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8 secrets to help you love Dutch weather, or how I survived 8 years in The Netherlands

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It had to be a catchy title, otherwise you wouldn’t bother reading.

In august I celebrated 8 years since I moved to The Netherlands. I decided to share with you my most important learnings from this period of time.

  1. Don’t get emotionally attached to your bike. No matter how long you’ve been together through those windy, rainy, wet, miserable but also blissful bike trips. What I’m about to say is going to hurt but there’s no way around it: your bike will get stolen. It is as certain as the fact that autumn is waiting at the doorstep with some exciting meteorological ups and downs. Nothing logical about them, by the way. In fact, Dutch weather defeats logic.
  2. If you’re about to allow for a major fuck-up to happen which will affect a Dutch person, try to warn them as soon as possible. That’s right! Whether your fuck-up is intended or unintended, whether it’s big (forgetting to buy bread for broodje – the lunch meal which consists of sandwiches) or small (being late to a meeting), send them a message to announce the arrival of the fuck-up. You’ll thank me later. ‘Why?’, you might ask. Well, let me explain: according to my observations, Dutch people can handle much better a fuck-up that was on the agenda (even if added last-minute) rather than a completely surprising, unplanned, not-discussed-in-a-meeting fuck-up.
  3. Accept the staircases. The insane staircase that leads you to your home-sweet-home is present in most Dutch houses. So even if where you live the staircase is decent, your friends’ staircase might not be the case. Which rhymes!
  4. Prevent hibernation! When the cold, grumpy season settles in, you’ll be tempted to spend most of your evenings exposing yourself to Netflix-flow. Choose a different kind of flow – the one that contributes to your happiness. Plan to be active and productive! Register to a course, get a gym subscription, join a community according to your interests. Anything that will get you OFF that couch. This is how Dutch people, despite the weather, are one of the happiest nations in the world. And you can throw statistics in my face but I know what I’ve seen these 8 years: a lot of happy people, both young and old. Every person has a hobby, a physical activity (you have total freedom of choice on how naughty that activity is) that keeps them in shape and smiling.
  5. Learn Dutch! It really makes a difference, even if most people speak English. Learning Dutch is important not only for understanding the culture but also for belonging to this society. I have noticed that it’s much easier to make Dutch friends and get practical things done if you make the effort of speaking their language, even with mistakes. You get kindness in exchange for that effort.
  6. Contribute! The Netherlands is a small country and because of that they have a strong feeling of community. For example, if you ask for support, in any form, be it financial or personal, you will need to prove that you’re ready to bring your own value to an institution or a relationship of any kind. Don’t expect that people will help you out of pity. First, you need to prove that you are able to make the effect of that support last.
  7.  Look around with a feeling of wonder. If you’re willing to SEE, you will realise that a lot of work has been put into making the ordinary Extraordinary. You are surrounded by opportunities to learn, to be curious. A construction site will have little windows in the fence around it so that you can take a peak at the progress. Bike tunnels have beautiful graffiti to steal from you the feeling of routine.
  8. Be proud of where you came from and share your culture with the Dutch people. When I first arrived in The Netherlands, I used to get annoyed or be slightly embarrassed when people didn’t know in which part of the world Moldova was located. I have turned that weakness into a strength point. I enjoy making people discover Moldova through my stories about it and through the wine tastings I organise.

How Dutch language changed my brain

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For me, an essential part of starting to navigate in the Dutch society was learning the Dutch language, even though you can ¨manage” with just English.

Since I have a natural interest for languages and a tendency to over-analyse, I asked myself what is the impact of speaking and sometimes even thinking in Dutch.

Before I go further, I’d like to thank my friend René who encouraged me and believed in me and whose support meant the world to me in those first months of being here – still does, but those months were the hardest.

One phrase that I hear a lot in conversations is “kan gebeuren” – literally translated as “it happens”.  Nothing special, you might say. Allow me to disagree.

By showing understanding towards other people’s mistakes you also allow yourself to relax and not put too much pressure on yourself.

It’s a useful phrase both at work and home among family members.

