume based on your accent that you are a typical American." He is right of course, and I guess I will just have to continue living with people misunderstanding me. I think we all do.

Caring from Abroad: Emotions

by Phyllis Larkin, Psy.D

Geriatric and Family Psychologist
XPATSIA.com

 

This is the first in a series of articles about ways to deal with the challenges of caring for an aging parent from abroad.

Often it’s a call in the middle of the night. Sometimes it’s a long-anticipated decline. Mom or Dad can no longer function independently — financially, cognitively or physically — and you live five to nine time zones away. The question is always: What am I going to do now?  

Helplessness and anxiety, with a heaping side of guilt, are just a few of the common feelings around caring for aging parents. Here are some tips on how to deal with those emotions.

Your feelings are normal.

It’s normal to feel overwhelmed. Shock does that to us. It’s normal to feel sad, fearful, panicky and even resentful. Dread is a common reaction: “I can’t just leave my_______ (job, family, spouse, life).” Grief often follows medical events, and it’s normal to find yourself re-experiencing loss and sadness. When the third act arrives, it reminds us all of our mortality and triggers feelings of loss.

What causes your emotions: internal or external?

If you can identify what is causing your emotions, you can better control your reactions. Warning: there is no black and white when it comes to emotions.

Internal emotions are driven by history, experiences, and relationships, whether they were good or bad. “I don’t want to care for Dad; he left us when we were little. Why should I give up my life to care for him now?” “I love mom and feel so bad about not caring for her now. She was always the rock when we were growing up. She cared for all of us, and now I’m letting her down. I feel so guilty.” Examples of internal emotions are: love, respect, longing, regret, resentment, loyalty, or ambivalence (for example, to feel relief with a diagnosis, but overwhelmed with the fallout.)

External emotions are driven by stimulus: living abroad, ICU sounds, medical terminology and procedures, family members, travel complications, work schedules, spousal reactions, legal issues etc. “I just need to get out of the hospital (skilled nursing facility, house.) I can’t stand seeing Mom so helpless and dependent. My brother is AWOL. I just flew eight hours and I haven’t slept in 48 hours. This is costing me a fortune. My husband is asking for a schedule and I can’t give him one. I don’t have any way to access her bank account to pay the bills at the house. I just want to scream!”

Interactive emotions are the combination of both internal and external emotions. It can all get a little overwhelming.

Getting control.

This is a good time to determine what is within your control and what isn’t. You can’t change the situation, but you can change how you react to it.

We can change our internal emotional state by being compassionate with ourselves, not judging our emotions and accepting our human condition. We can avoid catastrophic thinking.

What’s in your control:

  • Your thoughts
  • Your reactions
  • Your time
  • Your attitude

What’s not in your control:

  • Your loved one’s health
  • Other people's reactions, including family members
  • Outcomes of medical decisions
  • Other people's decisions
  • History

What you can do:

  • Eat well: Hunger complicates thinking and feelings.
  • Rest. Sleep as often as you can.  
  • Stay informed about medical issues.
  • Exercise.
  • Meditate.
  • Keep in contact with friends that you can trust who won’t judge your reality.
  • Hire caregivers to help with the burden. (Respite care can be used to get a break from caregiving. It is used by family caregivers to take vacations, recharge patience, catch up with medical needs, etc.)
  • Ask for help and then accept it.
  • Join the AWCA Aging Parents Support Group.

Links:

From a distance: 6 tips for expats with aging parents

When You Quit Your Job to Follow Your Partner’s

by Allison Ochs, MSW
Edit Change Management

The first time I quit my job to move abroad I was 28. I was working and lecturing as a social worker at a University Hospital. Even though I wasn't a hotshot career woman, a VP or earning a lot, I felt like I was on top of the world.

When my husband asked me to quit my job to move to Bordeaux, I answered, "Yes, absolutely. It is now or never." I thought this would be a fun adventure and it would be easy to jump back in. Very naive of me.

In Bordeaux, I excelled at this expat thing. I learned French, had two babies, put my eldest in a French school and thoroughly enjoyed understanding their culture. I took it upon myself to grasp everything from the school system to their relationships. It was marvelous.

The moves continued, my kids grew, and I started working again. As this happened, I became more and more reluctant to move yet again.

I remember saying, "It's not fair. I want recognition too. I can't keep on starting from zero. Don't do this to me again."

