My Experience on a Paris-bound Train from Amsterdam

When I started this blog, I didn’t have a clear vision of what it should be.  Part travel log, part documentary capturing what I’ve learned living abroad, I guess I can’t help that my emotional experiences have been playing a larger role.  I’m been thinking about writing this post for some time, but haven’t really “felt” enough about it until last week to be able to do so.

Since last week, I’ve been overwhelmingly affected by the goings-on regarding ISIS in the news.   I’ve had nauseating levels of high anxiety about the close proximity of what is happening around me, just a few hours down the road in Belgium, on a quick high speed train to France, and just a mile from one of my best friends in northern Paris.  I keep thinking about the political climate in the Netherlands, about how I wouldn’t understand the language if an emergency situation broke out around me, about how likely it is that terrorist cells are hiding here waiting to activate, or how fleeing terrorists could easily drive up the road and cross into the Netherlands or take a train to Centraal in Amsterdam.

It feels like everything I’ve experienced in the last year is tumbling over me.  The death of my father and aunt from the same disease, a stressful apartment move not by choice, getting married quickly and planning it from across the ocean, planning another more traditional wedding for next year, and riding the train from Amsterdam to Paris where American soldiers foiled a terrorist attack.

For the first time I am feeling a residual trauma from being on that train.  With the recent news that the mastermind behind the Paris attacks was killed, and the revelation that he was also the brains behind the foiled attack on the train that could have killed me, I finally want to come to terms with my experience.

I am not writing this to take or hear a political side.  I am saddened and further stressed everyday watching things unfold in social media, wondering if I “like” one article, I’ll have a barrage of people agreeing and disagreeing with me.  I’ve learned that conflict in my personal life is something that gives me a lot of anxiety.   I feel disgusted by seeing the reactions of some of my connections, and guilt for not feeling confident enough to post my opinions to avoid conflict.  I know you can’t have it both ways by posting in a public forum, but I think I therapeutically need to write this to begin to heal.

On Friday, August 21, 2015, Uri and I boarded the Thalys train at Amsterdam’s Schiphol station.  Before boarding, we looked at the sign that showed where to stand on the tracks in order to be in the right location for your assigned train car, and I mentioned how nice it was that it could be that efficient.  We settled in for the journey, and I spent most of the time listening to an audiobook, playing a game on my iPhone.  Uri did some work on his laptop.  We had the type of train ticket that allowed us to have a free but very dysfunctional wifi while we were not in our home country and thus not able to use cellular data.  Apparently if you get the cheapest train ticket option you are not able to have wifi.  I was WhatApp’ing with my friend that we were traveling to visit. She is French, living in Paris with her boyfriend, and one of my closest friends.

“Ugh, I think something is wrong with the train. It’s been moving slowly for a half hour.  We are only just south of Arras,” I said to her at 6:08pm.  “Keep me posted. Don’t worry,” she said.  Little did I know that my near-death experience had already unfolded, and I had no idea.  We heard a soft sounding alarm keep going off, and I complained to Uri that someone must have propped a door open or something.  I complained that the sound was quite annoying.  Only a few train cars away, a terrorist had gone into the bathroom and prepped his Kalashnikov, with enough ammo and misguided intention to take out most of the train. His attack was foiled by American soldiers and other travelers who by dumb luck or fate or whatever, were in the right place at the right time with the right amount of bravery or just sheer brazenness to save the entire train from a massacre.

Meanwhile, I’m still texting with my friend, “They are making announcements but they are in French and I can only understand ‘police’  … now we have to change trains.”  I asked the conductor why we were disembarking, and in broken French he said to me, “Because there is a terrorist on our train.”  “Perhaps he meant a bad guy with a gun, but surely that’s all it could be,” I said to Uri.

We exited the train, and there I saw a bloodied man in a stretcher.  We were escorted further down the tracks and stood for a bit in a state of confusion with our fellow passengers. I asked an officer in French if I could quickly use the bathroom, although they were still searching the train for what I did not know.  He led me in quickly, I did my business, and when exiting, another officer looked at me, and the original officer told him I was just using the bathroom.  We exchanged a smirk as he shook his head at me, slightly bemused.

