I started this blog, Double Dutch plus Three, a while ago to describe my experiences as a Dutch woman building up a life on an island in Maine.
A month ago, I took my husband and my plus Three for a vacation to the Netherlands. As a person living far away from her family, I realized that much of this vacation would be spend as ‘family visits’. And not having spent with them for a while, I was looking forward to that prospect.
The plan was to start in the south, where my family-in-law resides. I booked a nice ‘chalet’ (here known as a ‘single wide’) on a vacation park close to the family.
Upon arrival in the Netherlands (way later than planned due to some serious delay), I was unsure how I felt.
Happy to be back? Too tired to enjoy it?
We picked up the rental car and I drove off, almost driving the stick shift as if I hadn’t done differently. The rain swept down, the roads were full, drivers were aggressive. We ended up in a traffic jam, creeping forth on a 4 lane highway with industry next to it. Dark clouds, ugly buildings, cars shifting lanes as if that would help them go faster (it didn’t).
We went from traffic jam to traffic jam, me getting more and more frustrated with how tired I felt, how difficult it was to drive this stick shift through creeping traffic, how full the roads were, how bad the weather, how rude the drivers.
We made it though, exhausted and with a sick child we arrived for a very late dinner at my in-laws and later at our ‘chalet’. I still was unsure how I felt, besides tired.
During the week we visited picturesque little villages with brick houses and coble stone streets, little green shutters and gorgeous flowers in tiny front gardens. I was reminded of the traffic rules, the abundance of small roundabouts, the herds of cyclist who take up half the road and the parking lots where it was almost impossible to park due to the very limited size.
This part of the Netherlands is beautiful, and there is still space. You can look out very far: it reminded me of the Dutch Master Landscape artists from the 17th century: big clouds in the sky with some blue in between, emphasizing the flatness of the Dutch landscape.
My kids were noticing how small everything was, from the coffee cups to the cars, from the streets to the ice-cream cones. They also mentioned that the Dutch were rude, which surprised me. Are they rude or is this just a way of talking that easily could be perceived as rude, but really isn’t?
As my teenage son put it: “Everything in the Netherlands is small, except for the people and their attitudes.”
After a week we left our small chalet and drove to the opposite side of the country. I thought I had planned it carefully: leaving after lunch to make the most out of the time with the in-laws and avoiding the rush hour that I figured to start around 4ish or so.
Unfortunately, the Netherlands have become so full, especially around the ‘waist’ (the entire center of the country) that in crossing it, we became stuck in traffic again. And again. Of course it also started to rain again.
During a much needed coffee break (those cups are so small: I need frequent refills!) I blurted out to my husband: “I can drive from Bar Harbor to Boston and back in one day without feeling tired at all. But driving here leave me completely deflated and exhausted.”
It dawned on me that I didn’t feel at home in this country anymore. Too many people, too many cars. Just not enough space for me and my plus Three.
We made it and once past the ‘waistline’ of the Netherlands, the landscape opened up again and is beautiful. We had an excellent time with my parents and the kids enjoyed going out on their bikes on the narrow bicycle lanes past pastures with grazing cows. This is the Netherlands I remember and I love.
We had a good time. It was great to eat those typical Dutch treats again (frikandel speciaal, poffertjes, kroket, gevulde koek), to spend time with family and friends.
However, during the three weeks in the Netherlands I realized I didn’t feel ‘Dutch’. In fact, I missed Maine more than ever and felt truly a bit of a stranger in my own country. The odd one out.
My ‘being Dutch bubble’ did burst a little bit, I think. Don’t get me wrong: I am proud of my heritage and love my family, but I think my life should be here, where I have space to breath, on an island in Maine.