I don't think enough credit is given to the partners that quit their jobs to follow. I am still recovering from the position I left last, and sometimes I just want people to thank me — not only my husband but others. I don't want someone to see me as a woman who just drinks coffee and has lunch. "What a great life you have! You've lived all over." I hear that, and I think, "Yes, it's great, but I've left friends behind, been lonely, and gave up on a lot — and no one sees that."

How did I manage? Not always well. I complained for a while, was angry and then decided to create something of my own. I don't think there is a single piece of advice to give anyone who feels this frustration. The only thing I can say is — you are not alone. I haven't met a single veteran expat who hasn't, after years of this, felt some exhaustion and well... a lack of recognition.

Here's to us... the ones who quit our jobs to support our partners and families.

 

Fashion-Forward? Think Green.

by Marloes van Raamsdonk of Lena Library

According to an article in the Daily Mail from 2011, the average woman has 22 garments hanging in her wardrobe she has never worn. Does this stop us from shopping till we drop? Apparently not. Seventy percent of Dutch women buy something they never wear every month. But what about the clothes which are never even sold? 21.5 billion garments were manufactured in 2015 but never sold, resulting in 1.2 billion brand-new items being destroyed. Only 35% of our textile waste can be recycled. What happens to the other 65%? Well, a garbage truckload of clothes is dumped or burned every second. Shocking, right?

Why sustainable?

Nowadays, we can’t ignore the downside of fashion anymore. We’ve probably all read articles on the topic or saw an item on the news regarding the poor working conditions in sweatshops. While we proudly wear our latest outfit, on the other side of the world men, women and even young children work long hours for less than nothing. Is it really worth another person’s life to look good? Imagine your kid sewing buttons onto cute summer dresses. Unfortunately, it doesn’t end there: think about the environment. Research done by National Geographic shows it takes 2,700 liters of water to produce one cotton t-shirt, which is enough water for one person to drink for 2.5 years.

The infinite wardrobe.

At LENA we don’t want to make you feel bad about wearing or buying clothes. On the contrary, we would like to show you ways to enjoy fashion AND be sustainable. Borrowing clothes means endless experimenting with style, shapes, and colors: mix and match to the max. You will always have something new in your closet. Imagine, summer starts and all you have to do is returning your winter items to LENA without the need to store them at home. Let’s be honest, houses in Amsterdam are tiny compared to the U.S.: why waste space on clothes we don’t wear?

Dreaming of a green future.

We want to make a change. Our first priority is to create more awareness and to lengthen the lifecycle of clothes. But we won’t stop there, we believe in thinking big, and we want to change the system. We aim for a world without waste, a world without scarcity: a circular fashion system. LENA library is our first step towards a greener future, but eventually, we want to be the sustainable link between fashion brands and providers of raw material. Worn-out garments CAN be recycled into new quality products without using virgin resources. We want to make that happen.

Fashion-forward, according to LENA:

  • Wearing beautiful clothes in a conscious and sustainable way.
  • A wide range of choice without an enormous walk-in closet full of clothes we never wear.
  • The excitement of new garments without feeling the need to own them.
  • Say NO to fast fashion or bulging closets and still look AWESOME.
  • We believe ethics and aesthetics go hand-in-hand.

Meet the girl bosses.

Four business-savvy women — three sisters, and an "adopted sister" — are ready to change the world of fashion. Open minds and tons of creativity lead to this first fashion library of the Netherlands and three years later it’s still a success. Due to their background in the fashion industry, they know exactly what could be done better. LENA wants to make fashion fun for everyone involved.

LENA & you.

Do you have garments you no longer wear but don’t know what to do with? We would be very pleased if you would donate these items to our library. Your clothes deserve a new life: karma points, guaranteed. Any ideas on sustainable fashion, entrepreneurship or business opportunities for LENA? We are very much interested in your input, so pass by our store for a chat and a cup of coffee. Together we can do more!

Would you like to know more about us? Take a look at our website www.lena-library.com (sorry, Dutch only).

Commemorating the Past: Liberation Day in the Netherlands

by Jennifer van Lent

Bevrijdingsdag (or Liberation Day) in the Netherlands is a unique experience, in part because so many Dutch citizens still remember that day on May 5, 1945, when the Allied Army liberated their country from German occupation. Gatherings are held across the Netherlands beginning May 4 (called Dodenherdenking, or Remembrance of the Dead), with the entire country dedicating two minutes of silence at 8 p.m. to commemorate the brave soldiers and citizens who died in WWII, as well as in other conflicts and U.N. peace-keeping missions. The memorials continue May 5 with parades and concerts across the country.