After some confusion on the platform in Arras, they loaded us onto another train that was now stuck and waiting.  Passengers grumbled since seats were assigned and we were filling their train, seemingly cheating the system without assigned seats.  I was separated from Uri and grabbed a seat next to a young French man, while Uri sat closer to the door.  There, I searched the internet using the terms, “Arras + Thalys” and with my low-level French I could only understand in the article that I found, “ouvert le feu.”  I asked the man next to me if that meant, “opened fire” as I expected, and he read the article and said to me, “There was a terrorist on your train.”  The train sat mostly in silence with a few whispers wondering if they were looking for an accomplice or if the shooter was subdued, or if we were ever going to get to our destination. It seemed to us all like it  was all maybe all rumor, or we were still just hoping it was so.

After about another hour, now 8:30pm, still in Arras, everyone was removed from the train and told to go to a gymnasium down the street.  People were still milling outside the station and rumors were circulating about a possible bomb at the station.  I was starving, scared, and it was getting dark.  Uri and I knew we were not getting to Paris that night, so we left the scene to the hotel we saw just across the street.  We checked in, and got back onto our phones with wifi to check the news.  It was there that we realized what fate we had nearly escaped.  By this time, it had hit the news that there really was a terrorist on the train.  That he had an automatic rifle and a barrage of ammunition.  I had to look up the word “Kalashnikov” because I thought maybe what I thought it meant couldn’t have possibly been true. But, it was.

I’d like to say at this point that I felt a sheer state of panic, or relief, or fear, or anything. But I felt nothing.  I felt a bit outside of my body like it was happening to someone else. I asked Uri what he felt, and he also said nothing.  We felt like we were late for Paris and annoyed at the logistics of that.  We felt like what we read in the news didn’t actually happen on our train.  We said we felt really lucky that we didn’t see anything and we were clueless to the entire experience until it was over.  I don’t think I felt much of anything else about being on that train until last week, to be honest.

We had a nice dinner at a randomly chosen restaurant in Arras, with our eye on the news and on our phone feeds.  The next day, we headed to the station to get our complimentary tickets to Paris, and were grateful we made the decision not to wait around until the middle of the night for the first trains to travel to Gare du Nord.

Following that day, we tried to have a normal weekend in Paris with our friends. We basically went back to our lives with the exception of a few moments of relief and feeling lucky things didn’t turn out differently.  I spent a few weeks going back and forth with Thalys about my jacket that I left on the train and they ended up recovering it and getting it back to me. I recounted my experience that day dozens of times, and exchanged shared looks of relief with friends, and disdain for the happenings in the world around us, but again, I wasn’t really feeling it.  I wondered if I would and was relieved that I didn’t.

Last week, when Paris was attacked, my mortality and vulnerability hit me in the face.  My heart has been fluttering with anxiety for hours on end ever since.  What if those soldiers weren’t on that train?  What if I bought my ticket 5 minutes earlier or later and sat in a train car where I would have seen more?  What if Uri had requested first class tickets in the same train car it happened, since he had to work on the train that day and it would have been more comfortable? What if I go outside today and someone sprays me with bullets?  What if someone implodes himself at the convention center across the street? Or at the school?  Or in Dam Square? “Don’t be ridiculous,” I’ve been told. “It is very unlikely that you would be involved in something like that.”  Why, because it hasn’t happened before?

I wrote this account immediately after I learned that the ringleader in the attacks was killed in a police raid.  The news said that he was, in fact, responsible for the foiled attack on the train I was on, along with many others.  And I am sure we will learn more and more, and things will continue to change and evolve. For now, I have a small sense of relief because justice for myself and everyone on that train has somewhat been served. Or maybe not.  I am still feeling high levels of anxiety about my own personal vulnerability and mortality.

But mind over matter, right? Life goes on, and should go on, otherwise, what is there to live for?

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‘Tis the Season

It’s holiday season, so it’s a good time to reflect on foreign holidays, and celebrating holidays as an expat abroad.  

