September 26, 2008

Five month review: Pros and Cons of expat life in Amsterdam (it's mostly pros)

Before I start, let me acknowledge - five months isn't a very long time to live somewhere!

What makes expat life so easy in Amsterdam?

Last night, my friend Brooke and I walked from my place to the Roti Room (Eerste Oosterparkstraat) for dinner. It was perfect - warm, spicy Indian food served by a really friendly staff who insisted we not rush, that we should ask for more if we were hungry, and instructed us about which sauces to use for which dishes. Another friend happened to be in the neighborhood and stopped by to join us while we finished up the meal. Amsterdam is like this for me - people call me when they're around. I pull out my phone when I'm riding past someone's house that I know, or if I'm in a friend's neighborhood. I like that so much, and that kind of simple stopping-by-to-say-hi thing almost never happened in New York or Philadelphia.

When Brooke and I got back to my place, I had a skype video call with Kevin, a very good friend who lives in Tennessee. Skype is an expat's best friend. Not only can I talk to people without spending any money, but we can see each other, and it makes the distance seem not so great. I carried my computer around my apartment and showed Kevin where I live - he could even watch me make a cup of tea while we chatted. Later on, I caught up with my friend/former roommate who has returned to Italy, also over skype. Sometimes I really miss not having her around so that we can share every single detail of our lives with each other (we're girls, it's what we do), but as I put away my laundry last night I got to hear her explaining what she ate for dinner in Rome and what her new bike looks like, and it was almost like having here there with me. Having good friends all over the world doesn't seem that scary anymore - though of course it's always better when they're actually there, in person.

And of course, there's just my daily routine. Standing out on my balcony this morning, drinking coffee, watching the cyclists and trams go by as I listened to a Guardian podcast. I left my house after 10am and started my picture-perfect commute to work, at times noticing that I had the entire street to myself - no cars, no other cyclists. A commute with no traffic, no stress, no running to catch the train - I can't emphasize enough how much I love that. My headphones were on, the sky was blue, the sun was shining, and there's that wonderful distinct feeling of crisp autumn air. The leaves are starting to change colors, and the temperature is just cool enough for a jacket and scarf, but I haven't had to put on gloves yet (I'm sure that's coming soon).

Even though hearing Kevin talk about going climbing on real mountains made me want to be in the US, and picturing Christine eating that amazing ice cream from San Crispino made me want to be in Italy, every day that I wake up in Amsterdam I am reminded that the very simple, natural, obvious things here make the lack of mountains and good ice cream seem like a small price to pay. The one thing I'm trying to convey, and I hope it's working and I'm not being too dramatic, is that there's nothing super-amazing-unbelievable-oh-my-god-perfect about Amsterdam. It's just consistently good. Hanging out with friends, finding affordable Indian food, cycling, staying in touch with friends from home, and not feeling oppressed or stressed out from the people, atmosphere, traffic, or surroundings - this is what I like about my life here, this is why it's easy.

What are the difficulties of being an expat?

I have to attend the wedding of one of my best friends on 2 May in Philadelphia, and three weeks later my brother is getting married on the 23rd of May in California. I can't miss either of these weddings, but how on earth am I going to come up with the money for two trips to the US in May? The Philadelphia wedding was already going to be a bit of a financial squeeze, but flying to California from Amsterdam in late May? That's just going to be insane. I still have to pay off my US student loan and credit card, but all my money is in Euros now (ok, that part is great) which means monthly bank transfers, which means extra charges (only €10, but still). I still haven't quite gotten used to the European standard of getting paid once a month (in the US, every two weeks is normal), so I find that the last 4-5 days of each pay cycle I'm practically wiped out. And of course even though I live in the Netherlands and would quite happily stay indefinitely, I can't vote here, so I still feel more invested in US politics than Dutch politics. I don't like that. On one hand, what happens in the US (politically) does affect the entire world and I think it's important for everyone to pay attention, the same way we should also pay attention to what happens in Russia, Europe, Africa, etc. But my life is here now, and if Dutch laws and policies change, my daily life could be more directly affected than if the US passes a new law. It is unnerving that I have no say in the country where I live. Let's face it, I will always have to keep part of my life in the US (ie: an address, bank account, voter registration, etc) and part of my life here. For the most part that's ok, but it can become annoying at times.

Anyway, the pro/con list is done for now. Another really beautiful weekend has arrived, and I can't wait for it to get started. The first US presidential debate is on tonight, but it will be shown at 2am here, so I'll most likely catch it over the weekend. My plans consist of climbing, helping friends move, doing a bit of shopping, a party on Saturday night, and a dinner on Sunday night. I'm also going to try to get to the beach to watch the sun set on Saturday evening before the party. These sunsets are just incredible, and it's a short train ride to the sea, and come December I'll be wishing I took advantage of the long days while they were still here.


Caged Fury said...

Great post Tami.

I'm not you, of course, but I hope for many of the very same things from my imminent stay in Amsterdam.

Thanks for sharing your experiences, as it gives me encouragement to keep plowing through the paperwork, job hunt, saying goodbye to family and friends.

Ciao for now.


Another American Expat said...

Best of luck to you, Danny! And thanks for reading. :)

Nomadic Matt said...

totally right about skype! It is an expat's best friend in the world! MSN messenger is good too but skype is beautiful....

Eve said...

If banks keep failing here we might all need an account in Euros...

A Touch of Dutch said...

Another good one! And true 100% about Skype :-)