It is still possible to hear stories from those who suffered the hardships during the "Hunger Winter" of 1944-45 and to listen to Dutch resistance fighters tell harrowing tales about sabotage and escape. My husband's Uncle Frans will never forget the Canadian soldiers who drove through their North Holland village that day, passing out to the children "the best chocolate I ever tasted." King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima honor Dutch veterans in Dam Square on May 4th, laying a wreath at the National Monument. Allied veterans from the U.S., Canada, U.K. and Australia still return to the Netherlands to take part as honored guests in parades, concerts and other memorials. 

As the WWII "Greatest Generation" passes on, it is more important than ever to remember our recent past and to honor those who fought and died in the many wars and conflicts of the past 100 years. Here are some suggestions for how and where to celebrate our hard-earned, precious freedom.

Dodenherdenking, May 4: 

Amsterdam, Dam Square: the commemoration typically starts around 7 p.m. (look at the local news for exact times), with a concert and speeches. The 2 minutes of silence begins at 8 p.m.

Opijnen American Cemetery, May 4: Eight American WWII airmen from the 91st Bomb Squad lie forever in the American cemetery in Opijnen, in the east of the Netherlands. For over 70 years, the local village has honored their memory by maintaining their graves and, on May 4, commemorating their sacrifice. The memorial typically begins around 6.30 p.m. (our club typically has members who attend the ceremony, so reach out if you are interested). 

Willem Braam of the Het Gooi Bevrijd Committee and his wife, Marianne

Bevrijdingsdag, May 5:

Het Bevrijd Gooi: This unique event brings WWII veterans to t'Gooi with a three-day remembrance and celebration to honor those who fought in the Netherlands for the Allied Army. The highlight is a parade of WWII-era jeeps, motorcycles and military trucks that wind their way through 11 towns in t' Gooi. One of this year's honorees is a 93-year-old veteran who will be traveling from California to take part in the celebration.

Oorlogsmusuem (War Museum), Overloon and Liberty Park: This is one of my favorite museums and a wonderful place to learn about the Dutch history before and during WWII. One of the oldest dedicated to WWII, this interactive museum has several parts, including the Dutch War Museum and George C. Marshall Museum ("a living museum”) housing a huge collection of military equipment, including planes, tanks and ships).

Concerts:

There are various concerts throughout the area, including:

Amsterdam: the Liberation Day Concert on the Amstel River in front of the Carré Theater is the highlight of the Amsterdam celebrations. If you have a boat, get to the site early and enjoy the fabulous music!

Haarlem: Bevrijdingspop. This is a FREE daylong concert in the Haarlem Hout: very fun, activities for families and adults, and great music! Best to take a train to Haarlem and walk 15 minutes to the event location. You can't miss it — just follow the crowds!

More resources: https://www.iamsterdam.com/en/see-and-do/whats-on/festivals/overview-music-festivals/liberation-day-amsterdam

A Modest American in Europe

woman in American flag wrapped around her sitting on beach

Photo by veeterzy on Unsplash

by Allison Ochs, M.S.W.
Edit Change Management

My first year in Europe was a real shocker. I was so naive and so unprepared for what I was doing. I could write 10 stories just on the topic of nudity (and maybe I will one day), but today let us focus on the basics. The fact is if you are not used to taking public showers, changing in public or having people change in front of you, life in Europe can be a bit challenging at first.

Our first apartment was about two blocks from a lovely park in Kiel, Germany. We had an apartment with no balcony, and when the sun came out, we headed to that park. The first visits to there were not enjoyable for me. Alright, I’ll be honest: the whole first year I felt uncomfortable every time it was hot and we went out.

Germans are very comfortable with their bodies and nudity. This park was close to banks, offices and businesses and I would sit there in shock as women and men would strip down to their underwear, the women would fling their bras off and just stretch out with a sandwich for an hour soaking up the sun. After their hour break, they would just stand up, stretch and slowly put bra, business shirt, skirt and heels back on and stroll off, briefcase in hand. I honestly did not know where to look. My husband (who is German) was a student as well. We meet at the park a lot. He thought watching me be uncomfortable was funny but also surprising. He didn't think stripping to your underwear at lunch was strange and I did. We had many lengthy discussions about nudity.