A colleague forgot to forward you an email – instead of reprimanding them for not doing their job, you say lightly “geeft niks, kan gebeuren” and you both go on with your tasks. It helps your emotional health – not making a big deal out of something that “can happen to the best of us”. It mostly happens to the most forgetful of us but that’s another discussion. At home this phrase can be useful with your children, it can teach them that it’s ok to make mistakes, it’s part of the learning process.

Another phrase that I hear a lot is “geen idee” – I don’t know, no idea!

It’s fine not to know something, as long as you’re willing to learn, catch up on your knowledge. Again, it keeps the air light in any kind of environment – be it formal or informal. It might be the reason why the dutch people you’ve met are so easy-going in communication and in life, in general.

One more expression that I have a lot of respect for and reflects a crucial trait of my dutch friends is: “Alles is bespreekbaar” – which means “everything can be discussed” or “everything is negotiable” as in: there are no taboos.

It is a known fact that the key to any relationship is communication. If you state in the introductory phase of a meeting that everything can be discussed, it removes a lot of pressure from any kind of situation. The people involved know that they will have their say at the decision being made, their opinion will be taken into account, since everything can be negotiated.

I will continue observing how the language we use has an impact of our daily behaviour and understanding of things so probaly this post will get an update soon.

Stay tuned!

Doooei! 

 

 

2017

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This year’s resolution is very simple and singular – to be thankful.

Thankful for the books that are waiting to be read.

Thankful for the countries that are waiting to be visited.

Thankful for the friendships that are waiting to be developed.

Thankful for the people that will inspire me.

Thankful for the woman that I am about to bloom into.

 

My first Samurai Game

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I went to the Samurai Game not really knowing what to expect.

When I left the Samurai Game I had learned a number of precious lessons about myself and life in general, including:

“Expect nothing, be prepared for everything”.

But it isn’t a thing you can start doing from a moment to another. To become prepared or ready for something, one needs to take their time.

So I took my time before I was ready to open up to my fellow participants in the Samurai Game. I walked around the space where the game was going to take place, listening to the voices and watching the body language of these people with whom I knew I’d spend the whole weekend.

My intuition told me that they were showing their true self, so I felt prepared to do the same. It is essential for The Samurai Game.

During the Game we were assigned different roles, each of crucial importance for the final outcome. Or so it seemed.

I watched everyone try to perform their role using all their skills and showing integrity towards teammates and adversaries. I admired these people.

I realized that it didn’t matter if the role was chosen by yourself or you got chosen for it by the others. What did matter was that you performed it in a dignified way.

The role of the Sentry inspired me despite its apparently passive character. I think we all should act as a Sentry once in a while – just stop and observe it all happening – Life. Without any distractions, just stare into its eyes. We might hear the voice of Fate whispering “You know what you have to do”.

The value of sharing impressions and listening to other people’s perspective was very well demonstrated in practice during the feedback session after the game. It made the experience even richer and more profound.

I thank the organizer and co-facilitator, Lawrence Warry, for this unique experience and all the participants for their honest insights.

The next  Samurai Game in The Hague will take place on the 21st of March at the Hagukumi Dojo.

 

 

Home at Marcel’s

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During my student years I never had the need to live in a student house. The university I went to was in the same city where I lived so it seemed logical to keep staying with my mum. Even when I got a job during my second year of study, the thought of moving to live on my own didn’t cross my mind. Plus, I could see that my mum enjoyed having me around. My parents are separated.

Now back to The Hague: I live in a house with 3 other people. It feels sometimes like living in a student house. A really awesome student house. Let me tell you why:

Marcel

He is the owner of the house. And much more than that. He’s our Big Brother. He listens, he gives advice, he answers questions, he cooks, he fixes stuff, he hosts Couchsurfers, he takes care of Alice, the cat, and he makes the house feel like HOME.

He is an inspiration to us because of his amazing ability to share in a way that makes us feel at ease. There are 4 bedrooms in the house and the living room. He likes this space to be filled with life and he allows for the right conditions to make the house lively.

Every week there is a dinner with friends. The agreement is that everyone contributes with something for the dinner: someone makes a salad, another person makes soup, a third one bakes a delicious cake, the rest can bring a bottle of wine or cookies for tea.

