That one special evening when my husband’s colleagues invited us for dinner in Eindhoven (The Netherlands) is still vivid in my mind. I was anxious; since this was the 1st time I was going to meet the group.
When I moved to the Netherlands ( from Shanghai) my dear husband had filled me with all the lovely things that happen here in the land of the tulips, the greenery all around, the nice helpful people (who speak Engels), and food, and how I would not miss bookstores and supermarkets and coffee shops anymore. True, all turned out to be true. Still there were times, especially the first few months living in such a quiet, bland place, when homesickness would rise in waves. I would worry about my mother, now half the globe away. I would look out my windows at the grey & black shades of the world, the soppy sky, the strange colours and textures of my new home, and I would long for the winter to get over.
I have learnt the best way to deal with how alien my new home felt was to indulge into it, enjoy its oddities. It’s not hunkering inside under a blanket with a cup of hot coffee and a good book, although sometimes that’s what you need. I tried but my moods didn’t warm up at meeting other parents at the school gate either. I’d rather just wait for the weekend grocery trip with family, and a takeaway dinner!
That pouring Friday evening, I and my son picked up my husband after work, and tried to navigate our way to the colleague’s house. Our host was this French couple with 2 kids, who also offered for us to bring our boy along. Well, we don’t have aayi’s there, and I hadn’t thought of fixing up a babysitter for my son yet. It turned out all invitees that evening were expats, one other couple (German man, Turkish wife), a Belgian man, an Austrian single girl, and us an Indian couple. They looked at me, and once we settled down with drinks with bits of cheese & olives, they had plenty of questions for me. I had questions for them, too, and the French lady smiled and brought tea for me (they were surprised I did not drink alcohol) and my husband did his best to introduce me, to each one. I was trying not to address her by name, because of the fear of pronouncing the tongue twisting long French name she had. There were jokes about workplace, and there were jokes about cultures. Slowly we warmed up to each other and their dog too who had refused to leave the big sofa seat, like an adamant kid he didn’t want to be polite to the guests. Our Host Francoise was a tall, humble man; while others were telling me that Netherlands is very flexible, and part time job is easy to find – he told me, “I also work part time – day time at Philips, night time at home.”
Our hostess had nice salad & food laid out for us, and homemade fruit chocolate tart fresh out of the oven, followed by more drinks and bitter coffee , the French coffee, how much ever I put milk or cream, the bitterness doesn’t go. And it amazes me how they can alternately drink their wine & coffee nonstop, beats me!
The most memorable part, although I feel guilty of doing this and enjoying it so much, was 8 people of different nationalities, sitting together on the Holland soil, enjoying this exotic expat location and its niceties and completely bitching about the Dutch!!
It’s a small thing, this evening and yet, as I know from my own experience, its small things like this that can help make a foreign place begin to feel a little more like a place where you might want to be.