Just this week, in chatting with another expat mom, we talked about how hard it is to deal with this. I have progressed after 28 years in Europe and can now change on a beach, and I am very free but still not entirely. That little girl from Farmington, Utah still lives in me. I will only go topless at a private pool with my family and I still don’t like being on nude beaches.

Some cultural traits are rooted. This one seems to be a big one for everyone. If you have trouble with it, you are not alone!

North, South, East and West: Stepping Out of My Bubble in Amsterdam

by Suzanne Vine
originally published Nov. 3, 2017 on Suzanne Vine's Amsterdam

Photo by Daria Nepriakhina on Unsplash

In September, I passed my three-year milestone in Amsterdam. Expat years are kind of like dog years, so three years makes me a very elderly expat, indeed. In those three long years, I like to think I have discovered a lot of the city. I like to think I've gotten out of my neighborhood and explored. I like to think some of you are still reading along.

This post gives me the chance to share some of what I have discovered on my journeys and weigh in on the experience of living here for three years. In the end, I may not have much wisdom to share, but I can tell you where to get a good cup of coffee.

Feel free to share this post with your visitors so we all don't have to reinvent the recommendation-wheel every time family and friends come to stay. I purposely left out all tips for the center of town. Most expats already know that part of town and can steer their visitors to the right spots for food, drink, and sightseeing. Frankly, you can just walk up and down the canals and find your own favorite places without much fuss...you and the crowds who visit Amsterdam. I'm going to sound like a cranky Dutch native, but we avoid the center as much as possible during the summer months. Even in the three years since we arrived, I see more and more tourists and hear less and less Dutch spoken. The city seems to be trying to strike a balance between accommodating the tourists — and their money — and keeping the charm of Amsterdam alive and well. Some would say the balance is tipping towards the tourist dollars right now.

A quick geography lesson for those of you who are new or don't live here: Amsterdam is composed of different neighborhoods. Like many of the neighborhoods in New York City — well, actually in Manhattan with its Upper West and Lower East Sides, etc. — the names of the neighborhoods are mostly directions with actual names for some of the neighborhoods tucked inside those big areas. So here we have North (Noord), South (Zuid), East (Oost), West (West). and The Center (Het Centrum), but also de Pijp, and The Museum Quarter (Museumplein). 

It seems like every map you look at divides the city in different ways. Some leave it in big chunks (North, South, East, and West) and some include the names of the neighborhoods. No wonder I get lost so often.

Old South. Like many in the expat community, I live in Oud Zuid, or Old South. Here's the great part about living in our hood: we are a few short blocks to Vondelpark, Amsterdam's Central Park. We're also a few short blocks to the Van Gogh Museum, the Rijksmuseum (home to the Vermeers and the Rembrandts you want to see), and the Stedelijk, the modern art museum. We're also only a short walk from the elegant concert hall, Het Concertgebouw. And we have taken full advantage and seen lots and lots of concerts. We never seemed to do that when we were only a short train ride away from New York City.

You can see a real Picasso sculpture in Vondelpark. I'm always surprised that no hooligans have ever taken a can of spray paint to it. Maybe even they have limits.

My husband Peter and I often have moments when we shake our heads in amazement that we are actually living here. Mine often come when I look up at the majestic Rijksmuseum. How did we get so lucky to live so close by? Or to live here at all?

I took this photo during the Women's March, where for once Museumplein, the square surrounding the museums, was packed with protestors, not tourists taking selfies.

I love the quiet side of the museum, where the bikes outnumber the people.

Now, what's the downside of living in my part of town? For one, it can feel like a bubble. A very tony, one-dimensional bubble. The one "regular" store here - a hardware store - just closed its doors. It will be replaced by yet another "bougie" boutique selling overpriced clothes that appeal to someone, I suppose. That someone is definitely not me. The other downside is that there isn't much culinary diversity. You can find Italian food or Dutch bistro-style restaurants, but where is the Thai? The Vietnamese? The Lebanese? And where are the good coffee spots? That's a problem. So to find what I need, I have to get out and about.

The Dutch pride themselves on being a society of equals. When we came to look for apartments before we moved here, the relocation person told us that there weren't any super-rich here. Then who lives in those houses along the canal near the apartments she was showing us, I asked. The answer? Drug dealers. 

I can assure you that not all the fancy houses in Amsterdam are inhabited by drug lords.