If you are an outsider looking in, it’s amazing the weird and interesting things you see people to do in the name of religious tradition or secular holiday tradition, or “because it’s the way it has always been done.” Co-habitating with someone with a differing religious background to my own and from a different country as well, is already cause for interesting revelations like this for me every day.  Fun fact: Uri and I only share one holiday all year on the same day (New Year’s). I try to explain why coloring eggs and then searching for them around the house for Easter is normal.  Or why kids leave carrots out for reindeer on Christmas Eve.  Or how bread and wine get turned into the body and blood of Jesus at Mass…every Sunday.  Or why you must barbeque on Independence Day, or drink your face off the night before Thanksgiving with your high school friends.  Admittedly for myself as well, much that we do or believe is “because we always have.”

King’s Day

I’ve had my fair share of outside-looking-in holiday experiences here in Amsterdam.  First there was Konigsdag, or King’s Day, in April, which can only be described as Mardi Gras-meets-Independence Day multiplied by 100.  A celebration of the current monarch’s birthday, the Netherlands celebrated it’s first King’s Day this year, changing over from what used to be Queen’s Day since 1890 to the most recent Queen’s abdication in 2013. The entire city of Amsterdam was out on the streets for two days celebrating their country and the King. Everyone wore orange (the national color) from head to toe, and anyone who owned a boat was on it, partying with house music blasting from concert-sized amps on their little floating vessels.  The canals were so packed with boats that they appeared to be floating as one continuous barge. You could pick up orange Holland or Amsterdam or Netherlands paraphernalia at almost any store.  Then there is the concept of the vrijmarkt (“free market”) where the Dutch sell items from their house on the streets.

Konigsdag revelers floating on a canal

Konigsdag revelers floating on a canal

By the way, the current King, Willem-Alexander, bears a striking resemblance to a very famous figure in New York:

trump

Sinterklaas

Ah, Sinterklaas. The Dutch celebrate the holiday season with a few days dedicated to this character.  There is the celebration of his arrival from Spain in mid-November, his various visits to children over the next few weeks, and then the Saint Nicholas Eve / Saint Nicholas holiday which feels pretty similar to Christmas Eve/ Christmas Day gift giving and family celebrations.  However, there is also a celebration for Christmas Eve/ Christmas Day here as well.

The most interesting part of the whole Sinterklaas experience is his companion, Zwarte Piet (Black Pete.  Yes, that’s right. Black Pete.)  The stories about this character’s existence and role to Sinterklaas (companion, helper, slave) span the gamut, and there seems to be an exponential growth in division in the country on the appropriateness of Piet.  This year there were even several riots in Gouda on the day celebrating the arrival from Spain, in protest to the character. I’ll let Wikipedia summarize Piet: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sinterklaas#Zwarte_Piet

Regardless of appropriateness, it is still highly accepted to use the Zwarte Piet character as festive decoration here in the Netherlands.  I just can’t get used to or comfortable with seeing it. Try googling it and checking out some of the imagery.  Oy.

Thanksgiving

As an American celebrating my first Thanksgiving away from home, I felt more compelled this year to actually stick to the tradition of cooking a Thanksgiving meal.  Having only cooked a turkey once in my life 10 years ago, I decided to take the challenge. Thanksgiving arrives this Thursday, and here are some things I learned through the process:

1) Dutch people order poultry from poeliers, which are basically butchers for poultry. You can also order from some “regular” larger butcher shops (slagerij). I had to special-order my turkey through these shops from a farm.  I felt a bit guilty knowing a turkey was being slaughtered just for me and responsibility is not shared with the Butterball conglomerate.

2) Buying a turkey is a delicate balance of finger-in-the-air-guessing and providing your poelier the size of your tiny oven in inches-whoops- in centimeters. “Please sir, I’d like a turkey to feed 4 people, and it can’t be larger than 21 centimeters tall or long.”

3) Dutch people do not know what turkey basters are.  After several long investigative discussions with many colleagues, we’ve determined the appropriate term is vleesbedruiper, but sounds close to something gross or naughty in Dutch (undetermined what this is). You can only order these online and they cost up to €25. I’ll use a spoon.

4) Expat shops are good for getting things like Stove Top Stuffing mix, if you are prepared to be gouged on the price.  The best bet is to stow away a box in your suitcase on your last trip home (check), along with packet gravy mix (check), and Wheat Thins (not for Thanksgiving, but check.)

