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With my feet in two boats

Posted on Jun 9, 2019 by in People, Thoughts | 8 comments

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There is a Romanian expression: “Cu fundul în două luntri“, which means “sitting with your bum in two boats”, or in other words not being able to make up your mind about something. For the title of this article I decided to use “feet” instead of more interesting body parts though (also, because I remembered this saying wrongly, and only after researching it on the Internet I recalled the correct version). Imagine trying to maintain your balance while having each of your feet in a different boat — when the water is still, that might work, but when the waves come… well, good luck to you! This is how I feel at the moment about my life here, in the Netherlands: me, a Romanian who didn’t have a burning desire to live abroad, but ended up doing so nonetheless.

I think I am bipolar when it comes to my expat life. I love it one day and hate it the next. During the eight years I’ve been living away from my home country, I went through all sorts of phases of adaptation to the new life — as many expats (or immigrants, or whatever you want to call them) do. It’s just that not everybody has a diligent shrink in their head, invariably doing her job, asking “how does that make you feel” and giving meaning to every action. I said before that it’s a blessing and a curse to live in another country than your native one. Some days I go with the blessings, other days I go with the curse. This article is more about the cursed aspects of my expat life.

Heart-shaped balloon and my bike

Do you feel at home here?“, people would ask me even after one year of living in Amsterdam. And my answer would vary, year after year, season after season. Yes, I do feel at home sometimes, when I ride my bicycle along the cute streets and canals, inhaling the fresh air of the morning or in the evening, my purse in the basket, going about my business in the city where I managed to create a new life. But other times I feel so distanced from it, so out of place here, where everything is familiar now but still so strange in certain ways.

Sometimes I feel weighed down by too many feelings: the difficulty of expressing myself in a different language (being frustrated when I don’t think I managed that or when I make mistakes); the cultural differences; constantly missing people from what I call now “my previous life“; the annoyance of having to deal with yet another “innocent” joke about Romanians; the dullness of explaining why I grew up without certain toys or TV programmes (well, d’uh, I grew up in a communist country in the ’80s), the feeling of being an exotic specimen for some, and so on and so forth. There are days when all this seems a bit much for me and I wish to just move back to my native country and make my life less complicated. I know not every expat struggles so much with it, but I also know there are many who do. Many of you reading this, Romanians or not, will totally feel what I’m talking about, while others will just consider me a cry baby and will tell me to toughen up or do more efforts to integrate. But that’s exactly what this is about: I am tired of the permanent effort (visible or not). I miss my life from before Amsterdam, not lacking in struggles and effort, but lacking these particular ones.

The problem is, my feet are in two boats now and me jumping to one of them won’t make everything better. Putting both my feet in the Netherlands boat is impossible, because of my Romanian roots, while jumping back to the Romanian one after eight years of living abroad will require a different kind of integration and other roots left behind, missing other people. There is no win-win option and I am so annoyed with it today. I might be thrilled about it tomorrow, thinking about how my life was so enriched by this experience, about how many things I’ve learned and how many interesting people I got to meet. I might even be grateful for it. But today I second-guess my life choices.

Is there a point I’m trying to make with this article? I don’t know. I think it’s just me feeling the need to muse about the subject, trying to put my thoughts into order. What is there to do about the two boats? I don’t know. Does anyone know? If I’ll figure it out, I’ll let you know. Until then, I can only hope for calm waters.

 

8 Comments

  1. So beautifully written, I want to give you an enormous hug.

    • Thank you, Koen! You will have the chance to give me that hug soon 😉

  2. I completely recognize the feeling. IT’s hard to put into words sometimes but you have done it brilliantly.

    In the first few years I used to swing between the feeling of life in the Netherlands being a blessing and curse a lot too. Luckily I don’t have that so much any more. I’m very settled now.

    Every now and then something will still happen which will make me feel like an outsider but I don’t think that will ever truly go away (as you mentioned it is part of having had grown up in another country).

    I hope the two boats don’t get too far apart and you are able to find a way to bring them together.

    • Thanks, Stuart. I hope so too.
      I’m glad to hear you feel settled now. Could it be from all the liquorice you’ve eaten? :))

  3. I understand. I’m finally at peace here, but it’s taken quite a bit of time. There are moments that always unsettle you, but you need to just take a moment.

    On a positive note, I spent a few weeks in Bucharest fairly recently. I met quite a number of Romanians who had lived and worked abroad for most of their adult lives who moved back. Many were really surprised about how much had changed and excited about the future for their careers/Romania.

    It might be worth it to return for a few weeks just to give yourself a small chance to settle into your old rhythms and see everyone you care about. I recently did this and it was a great trip in terms of enjoying the US and time with friends/family in the purest way. Still, it confirmed to me that as much as I love my family and New York, my life is here, at least for now. Not everything has to be a final decision.

    • That is a good idea, I was thinking to do it at some point. Actually, I think that if my schedule would allow me to go more often to Romania, I would feel more at peace here.

  4. You perfectly describe the feeling. I too have not been able to call either my native country or my adopted country, a home. And to me, as I grow older, it’s getting tiring and lonely. I used to be proudly saying I’m a global citizen. Now it almost seems like I’m just lost. Hope you find what you’re looking for.

    • Thank you, Eva. Totally understand you. I hope we both find what we’re looking for 🙂

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