Living the expat life has opened up a myriad of possibilities in my mind. Whereas ten years ago I would only dream of buying a forever family home in the Netherlands, I now imagine myself living almost anywhere in the world. Considering I moved back to the Netherlands only a year and a half ago, these dreams of expat living are not always welcome (nor welcomed).
Certainly not by my almost 14yo son who is having a blast, living in the Netherlands, where he can cycle to school and most of his mates in less than ten minutes and has all the freedom and independence he craved for while living in Switzerland. The 12yo is also beginning to see the benefits of her Dutch life, being able to choose a secondary school all by herself and having the luxury of also making friends outside of school.
Even Mr. S and myself, though reluctantly at first, are starting to find our feet. It is really nice to have our own home again after years and years of living in rental accommodation. Having family and old friends close by is lovely and we are both becoming more and more involved in local sports clubs, which is something we definitely missed living abroad.
The minute though I set foot outside the Netherlands, I instantly want to be an expat again. So when I visited my dear friend P. in England a few weeks ago, I immediately starting plotting to get myself over the pond for a spot of expat living again. The compartment in my brain (and soul) that is labelled ‘How to behave in the UK’ opened up and out it all came – down to every scone eating, tea drinking, pretty dress loving bit of it. I always find it so tricky to leave.
As coincidence would have it off I went to Rome only a week or so after visiting England. Although I found living in Italy tough at the time (struggling to speak Italian, finding it difficult to make some local friends), here too I realised there is a secret Italian lurking somewhere inside me. One that relishes in driving too fast all the while honking the horn and – dare I say it – swearing. I also love (love!) sipping cappuccino’s in fluorescent, mirror adorned little bars, whilst eating sweat pastries that I would loath anywhere else in the world. I really don’t have a sweet tooth. ,
Mr S. , showing off his fluent Italian, did not stop chatting with everyone he met. His inner Italian came out when he insisted- like a true Italian – to wear jeans and a long sleeve shirt on a sweltering hot day. And point blank refused to drink cappuccino after 11.00 in the morning. He even took the food ordering for the whole table, acting like a true capo della famiglia. Adorable.
Together we dreamed about living in Rome (we would have a ball) all the while maintaining that we will retire to Cornwall, finding ourselves a cute little cottage to enjoy the (our?) sunset. It isn’t until I am home a good few days that I realise that although I have loved the expat life (and probably always will) it is the day to day talking to my neighbours, tending my own garden, meeting friends at the local supermarket, reading the news paper, being opinionated about local affairs and having a bit of time to build relationships is what I missed living abroad.
In my expat life friends would leave with sometimes only a few week’s notice, I couldn’t speak to my neighbours because I didn’t speak their language well enough, I couldn’t read the local newspaper, nor listen to the local radio. And although I tended some lovely gardens they were never mine to play around with. I bought shiploads of Ikea furniture in three different countries, but rarely something I really liked and mostly items that only looked sort of right in one house but never in the next.
So may be, just may be, I should stay put for the next couple of years. Find out if I am capable of growing some roots again, watch my teenagers grow up and make their way in life, tend to my garden, paint some furniture, make some new friends and keep them close. And may be, just may be I will find that cottage in Cornwall some day.