North. So, let's get out of the bubble, shall we? First, we head to Noord, the North. This part of the city is a little out-of-the-way. You have to hop on a ferry behind Central Station to get there unless you have a car. They are talking about building a new bridge that will allow you to bike from behind the station, but I've learned that there can be lots and lots of talk before any shovel breaks ground, so I'll believe it when I see it. For now, take your bike right on the ferry. Once in the North, I recommend heading out to a giant oasis called Het Twiske. You can bring your lunch and have a picnic. You will feel like you are in the middle of nowhere.

When my son Ben was here for a visit, we went straight to the motherland for our picnic provisions: a place called Piqniq, in the Jordaan, a neighborhood in the center of the city. Worth every penny. Gluten-free bread available, making this picnicker a very happy camper.

On the way back from your bike ride through Noord, you can stop for coffee at The Coffee Virus. Very good coffee. Not so good English. Here's a sentence from their website: "We are very ambitious. Actively we look to expand and spread our positive virus at other inspiring locations were [Note: Yup, you read that right], creatively, we adapt to our surrounding." One job idea I have is to help businesses rewrite their "English" into words that make sense. An English Fixer. They really need my help here. 

Although not inside the city limits of the North, once you are up there, you can visit some quaint villages like Marken, and some touristy ones like Volendam.

If you're really feeling like a tourist, you, too, can get in costume and transport yourself back in time, Volendam-style. Let's just say that my daughter Rachel deeply regretted joining me on an outing with the American Women's Club that day.

Ben felt slightly better about our bike ride to Marken, but for some reason, he refused the opportunity to put his face into the your-face-here board set up near the lighthouse.

Another place to visit that's north of my bubble is The Zaanse Schans, a colonial Williamsburg-style village where you can step back in time and see what 18th and 19th-century life was really like. One of my expat friends took every single one of her visitors there, but I actually ventured there for the first time in April. It was a grey, windy day, raw even by the usual standards, so the crowds were somewhat thinner. I can't imagine taking this trip on in the height of the tourist crush in the summer. But we actually enjoyed the tour inside a windmill and the photo ops. Ah, April in the Netherlands. The wind sure kept those windmills busy.

Let's face it: you want to see windmills when you come to the Netherlands. A trip to Zaanse Schans gives you a lot of bang for your buck. You take a short bus ride from Central Station and you're face to face with a whole army of them. I've heard that most Dutch people have never been there.

I don't think the guys inside the windmill - still a working sawmill - had ever seen the likes of our friend Pierre. They did their best to answer all of his questions.

East. Let's head East, shall we? This is a neighborhood where, unlike places like Zaanse Schans, Dutch people do live, and do go for dinner and coffee. The area has changed a lot in the past few years. I think even the Dutch would agree that it has become gentrified. You still see many women wearing hijabs, but now you also see tons of young people in search of good food, and lots of new restaurants to lure them in. And then there's me: an expat who is looking to get out of the bubble and take a bike ride for a bit before settling in with a coffee and a book, or a notebook. Some of my favorite Amsterdam places are in OostCoffee BruRum Babaand Roostwhere there's a book exchange wall. You can take a book if you forget yours, and bring it home. For keeps. They even have some good books in English. Good coffee is a big reason this uptown girl likes to get out of the white bread world of the Old South neighborhood.

The burger craze has hit Amsterdam hard. Smokin' Barrels makes a burger that any American restaurant would be proud to call its own. And, oh, those fries!

In addition to good coffee, you can find some good food. There's Smokin' Barrels, where my friend Vera's daughter Rosanne worked until the wee hours, and De Biertuinwhere you can find yourself older than the other customers' parents. Lest you think all I do is eat and drink, I can also recommend The Tropenmuseuma museum "about people." According to the website, "From Africa to West and Southeast Asia, from New Guinea to Latin America: come to the Tropenmuseum and discover that, despite cultural differences, we are all essentially the same." I'm not sure if that's really true, but it's a lovely little museum with interesting exhibits. This museum is one place which doesn't call Dutch colonizing "exploring" but rather, uses the word "slavery" and the Dutch in the same sentence. Imagine that.

This exhibit about the history of music was fantastic. How could I not be excited about an exhibit that included my favorite musical genre? One can never get enough of this funky stuff.

While you are in this neck of the woods, you can visit Czar Peterstraat, recently voted the nicest shopping street in Amsterdam. And that was before De Pindakaaswinkel, the store selling one thing and one thing only — peanut butter in various flavors — moved in. I discovered the rest of the street when I went in search of the store one afternoon. It's worth wandering around there.

