I moved the Amsterdam in the summer of 1996. Although I had traveled much as a child (my father worked for the airlines), I had only lived in the US. I saw my move as my next adventure—after all, what did I have to lose? I was young, educated, had a good relationship, and I was moving to Amsterdam!
I was determined to build up my own career and not just move to another country for my boyfriend. Being I’m a social worker, I knew I would need to learn the language and the culture if I wanted to really embrace the country. Which I did with zealousness. I learned the language within a year and a half, got a job working this refugees and spoke Dutch without a big American accent (people often mistook me for being from Suriname).
In the beginning, it surprised (and annoyed) me how much the Dutch language was spotted with usage of French, English and German—‘ never, nooit, jamais’ or ‘fohn’ when referring to a hairdryer. I thought the Dutch should be proud of their own language and make more effort to use the exisiting Dutch, just as the Belgiums. This is the reason why the national dictation program (televised once a year on television) is often times won by a Belg: they are language purists, using Flemish as much as possible.
Of course I know that it is part of the Dutch culture as traders throughout the world to incorporate other languages into their own…but still, it was hard enough learning Dutch without having to know when a hairdryer is a ‘fohn’ (German) instead of a ‘haardroger’ (Dutch).
As time went on, I adjusted to the Dutch way of life—riding a boxbike full of children, eating bread for lunch (every day!) and unwrapping gifts carefully instead of tearing the paper off. I was happy in Amsterdam, found it endearing that you could theoretically do everything with the bike, and live in a capital of a country but still randomly run into people you know when you happen to be in the city (proof that Amsterdam is quite small).
As the years went by, the kids came and my parents (still living in the US) got older. The plea for us to move back came more often and stronger. I suddenly found myself thinking: I don’t think I could get used to living in the States again. With all the violence, poor health coverage and social safety-net, not to mention the struggling middle class and high tuition rates. Why would I chose for that? I felt safe in Amsterdam, knew that my family had good health coverage and my kids would be able to enjoy a great education.
I become disillusioned by the US when my mother had to had a open heart surgery. Although she had insurance, her part of payment was $10,000. She was required to take vacation days during her recovery. Seeing the movie Sicko just emphasized this feeling that I don’t want to live in a country who doesn’t think that they need to take care of the sick and the elderly.
Studying social work in Philadelphia in the 90’s made me painfully aware of the safety issues people were dealing with. Growing up in L.A. (a nice middle class suburb I must add) meant getting around with a car. I was 13 years old when I first rode in a bus! I wasn’t exposed to the ‘rest’ of the world, because I was always safe and sound in my car. And southern Cal was well kept. The people, the buildings, the roads. In Philadelphia, I saw the other side of things. There were abandoned buildings in the middle of the city. Female students couldn’t walk around campus at night without the fear of being raped. The local gas station attendant sat in a bulletproof cabin for his own safety.
This is not how I wanted to live. In fear. I want to be able to celebrate Halloween without worrying if there are razorblades in the treats. I want to be able to bike home from a night out without worrying about being attacked. I want to know that if I fall ill, my insurance will cover to bill (and I won’t have to worry if I will qualify for insurance the next year or not). I want to know that my kids will be receiving a good education, regardless of which part of the city they live in. I want to have 4 weeks of vacation instead of 2.
So, when I think about moving back to the US, I think of these things. I would be giving up a quality of life that I think everyone deserves. Safety. Security. I do miss some things of the US, aside from my family. I miss the open and friendly people, always ready for some small talk with a smile. I miss the junk food (almond M&Ms, Ding Dongs, Mother’s Circus Animal cookies, Red Vines, Reese Peanut Butter Cups, to mention a couple).