Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Living in NL


If there is one thing that's bound to attract a Dutchwoman, it's that word. Sale. There are several versions of the Sale over here. There are the mid-season sale, the after-season sale, the special sale night, and special customer's sale night, and then there are those signs that say: Uitverkoop (everything has to go) and Faillisements uitverkoop (bankruptcy sale). These last two are guaranteed to draw hordes of women and sometimes even men. During the regular season when none of the above sales apply, an establishment with a 20% sign on the door is bound to attract customers by the droves.

So that's where I went this evening. It seemed like the perfect event to go and celebrate my crossing the 50,000 word line for nanowrimo.

Here in Bodegraven, we have this one small superstore which sells everything from bike tires to garden tools, baby clothes, underwear, bijoux, shampoo, soap and just about anything you can think to use in and around the house.

The sale started at 6.30 in the evening and at seven there was a really long line waiting for their turn at the cashier's table. There were so many people in that store, and the Bodegraven version of this superstore is not that big at all,it was pretty difficult to figure out where things like photo albums were. And yes, I did buy one photo album, although I was thinking of buying more. The reason behind this was they were all gone...well, the ones I wanted were all gone, except the one.

Outside, there was a stall with all sorts of Christmas decorations for sale. Really nice, and oh so tempting...but I kept thinking of that Christmas wreath that I still have stocked away in my closet somewhere and all the Christmas balls we've managed to collect thru the seven years of our marriage and I said no to all the lovely, shiny, tinselly things.

When I finally unloaded my loot at home, I was quite surprised to discover that I hadn't bought much more than I'd intended to buy anyway. Which probably says a great deal about how I've changed in terms of no longer giving in to impulse buying.

Sometime ago, I reflected on impulse buying and what it is that makes people shopaholics. I certainly used to be one. When I first came to the Netherlands shopping seemed to be the one comforting thing I did. It somehow gave me a sense of being a part of something, as if by purchasing an object I gained affirmation of my presence in this society.

This longing for affirmation and connection is hard for people to comprehend who have never left their hometown or lived anywhere else but here. In many ways, there is a sense of dividedness that remains with many of us who have left home to build a new life here. We are exiles by choice, but still exiles. Because of the high cost of living and the exorbitant ticket rates, we still feel really blessed when we can go and visit our families at least once every other year. I don't know if a Dutchman will ever truly understand this feeling.

When someone asks me how long I've lived in the Netherlands, and I tell them I've been here for seven years, they always assume that by this time, all longing for home has ceased to be as fervent as it was in the first year I lived here. But the longing for home never lessens. We push it to the back of our minds, but it is always there, stalking our dreams and our days.

Emotion is a terrain that makes a lot of Dutch people uncomfortable, and while you get to know many of them, getting down to the real person takes so much time...there is this constant wall that hits you in the face, everytime you try to cross over into friendship. As if the naked truth of me is too much for them to take. So, I learned to shut up and not talk about what moves me because not everyone can take that...

But maybe it is a sort of defense mechanism. I've noticed that most dutch people seem to be really self-reliant. Where in the Philippines, we wouldn't hesitate to call on our friends and neighbors in our time of need, here that seems to be no-no.
I wonder whether opening doors is terrifying for them because it does mean letting go and allowing themselves to be vulnerable.

I have to think back to a conversation I had with one of my neighbors, wherein talking about God and the way she sees him. She said : "But I don't really see why I need him. Yes, I know he is there, but my life is going well and I have everything I need. Why do I need him?"

This to me sums up the general attitude of the middle class and well-to-do Dutch society. This is a generation that has never known want or need. They have grown up knowing and believing that they are self-sufficient. So, if they don't feel they need God, how much more do you think they'll feel that they need someone like me?

For my part, I am made constantly aware of my need for God and my need for community and fellowship and friendship. It's not easy building bridges, it's not easy breaking down walls, but no one ever grew a tree in one day either...


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