5) Non-American turkeys are not pumped up with steroids, nor specially bred to have big juicy white-meat breasts.  In fact, they are sort of sad looking, scrawny, and lack a discernable stuffing cavity.  Any they come with the neck still attached. I hope we have enough meat here for four people!

turkey

With that, have a Happy Thanksgiving, and wish me luck this Thursday, cooking my tiny little turkey!  Good thing I schlepped home all of that stuffing mix and other fixings for the best part of a Thanksgiving meal anyway- the side dishes!

Amsterdam Musings

It’s a bleary day here in Amsterdam, so I’d like to register a few complaints 😉

So many people smell like old smoke here. Not the tee-hee hee “you live in Amsterdam and everyone smokes pot”-kind, but the “old stale, stagnant old man tobacco”-kind.  I often have to shimmy away from people on the subway or at work to get rid of the smell.  Is this an Amsterdam thing, or a Europe thing?

Things I really miss:

–real filtered coffee that is not spelled with a “k”,

–coming in first place in the commuter caste system.  In New York, the Way of the Yield went: pedestrians, taxis, other cars, bikes.  In Amsterdam, it’s: bikes, scooters/ mopeds, bikes with children in the front, bikes with children in the back, bikes with children in that bucket-thingie, bikes with a person standing or sitting on the back, holy-shit look out for that person riding a bike and texting on her phone in an intersection!, trams, busses, taxis, other cars, those tiny 2-seater cars that get to ride the bike lane, lady in an old-person scooter with a plastic cover on it that looks like a tiny rolling spaceship (true story), pedestrians.

–proper bagels. Especially everything bagels with salt and garlic, not just sesame seeds and poppy seeds. That is a “somethings” bagel. Not an everything bagel.

Things I love, and likely many other general musings to come at another time!

PS– Another thing… today at work, the creative team was tossing around a ball, and I caught it, and tossed it back.  I was told I “threw like an American” and realized that it is instinctual to me to toss an oblong ball like a football, whereas this was actually a rugby ball, where I was expected to perform this side/backwards-pass like thing that looks like you are tossing covers off a bed behind you. It never dawned on me that the nerf was not of a regular football. I am definitely in the minority here.

6-Month Trip Roundup

As I just passed the 6 month mark living in Europe, I think this is a good time to reflect a bit on what I’ve done here.

As previously mentioned, I forget everything or don’t give myself credit for it unless I write it down to reflect, or unless someone tells me to take some credit. My life is like the Will Ferrell movie where no one is really laughing the first time around (or at least I’m not. And I know I am greatly outnumbered here) but you realize how funny it is when you re-quote the ridiculous scenes over and over with your friends later.

So in addition to my Israel trip which was substantial enough to get it’s own entry, I’ve also been able to visit quite a few places in my short time here. I should reflect on this for a minute. 6 months ago, visiting these cities was part of a full-on European vacation, requiring a lot of planning effort and money. Now, these visits have taken course over 2- or 3- day weekends, planned only a few days or weeks in advance, and are able to be financed on my meager European salary (more on that change at another time). Here’s a quick look into some places I’ve been able to visit in my first 6 months:

Barcelona, Spain and Reims, France

My first trip, taken in the days before starting my job, and just 3 weeks into living here, was to Barcelona, as a hanger-on to Uri’s work conference, followed by Luxembourg to visit my dear French friend, Bénédicte who is living there. While in Luxembourg, we took a day trip to Reims, France to taste some delicious bubbly in the Champagne region. Real, authentic champagne from Champagne! This has serious significance to me since I am an avid bubbly drinker with my BFF Annie back in NYC. Hooray for Champagne caves!

Barcelona was an interesting place. After a casual warning from my world-traveling friend, Erik (see The Global Trip), to “watch my purse in Barcelona,” I became obsessed with googleing about safety issues and pickpocket scams in this city. I was going to be alone touring the city while Uri was at the conference, and was used to my first 3 weeks in Europe exploring the safe and structured Amsterdam suburbs. I am sure my fear and precautions taken were on one side of the extreme, while being an unprepared and clueless tourist was on the other side. And the reality lay somewhere in the middle.

