Friday, July 15, 2011

The Foreigner

Our niece, Kia, got on her plane back to the US. I can't possibly know what she will eventually decide she has taken from this trip, except that while she stated that in many ways Europe is better than the United States, she could never leave her friends and move here. I can understand that. My last move was, by my count, the 35th move in my life and it gets tiring leaving friends and family repeatedly. My adventure streak has compelled me to seek out new life many times, but now with a lovely wife and amazing daughter, I don't feel that same urge. I like living in Amsterdam.

Still, I will always be a buitenlander, a foreigner.

My wife and daughter, buitenlanders like me
I took Kia to the Schiphol airport and as I returned, I listened uncomprehendingly to the Dutch on the train's loudspeakers, I watched the canals glide by and as we pulled into Centraal Station, I left the train surrounded by a cacophony of American voices chattering about visiting one of the world's great cities, my home. I never felt more of a foreigner here than I did at that moment. My niece was returning to both her friends and mine and I was remaining in a tourist mecca. I felt supremely out of place.

I am fortunate to have a lovely family, new friends, and a good job, so this helps. The feelings I have are quite normal for expats. All of us go through difficult adjustment periods at times and I'm fortunately used to this feeling. Still, as I walked back to our new flat, I saw a policeman riding a scooter along a canal, a gun at his hip to protect against the virtually non-existent crime (compared to the US), but not wearing a helmet to protect against the very real possibility of an accident. He looks odd to me, but I am the buitenlander, not him.

Years from now, when we retire, we hope to have a place in the south of France, near the Mediterranean. Le├»la, despite being French, may find herself an ├ętranger in her own country, having lived so many years abroad. She's already finding herself, at times, speaking French with English grammar. Heck, I couldn't move back to the US without finding myself out of sorts. Despite my passport, I'm no longer quite American, but then, I don't know what to call myself other than "human". I don't mind as it's given me a lovely life, but sometimes I wonder what "home" means.


  1. Houses are made of bricks and stone, homes are made by love alone.

    Home is where the heart is.

    These are the best ones I could think of :)

    Amsterdam is made of Amsterdammers like me and foreigners like you which, to me, makes it the best place in the world and home

  2. Dientje: thank you. That was lovely :)

  3. We'll be there in a couple of weeks. We are getting rather excited at the prospect of living abroad. And it is a very real possibility that many of our friends and family will come visit us. So I'll likely have this exact experience :)

  4. I actually found it harder to come back than to live abroad. Seeing your own country with the eyes of a foreigner is a bit unsettling.

  5. Your daughter is beautiful :-) A very cute baby. As we say in France: you and your wife did a good job!

  6. I've lived in the USA for 4 years, and I'm back in the Netherlands for more than 10 years now.

    Sometimes, I still feel a foreigner here, and when I visit the US for a short trip, I quicker adapt there, then when returning from said trip.