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Going Dutch – Life as a London escapee

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View from my writing desk

Hello, whoever’s reading! I haven’t written in this blog for a while, in part because of time constraints, but also because when your life is changing very rapidly it can be hard to know how to frame it. Do you go in with the ‘adjusting to expat life after eight years in London’ angle, or the ‘I escaped UK political lunacy’ angle? More mundanely, do you discuss your transition from borderline feral inhabitant of a London flatshare, to somebody who has at least a vague idea what to do with a bag of rice?

That said, I’ve reached a checkpoint of sorts, in that I’ve finally finished most of the life admin associated with moving to a new country, and we’ve just about settled into our new flat. If I’d had a sneak preview of that sentence eight months ago, I think it would have alleviated most of my travelling-related anxiety. (Well, maybe not the bit about life admin, which, now as then, makes me want to burn all my paperwork and dance round it in some kind of shamanic purging ceremony.)

2017 so far has lobbed a lot of firsts in my direction. Aside from the two big ones (first time I’ve lived outside the UK, first time I’ve lived with a boyfriend), it has entailed an almost complete flip in lifestyle. This has been absurdly great in some respects, and difficult in others. Up until recently, we were living in a small studio apartment with no WiFi, and barely a cupboard’s worth of possessions between us. But we’ve had novels to read, films to watch, a repertoire of in-jokes to be expanded and a whole new country to be explored.

My decision to leave London came about because I was completely burnt out. I was tired of the noise and the pollution and the prices and the perpetual hangovers and the hour-long treks to meet a friend and the lacklustre Tinder dates and the Victoria line-Northern line interchange at Kings Cross. I was also tired of Brexit and the housing crisis and the neoliberal establishment and the rising inequality and the way the Tories make life harder for people at every juncture, before passing the blame for our structural failures onto whoever snaps.

So yeah, the Netherlands. It’s not perfect, but it does make actually caring about its residents seem like basic common sense. One of the first things I noticed here, aside from the fact they’re all nine foot tall, was the almost complete lack of rough sleepers. There’s also a different attitude to crime and punishment. My boyfriend once saw a police officer reprimanding someone by making him do push-ups in the street.

I probably sound a bit melodramatic, casting myself as some kind of political escapee – whatever you think of the Tories’ manifesto, the UK is hardly Syria and Theresa May has not yet started burning Corbynites at the stake. That said, London’s not a nice place to be at the moment if you’re left of centre. You either need a high tolerance for bullshit (along with a zen-like tolerance for fungal flatshares) or some kind of vision for how to fight.

For me personally, leaving seemed the easiest option. I suppose it’s a cliché trajectory, living in a busy city throughout your 20s before seeking simpler pleasures elsewhere (just ask notable cheesemaker Alex James!) but in my case it has as much to do with these crazy times as it does my stage of life.

The Netherlands still feels new and alien to me, and I suspect it will be a while before I integrate. In terms of the language, I can get the gist in writing, but not so much in speech, and I still find some of the vocabulary (‘slagroom’, ‘toegang’) deeply hilarious. Then there’s the social side, which is going to take time to build up – I have to remind myself that patience, and perhaps an appetite for pub quizzes, is key.

Curiosity compels me to keep going though – as right now I have many questions. I have no idea, for instance, how to square their seemingly unruffled nature with the existence of Geert Wilders, or to work out how they can have such great taste in architecture yet such terrible taste in duvet covers. (Go to a Dutch bed shop. You will see.)

Whatever the challenges, it’s exciting. Back in London, I was doing my very best to fend against stagnation, but ultimately I’d reached the end of my rope there. To extend that horrible metaphor, it’s nice to grab a new rope and start to swing.

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Abi Millar

Freelance writer and expat

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