West. Finally, let's head to the West, another area of town that has changed a lot in the past five years or so. You will certainly see more "diversity" out there than in my neighborhood, including many Muslim faces. But as the rents around the city rise and rise, there are more pockets of gentrification. I think of the West as the Brooklyn of Amsterdam. For the coffee fans, try White Label Coffee or Lot Sixty One. White Label is still wedged among kebab joints and inexpensive chain stores, but I'm guessing the neighborhood will soon change. Lot Sixty One now has a line down the block on weekends. Sigh. When we first moved here, I discovered this place — like so many others in this post — while walking with my dog Casey. I knew about four people in Amsterdam, and Peter was one of them. I could always go West (my version of Downtown) and find someplace cozy, or gezellig, as the Dutch say.

Now to really get out of the bubble, you have to go to the Nieuw West, or New West. There you can find some tucked-away gems, like De Cantina. What's not to love about a place where you can read in a hammock, or sit in an old hippie car with your coffee or tea? Note to my expat friends wondering how I find these places: I didn't find this one. Rachel did, on a list of Top 5 Secret Spots in Amsterdam. Shhhh. Don't tell anyone.

This little plant shop, Wildernis, is in Oud West, Amsterdam West. It might as well be in the Wild West to some expats who don't venture there often. You can buy all sorts of plants, and, of course, a cup of coffee or tea after exerting yourself with your plant shopping.

So what has changed about Amsterdam in my three years here? Many would say the expats are responsible for one big change: higher and higher rents. You can't blame those rising rent prices and gentrification solely on the American expats, as one recent local news broadcaster tried to do. He also blamed us for the piles of garbage and the noise. We are definitely not taking credit for those, dear Amsterdam. Of course, many of us do come with big pocketbooks and our American values, like huge kitchens and multiple bathrooms, and the Dutch real estate market is certainly trying to oblige. But we aren't the only ones moving into previously affordable areas and turning them into posh hideouts. For selfish reasons, I want Amsterdam to gentrify, but just enough. I still want to discover places that don't feel like they are part of the bubble.

But let's face it, fancy coffee is a sure sign that a neighborhood is changing over. The city is certainly getting gussied up. Everywhere you look there is construction. Everywhere. Why can't they finish one project before they tear up the streets somewhere else? It's like when kids have to take out every different Lego set all at once and leave them strewn around and mixed up, instead of cleaning up the ones they are finished with before moving on to a new set. The city is as likely to follow my suggestion about finishing one project at a time as kids are likely to follow an organized Lego play routine. But a girl can dream, can't she?

I recently finished a novel called Euphoria, by Lily King. As it so often happens when I read, one passage seemed to be calling out to me, to be exactly what I have been thinking about as I wrote this post. The character Nell - based on the anthropologist Margaret Mead - is describing her favorite part of her fieldwork. She says, "It's that moment about two months in when you think you've finally got a handle on the place. Suddenly it feels within your grasp. It's a delusion — you've only been there eight weeks — and it's followed by the complete despair of ever understanding anything. But at that moment the place feels entirely yours. It's the briefest, purest euphoria." If you substitute her two months for my three years, you will know how I feel.  Sometimes it's euphoria: I can't believe we actually live here! We are so lucky! I think I understand the Dutch and their ways. And then the next moment, it's despair: I'll never really fit in. I'm so far away from home. Where is home, exactly?

I'll end our journey through Amsterdam with a photo of my Dad, taken in 1948 when he visited the Netherlands. He came to Europe on a ship with his father. The overseas trip was a gift for graduating from medical school. The little girls in the photo, I assume, actually dressed that way, unlike the people who dress up to amuse the tourists nowadays. When my dad visited, the world was still a huge place, where people in one part of the world lived very differently from people in another. These days, the world feels like a much smaller place, with H&M and Starbucks uniting us no matter which corner we call home. I often think about how much my dad would have loved to hear about (and read about) my adventures here.  

I didn't crop out the sides of the photo because I love those jagged edges.

In answer to one question we're often asked: No, we don't know how much longer we will stay here. For now, I'm happy to live in my expat land-of-limbo. I'm beyond grateful to have the chance to travel around the city, without the stress and all-consuming schedule of teaching. This move has given me the gift of time, as has Peter, who is, for now, singlehandedly holding down the retirement-fund fort. Thank you, Peter.

I'll close with a quick farewell to a musical part of my past: the late Tom Petty in the Traveling Wilburys: "Maybe somewhere down the road aways, you'll think of me, wonder where I am these days."

