Prompted by something that I recently read, I thought about my complete reluctance to learn the language of the country where I currently live, which is The Netherlands. Some would say – to my shame I have been living here for 11 years and I know only a small amount more of the Dutch language than when I arrived. Fortunately (for me) living in Amsterdam which is truly a multi-cultural city, you can use English to achieve pretty much everything.
However, I have realised something very important this week. By being a foreigner and not speaking the language you are essentially free. Let me explain. When you understand the language where you live, you are constantly immersed in ‘noise’. You listen (unintentionally) to conversations all around you, being in the workplace, on the street, out to dinner, shopping – wherever. You tend to flick through the local newspapers that are delivered, unrequested, through your mailbox. You ‘listen’ to radio and you will sometimes be drawn into something on TV. You are constantly immersed in others ‘noise’, where there is no escape. This impacts everyone and not necessarily in the right way. I listen to the comments and observations our friends who are Dutch. A reasonable amount of their thoughts are devoted to ‘what is wrong’ or ‘what is going wrong’ around them and I have realised that in many ways, they have little choice.
I am free of all of this. I don’t read the local newspapers, I don’t watch TV at all, I have absolutely zero interest in politics and ‘status’ is irrelevant. I have no interest whatsoever about a Dutch persons ‘perceived’ status in the Dutch scheme of things and they certainly have no interest in mine, because to them I am irrelevant. I cannot help them increase their ‘status’ in any way and correspondingly they cannot help me. This is important because most societies people’s relevant status is important to themselves and those around them. People inadvertently show reverence to those they perceive are above them and indifference to those they think are below them. A lot of unconscious time is given to reference checking where you are within your culture, which is always reinforced in so many subtle ways via the media. You can see this with the amount of air time and hype given to Dutch ‘celebrities’ who are mostly a media creation because they have little real talent and are only relevant to the domestic Dutch. However, if you are not part of the cultural it is irrelevant. Another important benefit of this is that it allows you to not be too concerned about being seen to do “the right thing”, whatever that may be, because you are largely forgiven everything because you are the “foreigner who doesn’t understand”.
So last Friday evening, I was sitting in bed on the 7th floor of our building, looking out over the lights of Amsterdam, realising that I am completely free from all of this. I am allowed to live my life in the way that I want to, I don’t have to “care” about the constant nuanced messages of Dutch society and I personally feel both privileged and lucky, because to be free of the external ‘noise’ in your mind is a gift that most do not have the luxury of experiencing.
Just back from my weekend with Zoe in Paris. A really great experience. Walked and walked and walked covering a lot of territory. For the first time in my life I went thru the 3.5 hour experience of queuing to get to the top of the Eiffel Tower, but the joy that it bought to Zoe overcame the frustration of the experience. I did learn one thing that I thought was pretty cool. The engineered design of the tower means that the actual overall weight of the tower has a lesser weight than the equivalent volume of air. If you could take a cylinder with the dimensions of 88 mts diameter and 324 mtrs high, the air inside would weigh 10,265 tonnes versus 10,100 tonnes of the Eiffel Tower.
So over the weekend we covered Eiffel Tower, Place Concorde, Champs Elysee, Montmarte, Sacre Coeur, Salvador Dali Musuem, Musee Orsay, Jardin des Tuileries, Trocadero, St Michel and L’église de la Madeleine. This also included Sunday brunch with my (almost) life long friends John & Annie with their grand daughter. Some ground was covered!
The main thing was that Zoe and I had a ball. Took photos, explored clothing shops (Zoe) as well a fantastic chocolate shops and cheese shops.
I did feel sorry for her though. On Friday night she ended up sleeping in the bath with the door closed because my snoring was driving her insane 🙂 Solved the problem for Saturday by buying her ear plugs.
Off to London tomorrow for the weekend with my 9 year old daughter. This is the first time that just the 2 of us have been away together. I find it very exciting and I am really looking forward to it. I know that it will be a great opportunity to have conversations that we normally never do and to create a whole new layer upon the foundation of our relationship. She is also really excited which makes it so special. Its one of these things that she will remember for the rest of her life. This is the first time that she has ever been to the UK as well.
Once upon a time, a guy asked a girl, “Will you marry me?”
The girl said “NO!”
And the girl lived happily ever after and went shopping, dancing, had a clean house, never had to cook, never argued, traveled more , went to the ballet, never watched football, never wore stupid lacy lingerie that went up her ass, had high self-esteem, never cried or yelled and felt and looked fabulous in sweat pants.
Thank you Lisa for this illuminating fairytale 🙂
It has occurred to me with absolute clarity that above everything else, I want to be free in my head. I want to be free to pursue the things that really do interest me, to be free to travel where I want to, when I want to and to engage with people who interest me for as long as that may take.
The big question is of course – how do I do this?
Any insights – always appreciated 🙂
Perhaps some 20 years ago I decided that the stress associated with Xmas, I needed to avoid. The reason for me was simple, I no longer felt that it was a season of joy and peace, more a season of increased frustration and increasing levels insanity. I think the moment that this really began to crystallise was when I worked with someone who spent so much on her credit card for Xmas presents, that it took the following 12 months to pay the debt off, only to start all over again – what for? When you take all of this and reflect that in fact, the christian population is celebrating an event that didn’t actually occur on December 25, but on January 7, I reached a personal conclusion that I was wasting my time. This is a personal stance only and for those who choose to go the ‘whole hog’ – respect!
So for any of you that truly want a completely stress free Xmas, here are my 6 tried and trusted steps:
1. Don’t buy and/or send Xmas cards.
2. Purchase your gifts for your real loved ones via the internet and have them delivered. This avoids going anywhere near a shop.
3. Get the kids to put up the Xmas tree on Dec 24.
4. Keep television turned off throughout the entire period.
5. Avoid going to anyones place on Xmas Day, who you honestly don’t want to spend the day with which includes obligatory lunch/dinners with families that result in frustration and arguments.
6. Have the same children take down the Xmas tree by Dec 31.