I chose some organized tours to feel safer.  Running Tours Barcelona was an AMAZING way to see Montjuïc and the Olympic Stadium area, while the bus tour -especially to Montserrat- made me feel like a retiree, as I was the only person on it that was under 60, and was the only person not rushing to pick up the cruise ship before it left its port. After having my tours under my belt to feel more safely acclimated to the city, I wished I had longer than just a few days there to drink wine, eat tapas, and see more architecturally amazing sites. Yes, rambling around Las Ramblas didn’t feel like the safest place, but I realized the level of safety precautions needed in that city likened more towards how I acted in Times Square without even thinking about it than some other crime-ridden place. Basically, hold your purse close, look people in the eye, and don’t stand around staring at a map looking lost. If you do that, you’ll be fine.

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Germany – Hamburg, Munich, & Füssen
We took two trips to Germany – over Easter weekend to Hamburg, and in July to the Bavarian area so I could run a half marathon and we could go castle-hunting to a site that has long been on my bucket list. Hamburg and Munich were both very livable cities… so much that in both visits, I spend much time saying, “Maybe we can move here next? Do I need to learn German?”

Hamburg is set upon beautiful lake Alster, and we enjoyed cruising up it on a boat tour. We had Easter dinner at a place called Kartoffel Keller (Potato House), where your main dish centered around the potato, and your “side dishes” included any meats or veggies. And the waiters wore potato sacks over their clothes. Awesome, and delicious!

We visited Munich for one day and night, on our way to Fussen for the half marathon I ran at the Germany/Austrian border in the Bavarian area known as East Allgäu. It had grueling temperatures (90 at the start at 6pm) and grueling hills, and it was a great way to continue my marathon training. (Have I mentioned that yet? My first marathon will be in New York City this fall.)

The day after the race we climbed the castle hills for tours of Neushwanstein and Hohenschwangau, and learned about the crazy King Ludwig II. The sites were breathtaking in and around these castles, and well worth the climbs despite my sore legs and the hoards and hoards of tourists at their worst. I still can’t believe I actually personally took this photo:

2014_Munich & Fussen Castles Run_73

Chamonix, France
I really realized the amazingness of living in Europe when I had a visitor cancel right before arrival. With a long weekend off from work ahead of me that I did not want to go to waste, Uri and I looked at flights for the next day, chose the cheapest short-notice flight (Geneva), and concocted our plan from there to take a van 2 hours from the airport to the mountains, and hang out in the French Alps during the off-season. We spent the weekend basking in the shadows of Mont Blanc in the gorgeous little village town of Chamonix, eating tartiflette and crusty French bread, hiking the valleys of the mountains, and ascending the 12,605ft to the Aiguille du Midi. I was really bummed that I didn’t get to see my friend that weekend, but the consolation prize trip…. well — C’était incroyable!

2014_05_29-31_Chamonix France05a
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North and South
It was with visits like this that I began to understand some of the nuances between the north and the south in Europe. The North of Europe is very different from the South of Europe, just as the North of the European country is very different from the South of that same country (and in some countries like Spain, the provinces within are all  then also very individualistic).

Without grossly oversimplifying To grossly oversimplify, the northern countries and the northern side of each country feels relatively more structured, organized, and pragmatic than their southern counterparts. It also feel a little less friendly and less open to strangers. The primary sites usually feature churches, town centers, city hall buildings, and stone structures. The north feels like your Type-A friend who is a little closed off but is really reliable and you will mostly know what to expect.

Minus Barcelona, I have still yet to discover the true southern countries of Europe (i.e. Italy, Greece, Spain, Croatia, etc.), but I’m told that where there is heat, there is a more sensual vibe, a constant- holiday feeling, and a casual approach to life. This also brings a bit more positive and negative tourism (sun/ beaches, scammers/ pickpockets), but also more friendly people, open to meet and embrace strangers. The south is your wild party-friend that is up for a good time but might also get too drunk at the party and leave you to need to drive them home or walk home alone. …Making eye contact and clutching your purse, perhaps?

I’ve discussed the North/South difference time and time again with people ranging from Spanish, French, Dutch, and German who have all validated these trends in their countries and throughout Europe. In fact, it’s a sort of “no kidding” sentiment here. Of course that is how it is here! Well, I’m new, so it’s all new to me! I wonder if anyone else has noticed this difference? Tell me what you think! I’m fascinated by these types of things I learn every day living here.

