I am just about to leave the Netherlands, after living in Amsterdam for three and a half years - not so long that I feel like a proper native, but long enough to feel that it is my home. Lately, I've been wondering what I'll miss - beloved friends and colleagues aside - and am coming to the conclusion that, sadly, it's not that much.
After a lazy start, I'm getting on quite well with the Dutch language now - to the point where I can moan at the bus stop about the state of the weather, public transport and young people, and pass myself quite well. But back in the English-speaking world, my newly acquired 'ui', 'ij' and 'g' sounds will be of little or no use to me - except possibly when clearing my throat - and will become a distant linguistic memory in a few short months.
But what about food? Surely I'll be craving some Dutch delicacies? Demanding that friends send regular food parcels crammed with Dutch fare? Well… not really no. I have to say I'm not mad about Dutch cuisine, which tends to be on the heavy side and relies a lot on meat - tricky for a vegetarian. The cheese is fantastic of course, and there are bakers on every street corner offering an overwhelming choice of loaves and pastries… but I never really got into sprinkling chocolate flakes on my bread, or having oil dribble down my face as I bite into a deep-fried dough ball, or munching my way through dry ginger biscuits, or flinging half a raw herring down my throat along with some raw onions (some people love it, apparently).
As for the Dutch scenery - well, to paraphrase the playwright Noel Coward: it's very flat, Holland.
Come on there must be something, surely?
I'll miss my bike, I suppose. No... I really will miss my bike - speedy, healthy, environmentally friendly, there's nothing like cycling around Amsterdam's canals on a sunny day, or through the parks, or taking a long ride along the Amstel river into the - mercifully flat - countryside. Air-conditioning comes as standard. Road rage not included.
And I'll miss my neighbourhood - the local market, having neighbours from Denmark, Spain, Bulgaria, Turkey as well as Holland, the fact that the big supermarkets, though well on their way to taking over the high street, have not quite done so yet, so you can visit the florist, the baker and the grocer and have a nice chat while you buy, rather than sending old ladies flying as you try to get your hands on the latest 2-for-1 offer.
And then there are the ducks at the end of my street, the cafés with their outdoor terraces and round-the-clock apple pie, the whoosh and clunk of the trams, the museums, the trains that propel you to other cities and countries in just a few hours, the lovely tall blonde people, the Vondelpark, the Concertgebouw…
Hmm. Maybe I'll miss Holland more than I thought.
copyright Kathy Clugston 2006