I wonder where I'll be, too — somewhere down the road.

Keukenhof: Tiptoe through the tulips, and daffodils, and hyacinths…

by Danielle Tomich, AWCA member

If you’re lucky enough to live in Holland, with the world-famous Keukenhof Gardens in your back yard, you’d have to be some sort of April’s fool not to visit at some point during the season. Here’s some information to help you plan your own tiptoe trip.

What’s up, buttercup? Is it all just hype? No. Consistently listed among the most beautiful gardens in the world, the Keukenhof is a must-see for anyone who enjoys flowers, gardens or convening with nature. Granted, the gardeners leave little to nature: these lush, manicured gardens are artfully designed by people who know what they’re doing. Graced with dozens of varieties of hyacinths, daffodils, and tulips that bloom at different times, the garden changes throughout the season. In fact, it changes each year: At the end of the season all the bulbs are removed and the beds are replanted with different varieties and designs.

More than gardens. The garden naturally has beautiful ponds, bridges, and water features, but it also includes children’s play areas, a windmill, great views of the tulip fields, sculptures, boat rides through its small canals, places to eat and, of course, gift shops. An unexpected delight in 2016 was an area of garden pots and decorations done in Dutch tile mosaics. And don’t miss the flower shows in the pavilions. Not your ordinary state-fair fare, these flower-based art displays are professionally done with great care and creativity.

When to visit. The gardens are open daily March 22 to May 13 from 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Whenever possible, visit on a weekday, preferably mid-week, either first thing in the morning or toward closing time. Check the schedules for the flower shows (in the pavilions), as they may influence your choice of dates.

Early in the season, before most of the tulips have come up, a heavenly fragrance floats like a mist through the gardens: the hyacinths are in their prime. They bloom in violet, pink, blue, white and every hue in-between, and they are often mixed in a bed-bouquet with an equally astonishing array of daffodils and early-bird tulips. If you’re lucky, the cherry trees will be spreading their pink lace canopy. But perhaps the best reason to visit early is to avoid the massive crowds. In its 69th year, the garden is expecting one million visitors this season.

If you go later, you’ll see the most tulips, both in the gardens and in the fields viewable from the vista spots. Timing is tricky (from year-to-year the peak varies), but the last week of April is a good bet. You can check out what’s blooming weekly on the garden’s Facebook page; they update the bloom status every Wednesday.

Rain is a good possibility no matter when you plan to go, but keep in mind that the soft light on those cloudy days will make the colors pop in your photos.

Bike the fields. For a completely different experience, pedal around the fields on a bike from Rent-a-Bike van Dam, located in the parking lot of the gardens near the main entrance. From March 22 to May 13, they are open from 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Not surprisingly, the strategy for beating the bike rental crowd is the same as for the gardens: go mid-week, early or late in the day. Or, take your bike with you on the train. More information on biking near the Keukenhof can be found on european-traveler.com.

Getting there. There is no direct public transportation from Amsterdam to Keukenhof; shuttle buses run from Schiphol, Haarlem, and Leiden. Combination tickets for the bus and the garden are available on keukenhoff.nl. On peak days, such as Easter and weekends, get there very early to avoid long queues. Other public transport options can be found on tulipsinholland.com. Driving is convenient, but parking can also get very competitive during peak times, so get there early. A taxi will set you back about €100 (one-way) for up to four people. It wouldn’t be Holland if the most convenient and affordable option wasn’t to bike. It will take about 2 hours each way from Amsterdam, so consider taking your bike on the train and biking from Leiden or Haarlem. Parking your fiets at Keukenhof is free.

Beating the crowds. Skip-the-line tickets might be a good idea during peak times. They are available from websites such as Get Your Guide.

The final bloom: Bloemencorso (Flower Parade). The annual parade makes its flower-strewn way from Sassenheim to Haarlem twice: in an illuminated evening parade at 9:15 p.m. on Friday, April 20 in Noordwijkerhout and a day-long parade on Saturday, April 21 as the floats travel from Noordwijk and arrive in Haarlem at about 9:30 p.m. On Sunday, April 22, floats will be on view at the Gedempte Oude Gracht in Haarlem. Tickets for grandstand seats and more information is available on the parade website.

Whichever way suits you and your family or visitors, just get to these world-class gardens. And don’t forget your camera!