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So that’s it for now.  6 months in, and many places on my list have been checked off, some of which I didn’t even know existed prior to my move here. My list keeps growing and there are so many places to see and things to learn. I only hope I have enough time to get to it all. We’ve got some great trips upcoming already as well (Costa del Sol in Spain and Prague for the Christmas markets), so stay tuned!

How did I get here, anyway?

When I was a teenager in suburban Philadelphia, I felt very accomplished when I was able to take 2 hour road trips to places like Baltimore and DC. When I graduated to getting on a plane for San Fran and Vegas, or the Caribbean, I thought I had really made it. There’s a perspective that sets in, in a place like I am from– “This is what you were given. Why would you want anything else?” But for me, there was something missing that seeing new places started to fill a bit. Without spending too much time on this for now, I’ll just say that moving to Europe wasn’t even on my radar or in my realm of possibilities.

Eventually, after having moved to New York in my early 20s, my perspective exploded wider than I even knew existed as possible. Surrounded by all types of people and new friends from different backgrounds, suddenly everything I knew in my little bubble was barely the tip of life’s iceberg. 7 years in New York gave me more than I could have imagined. I excelled at a career, created a new group of friends from scratch, and basically lived the New York life. I navigated subway systems daily in one of the biggest world cities. I survived an attempted aggressive mugging. I played the online dating game like it was a second job (unsuccessfully, if success is judged by settling with someone I met online.) My choices of what I enjoyed eating increased by 100-fold (before New York, I had not eaten oysters, asparagus, tomatoes, crab, sushi, fish, couscous, falafel, hummus, strawberries, or any type of Asian cuisine that was not General Tso’s chicken… And I could go on.) I was on the cutting edge of the new music coming in from Brooklyn, the food trends of the moment, and in the stopover area where people visited from around the world. But like anything else, it became my new regular life.

I eventually got a passport and, with a network of old friends, new friends, and new friends’ friends, I started taking one-to-two week long trips and saw Galway, Beijing, Phuket, Hong Kong, Puerto Rico, London, Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels, and took drives from the North to South of France, and Montreux, Nice, Monaco, Florence, Pisa, Luxembourg, Lima. I even hiked the Inca Trail.

Tick, tick, tick.  With each city and tourist site visited with my limited American-sized vacation time from work, I started to see the world. And how amazing I felt getting to do it! It made me appreciate a new level like when I left Philadelphia, to the next level. It impacted me on many levels – from the small impacts like making me look at restaurant names differently  (Hey, Cafe d’Alsace… I drove past there in France!) to the larger impacts like making me value my friendships with people with different backgrounds who help me (still) to see that the world is just not only how it was given to you.

Anyway… So that’s a little bit of background. Skipping ahead, 7 years spent in New York expanded my mind but also tired me out. It’s an exciting but exhausting city if your life currency is spent focusing on promotions, making money, eating at the next restaurant, finding free time after work to run, or meet up with friends (or all of the above in a given week). What’s good with that extra cash if it’s spent on your tiny apartment and on your meals for the month? Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there’s a way to strike the balance, but I couldn’t see it and I needed to rip out everything I knew from under me in order to start figuring out the next evolution of me that I wanted to be.

I was lucky enough to meet and fall in love with (blech, sorry 🙂 ) someone with two non-American passports and a tendency towards living around the world and experiencing new international adventures as a default to life, but yet who holds many of the same values and life goals as I do. It gave me the courage that starting anew in a strange land didn’t have to be just for the responsiblity-lacking drifters, trust fund kiddies, or trendy blogging travelers. We could get jobs (I’ll likely never change from requiring a safety plan), and reset our success metrics on a level that I could more easily comprehend and accept.

So, here I am.  I’ve traded my NYC salary for a modest European one, and my modest NYC vacation days for a more ample European plan. My weekends can be spent exploring new places on this European side of the pond without breaking the bank. I don’t have a goal in mind living here, and I also don’t exactly have a plan for the future yet. But in the 6 weeks of living abroad as an expat, I’ve visited quite a few cities and I’m looking forward to revisiting and reflecting on them here, and to document my adventures looking ahead.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Expat Meetups

Having moved to Amsterdam in February, we’ve decided to use the Meetup group as a forum to meet other expats or people interested in befriending internationals.

