I gots it somethin’ terrible.
As much as I hate to admit it and just want to jump back into life in The Netherlands, my body is reminding me that I did just travel 4,000 miles and it doesn’t like it. It’s times like these that I consider traveling by boat or container ship next time I want to visit the states, an experience Seth Stephenson detailed in his awesome travel book “Grounded.” He talks about the impersonal nature of air travel and its many side effects. Not only does your body reject the recycled air, the pressure change (hello, swollen ankles!), and the abrupt time difference, but you also miss the many cultures and people that could enrich your life by flying over them at 35,000 feet. Travel should be more about the journey than the destination. Sure, air travel has made the world smaller and it’s comforting to know I can visit mom whenever I want, but at what cost?
I think this exhaustion is making me a little too philosophical. I want to sleep, but I know I need to power through to the evening and save those z’s for after 9.
Anyone have any good jetlag remedies?
I’ve been telling people that I’m going “home” on Tuesday, back to The Netherlands, but it’s still hard to stammer out those words. I’m not sure what my home is at the moment. America feels a bit foreign and I still feel like an outsider in The Netherlands. I have a lot of work to tend to when I get back, so that will give me something to throw my mind into rather than sulk about why the world has to be so big.
Lots of writing to come!
Or at least my body is.
In The Netherlands dining out isn’t as common as it is in America. Restaurant meals seem exorbitantly expensive and Thomas and I have only gone to a restaurant once since I arrived in July. Snackbars, on the other hand, are fairly cheap and about the only dining out I see Nederlanders doing on the regular. Cooking at home and packing your lunch are standard.
In America it seems to be the opposite. Cooking at home has become a lost art and something people do for nostalgia’s sake or to save money. Dining out seems to be something you should always want to do and cooking at home something you do when you can’t go out. For the past few years, restaurants were my regular source of meals and the leftovers became my lunches or dinners for the following night. My body was used to the high fat and sodium content of take-out.
But that changed when I arrived in The Netherlands and started cooking all of our meals. Planning health meals from market fruits and vegetables, beans and grains. Everything was vegan and fairly balanced. Always fresh.
So far on this trip back to America I’ve done a tremendous amount of typical American eating. I’ve hit a few fast food lines and frozen food sections for nostalgia’s sake and my body is completely rejecting it. Instead of going out and visiting friends tonight I’m laying on my mom’s couch sipping water and slowly eating a bowl of plain jasmine rice.
I love you, America, but my body can’t wait to be back to its new life in The Netherlands.
When I first learned the Dutch word alsjeblieft I understood it’s purpose as “please,” but didn’t quite get the “here you go” part. My partner Thomas swore that we do that in America - that when handing something over to someone we say “here ya go,” or something to that effect. He said that not doing so would seem strange. I couldn’t really remember a time that I could use to demonstrate his incorrectness, so I dropped it. I still wondered.
This morning I watched my mother pay for some bagels (ones which I’ve been dreaming about since I left for The Netherlands) and she handed the money over without saying anything. The cashier handed my mother change without saying anything. But thanks to my time in The Netherlands, I now found this interaction to be strange and lacking in warmth. I needed a few alsjebliefts in there for it to seem complete.
Expats always talk about the little things they notice when they go home after living in a new country - a sort of “you might be an expat if” list. I didn’t think I’d notice anything after being gone for only three months, but today I noticed a few things:
1. I was surprised to see green when I pulled money from the ATM. Not the rainbow-colored euros I’m used to, though I’m so thankful to not be taking the currency exchange hit.
2. It feels weird saying “thank-you” in customer service situations. I ordered a coffee and when the barista asked for whipped cream I said “nee” and blushed a bit.
3. I have to get used to talking more. In the Netherlands I probably come across as the quiet, shy type since I don’t know the language and tend to only vocalize the necessary niceties. But in the U.S. I’m usually the chatty, cheerful customer. I need to find that place again.
Countries, like people, are incredibly complex and surprising. You can read about them from different perspectives, try and understand them through the lens of history, or from the stereotypes of someone on a train that went their once, but nothing compares to digesting it yourself through everyday, commonplace acts.
My home country of America is a lesson in contradiction, though I don’t think this is a surprise to anyone living on Earth. We are generally welcoming people, kind and gracious to our visitors when in personal settings, and on the grand scale we’re supposed to be welcoming to our immigrants. However, as America grows and ages and solidifies its own identity, it seems to become less a country of immigrants and more a country of Americans. We’re less open to immigrants and the American people, not all but many, exhibit that twinge of xenophobia now and then that makes you think a person is trying to reconcile his personal belief with the public values Americans are supposed to have.
My stereotype of the Netherlands when I was packing to leave was of an incredibly tolerant and open community. The legalization of prostitution and marijuana was to me, an American, incredibly bold and indicative of the country’s support of all lifestyles and people. The fact that you could apply for a residency permit without being married to your partner or that you could marry a same sex partner screamed tolerance. But, as I’ve come to learn in recent months, there are those same pockets of xenophobia and intolerance seething in The Netherlands as in the U.S. Just because it’s a tiny country with lax drug laws doesn’t mean it’s incapable of showing its ugly side.
The Netherlands is home to one of the most vitriolic politicians I’ve come to know in recent years. Geert Wilders is the face of the anti-Muslim movement in The Netherlands. He’s head of the conservative Freedom Party (See, conservatives do the same thing here. Name your party the “Freedom Party” and everyone that disagrees with you is against freedom. Like the pro-lifers. Always clever.) and has been outspoken about his belief that Islam is dangerous, fascist, etc. I’ve even heard some of this anti-Muslim rhetoric from people my age. It’s not the ignorant, elderly, country folk that degrade the Quran and Muslims that I worry about - those folks are everywhere and I tend to apply the old dog/new tricks excuse to them. But it’s the people of my generation that I expect to be more tolerant and welcoming to all people no matter their religion, sexuality, race, etc.
I’m realizing my naivety more than ever this morning. People, like countries, are capable of despicable bigotry no matter their age.
Thanks to Slate.com for making me think about this.
**Programming note! I’m leaving for a trip to America tomorrow for a few weeks. The last few weeks I spent in America were full of tears and anxiety and panic and I don’t think I ended on the note I wanted to. This trip is a vacation in its truest sense and I’m looking forward to that closure I didn’t have in July. I’ll be updating from America, but less frequently since I’ll be on the hunt for the Latin cooking ingredients that seem to be nonexistent here in the Netherlands.