We listen to music, catch up on the latest news in the world or in our lives, we play games and laugh a lot.

Besides the weekly diners we have house concerts. I learned about this concept in  my first year in The Hague, thanks to Couchsurfing.

A very active member of the Couchsurfing (CS) community in The Hague, who has a beautiful house in the center used to welcome traveling musicians to stay in his attic and in exchange they would perform for his friends and CS-friends. It was also in Albert’s house where I witnessed for the first times the “international shared dinners” where you could enjoy live music, meet people from all over the world and taste dishes from different countries.

Marcel decided to keep this concept alive by opening the doors to his house for people who love music, good food and friendly atmosphere. He’s a great host for these events.

The mix of cultures

When I moved into the house, two cool german girls lived here. We had a great time chatting on various topics. In the meantime, Christiane went back to Germany after finishing her internship, and Tiki chose to live closer to the sea, in Scheveningen. I’m happy that we got to know each other better in the weeks before the winter holidays and we are still keeping in touch. She painted a stylized quote on the wall in our living room which we’re really proud of. It reads “A ship in port is safe but that’s not what ships are made for”.

Now there’s a girl from Israel living here. She is fun and full of energy and ideas.

Farida, my friend from Kazakhstan whom I met via Marcel, lives here as well. Thanks to her I got to taste the delicious Kazakh bread, went to a fun opera performance and discovered a nice vintage shop near our house. We often drink tea together and talk.

In February, my friend Francesca will move in with us. I’ve already learned an authentic pasta recipe from her. We speak italian together when the others don’t mind too much.

Living here has given me the lesson of showing consideration to other people’s characters, needs and schedules.

We are not just flatmates, we are friends. And that makes a big difference.

P.S. I hope the rent rate will stay the same after this post 😉

 

 

 

 

 

 

Celebrating 3 meaningful years

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3 years ago I made a leap into my future. A future I was afraid of.

I wanted to experience new things, feel challenged, make new friends and discover more about myself.

So I chose The Netherlands as the battlefield for the fights that were to follow in my admittedly adult life.

Why The Netherlands? Because it had to be abroad. It had to be difficult. It had to feel liberating.

At the time when I made the decision, it was fully supported by a friend living in The Hague. So now I had not only a country but also a city for my self-development project.

At the beginning my life in this new reality felt empty and terrifying.

I did not see any opportunities, any ground on which to build.

With time, chances started to appear, I began expanding the group of people I knew. And they all had encouraging things to say, they all shared ideas on how to look for work, they opened my eyes to what my strong points were.

I began to feel welcome in this environment. I felt stronger. I gained more certainty that this had been the right choice.

I learned a new language, which seemed very different from the other languages I already spoke. Later I realized that there’s many words I can understand in Dutch, especially when reading. At the same time I began to love even more my native language, Romanian, because it is full of opportunities. It is similar to a key that allows you grasp other languages easier.

I appreciate the freedom that biking gives me. No need to wait for trams, no need for a driver’s license, wind in my hair – it’s fantastic!

The people I met here made me understand that the decision I made was a brave one.

My project continues. I still have to learn a lot. But now I know that a new start is nothing to be afraid of. All you need is a bit of courage and a lot of trust in people. Beginning with yourself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Haagse Markt – a bargain to taste in The Hague

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I enjoy going to the open air market in The Hague. I prefer to get my fruits and vegetables from these noisy people that lend part of their identity to the goods they are selling. You can choose from buying those juicy tomatoes that caught your attention from their own initiative or go for the tomatoes that are offered in a deep voice by that dark-eyed young man who will brighten your day with his modest smile while giving you the change.

I wanted some cheese that would be perfect for my favourite warm sandwiches and I got offered several options depending on taste intensity and duration needed for the cheese to melt. At home I was happy with my choice, kindly guided by the cheese-boer.

“Boer” translates into english as farmer but in my language it has a different meaning which slightly amuses me every time I hear or use this term myself.

In romanian we have the word “boier” which translates as boyar, nobleman, or lord.

So imagine saying to your friends: “I went to the market today and I got this delicious cheese from the Cheese Lord”, or “The fish from the Fish Lord was so fresh and tasty today “. Magic!