We’ve had two successful nights out (if the score is kept by number of quality people you end up meeting), and we’ve learned a few things along the way:

Do:  Take special care in who you approach.

On our first night, Uri (my boyfriend, or as they call here in the Netherlands, my “partner”) and I showed up right on time for the Meetup event (we’ve heard time and time again that the Dutch are always on time), to be reminded that this event is all internationals that like to show up late.

We sat at the bar for a bit and eventually saw two small groups form.  One was a couple sitting to the right, and the other was two couples chatting to the left.  We nervously plotted our plan (it was our first time, and we were apprehensive, feeling a bit like we were speed dating for friends). We approached couple #1, and as we pulled out our chairs to sit, we asked them if we could join them.  They seemed very uncomfortable and by the looks on their faces it seemed right to ask, “Wait.. are you here for the expat Meetup?” (“No.”)

So basically we invited ourselves to sit in on this couple’s date, appearing briefly to be swingers or something.  This story has apparently circulated, and when we went to the Meetup again, several people mentioned hearing about the time some expats sat in on a date asking to join in! Oops!

Do:  Be outgoing and ask questions.

Both times we’ve attended these events, I’ve been lucky to get friend-digits and meet some really great people.  By the end of both nights we stayed out later than expected, had a few extra drinks than planned, and felt really comfortable with the people we met.  We were often in the largest or seemingly most fun/ laughter-filled circle.

What I’ve found that works is to ask people questions; we all love to talk about ourselves, and it’s a much nicer way to get to know someone than to just prattle away with your own story.  The effect is cumulative; once you are in a group of chatty people, others will join.

Listening… what a novel idea!

Don’t:  Give out your phone number to the opposite sex without clear intention.

At our second Meetup event, we started off strong again, creating an energetic circle of laughing people.  We chatted at length with one guy, who eventually got a phone call needing to leave.  He said he was coming back and asked me for my phone number, which I thought was a bit strange. But as I was in the center of the newly formed group, I assumed he was using me as the doorway back to the crowd.  I turned and asked Uri if it was okay that I gave this strange man my number (he said yes, assuming it could only be for the same reason).  Then the guy says, “Wait, this is your boyfriend??”  With his phone still in my hand, I deleted my number and returned with, “Wait, are you hitting on me?” (I had been holding hands or standing close with Uri the entire time, and I’m pretty sure we introduced ourselves together.)  Everyone got a really big laugh out of that one.  Well, except for the guy, who seemed to bolt out of there pretty fast.  And he didn’t come back.  Oops again.

Don’t: Take yourself too seriously.

In both bumbling situations, the mishaps we had at the events ended up being great icebreakers.  It’s humanizing to remember that all of these expats are just like you: many are far from home (many for the first time), and everyone there really wants to make friends to better call this new place home.  Our little social “blunders” cut through the formalities pretty quickly and I really believe helped us to make quick connections with great people.

… as did my numerous glasses of cava, of course.

So basically, the expat Meetup is a great way to meet like minded people that are in a similar situation to you. I was pleasantly surprised that the age did not skew super young. There were plenty of young-minded 25-30-something professionals looking to meet new people.  Just make sure to remain attentive to the intentions of those around you 😉

Hello, world.

How many blogs start this way? My guess is 45-50%.

Is this thing on? It’s my first time.

Well, I’m Amanda and I’m abroad.  … Get it? It’s my attempt at being pun-ny.

Anyway, I hope to have some posts here that entertain my family and friends, and maybe some strangers, too.  I’m writing this blog mostly for myself, so i can take time and reflect on remember what I’ve done out here.  My friend Megan can confirm I have a horrible memory and I often overlook my accomplishments forget that I have met people.  I’d like to get better at that.

I’m a girl who “never thought she could do something like move abroad” and I am sure there are many, many people out there writing things just like this.

The difference is, this is mine. So there.

I don’t think I am particularly funny, intuitive, or adventurous.  I’m also not particular self-deprecating either (well, sometimes, but I’m not going to write a bumbling/charming-girl-in-Europe-and-her-mishaps blog).  I’m just a regular girl from a place where people don’t move out.  But I did. And ever since the dawn of email-chains-to-your-friends-trading-hilarious-ongoings, I’ve been told “You need to start a blog!”

So, we’ll see where this takes me.

A