Three Ways to Expand Your Literary Horizons


by Jennifer Van Lent

As the tulips and daffodils start to bloom, my thoughts turn to one of my favorite ways to spend a lazy, sunny afternoon: lounging in my garden with a good book. For those of you who would like to expand your reading list, participate in lively literary discussions or find a place to leisurely browse for a new read, here are three ways to expand your literary horizons:

Join one of the AWCA book groups (or start a new one): Our own club has three amazing groups for passionate book lovers. Groups meet monthly in both Amsterdam and Haarlem. 

As a member of the Haarlem Club, I am excited about reading our March selection: “The Heart’s Invisible Furies” by John Boyne. In January, we had an interactive Skype discussion with author and Congressional candidate Nadia Hashimi about her book, “The Pearl that Broke Its Shell.” The Haarlem group meets in the evening on the last Tuesday of each month. 

Amsterdam has two book groups: the afternoon group meets the second Thursday and the evening group meets the last Monday of each month. Both these groups are well-attended, and the afternoon group is so large that they had to start a waiting list. The time is ripe if you feel called to start another AWCA book group in Amsterdam! (Any of the book group leaders would be happy to mentor; see the links above to the individual book groups for contact information.)

Meet an Author at the American Book CenterAlthough Amazon and bol.com are great, inexpensive places to order hard-to-find books, I am old-fashioned and love to browse through bookstores. A longtime Amsterdam favorite is the American Book Center (a.k.a. ABC), which regularly hosts "meet the author" sessions (in English). On March 17, you can take a behind-the-scenes tour of Amsterdam restaurants and join an interactive discussion (with tasty recipe samples!) hosted by culinary journalist Laura Graves presenting her new "Amsterdam Cookbook." And when shopping at ABC don't forget to show your AWCA membership card to receive your 10 percent discount! 

Become a JAI Member: The John Adams Institute (JAI) provides an independent podium for American culture in the Netherlands. For three decades, JAI has brought the best and the brightest of American thinking from the fields of literature, politics, history, technology and the arts. Recent speakers have included Jennifer Egan discussing her book “Manhattan Beach” and Jonathan Taplin speaking about his book “Move Fast and Break Things.” The JAI Book Club meets once a month. For details, many of our club members are JAI members, and you can also ask AWCA member and JAI Director Tracy Metz for more information.  

So, if you are starting to plan your summer reading list or would like to share your literary thoughts with like-minded book lovers, March is full of great opportunities to start your literary journey! 

Time Travel? No, Just a Book Club in France.

Photo: Les Anderson on Unsplash

by Allison Ochs, M.S.W
Edit Change Management


As I sat at the Jardin Publique in Bordeaux, I overheard a mom talking about a book club. A month later another mom at a ballet class spoke about the same book club. My French was getting better, and I decided what better way to improve my French than to join a book club? I did what any American would do, "Hi, I just heard you talking. I am Carli's mom, and I am trying to improve my French. Would you have room for one more at your book club?"

The look on their faces was of utter shock. "This is an exclusive group. I am not sure we could accept you. I will ask." Gwendoline didn't get back to me. I didn't give up. "What about that book club? What book are you reading?"

A few weeks later I heard I could come if I promised not to take the discussion outside of the group. They decided having an American perspective could bring an exciting twist to their club.Their focus was classic French literature... Balzac, Camus, Gide, Victor Hugo and much more. I had four weeks to prepare for my evening and inhale one of these classics. In French of course.

I was nervous on that first night. I arrived and was told not to ring the bell but rather to tap on a window. It opened, and I was told to climb in. Not waking the children was a priority, so in I climbed with the rest of the women. Once in the kitchen, the wine started flowing. Six women were putting the last touches on the dinner, always a four-course meal with a beautifully set table. We then sat, discussed and ate. Within about one hour the first personal links to the book came out; struggles, illness, affairs, missed chances. These ladies were not best friends, they were well educated and from wealthy backgrounds, and once a month they let their guard down in this group. Everything was shared. When the cigarettes came out of the Louis Vuitton bags, you knew it was going to get even more serious. I felt like I had been transported back to an era long gone.

At first, I worried I was spying on the French bourgeoisie as if I were an intruder, but then I realized they had included me, they wanted me there, they trusted me. I won't share their stories, but I will say I was educated on just how different and yet beautiful cultures can be. It was one of my great successes in France. Thank you, ladies, I will never forget you, your lovely homes and lavish dinners and your sometimes scandalous stories.