You can get all the herbs that you need for cooking, dry or fresh. Speaking of fresh, a Must at the Haagse Markt is the fresh mint that you can use for tea, cooking or just aromatherapy.

It is also a place to learn. I’ve seen fruits (or were they vegetables?) that I couldn’t even name, not to mention having any idea of how they taste. Next time.

But you have to be patient. Sometimes people are moving a bit too slow (can you blame them?) staring at the wealth of colours and tastes displayed right next to them.

And bring a big backpack (and a friend, it’s more fun) – the prices are irresistible! Even though the amounts are sometimes exagerated.

Impression of “Lars and the real girl”

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Troubled love

Troubled love

I watched “Lars and the real girl” again.

I like how this movie educates us to want to understand human beings (more). It also educates us to want to help them. To believe that we CAN help them. It happens too often, that, because someone is considered an adult, they are left on their own to deal with complex problems, some of which can only be solved with external assistance.

This movie shows that if you care and you show it, beautiful results can be achieved. And beautiful souls can be unlocked.

It is the story of a troubled young man and the way that his family and community reaches out to help him after he gives a cryptical signal that something’s wrong and needs to be “fixed”.

Lars chooses a rather original way to cure himself of fear. Fear of being hurt, fear of being abandoned, fear of letting go and of becoming an adult. In this context, it is interesting to see how the experience of an individual can present itself as a lesson for a whole community.

You see these people’s attitude evolve from judgment to tolerance, understanding, generosity in good acts.

It is a movie that inspires me to look beyond the surface and realize how mysterious the workings of our minds are.

Little happiness

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Happy moment captured by Jorg Singer in Moldova, Chisinau

One of my little moments of happiness – daydreaming

What I fear is to be absorbed by routine and forget to be happy. Being aware of this helps me to slow down and remind myself of myself; and of how important it is for me to try to be happy.

Luckily, I could begin the year with a nice breakfast in a friend’s house where I celebrated New Year’s Eve. She has a beautiful, radiant smile. Eve is a big fan of the Couchsurfing concept, like me. I met her 2 days before New Year’s Eve at a Gluhwein (Mulled wine) Evening that she hosted. We got introduced by a common friend.

After breakfast we had a walk and then we went for a coffee in a cozy cafe. The atmosphere was very homey and there was this cheerful background of chatter.

I asked her what she was going to do to keep herself happy this year. She paused to really think about it.

I am glad that she took her time. She said that she will make sure to have people around her with which she will be able to share happy moments or sad.

And then she asked me the same question. I said that I will try to find happiness in the little details of everyday life.

The reason is that I don’t want happiness to be a distant, abstract something. I want to make it palpable, real.

Like my soft blanket that I got as a present for my birthday from two dear friends, like the muscle pain after a ballet class, like the warmth of the tea that my boyfriend brings me in the mornings when I don’t have to get up early, like the taste of food at the Japanese restaurant where we had the first dinner of the year, like the feeling of coming home after biking in cold, wet weather.

And what is your Little happiness?

Leipzig Postcard

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You experience a city through the people you meet there and the places you go to.

For me, Leipzig is an artsy city with kind-hearted, joyful people.

I travelled 16 hours by train to have a chance to experience this city and it was certainly worth it.

My friend, who lives in Leipzig and works at the University of Music and Theatre, took me to a rehearsal for a musical with the talented performer of turkish origin, Nedime Inke. It gave me goose-bumps!

The university is right in the centre so we went for a walk to get a feel of the city. I liked its compact and cozy character.

The new, recently opened Metro station looks impressive, having a modern, minimalist architectural style.

Joerg kept bumping into acquaintances and clients (he is a photographer and a member of the Lunar3 band) so the city felt friendly.

We went to “Spinnerei” and pretended that we are painters looking for colours, textures and frames 🙂

A quick peek in the cool bikeshop and we’re ready for coffee and quiche in the airy, light-coloured cafe.

Next day we went to a concert by girly trio “Coucou” which was a very soft, delightful treatment for our ears.

Weird was for me to discover that they have the russian soup “Solyanka”.

The last hours of the evening were dedicated to electronic music.