I’m sure this won’t be the last post I’ll write about “Adult Baby.” I got the idea to write a blog post about this from my sis-in-law Katie (www.thelifeandartofkt.com) while visiting Florida at the beginning of January. I know, I know. I had promised to write about the controversial Dutch figure Zwarte Piet, but I’m skipping over him for now. Adult Baby is more pertinent to this season of life.
To explain the photo: ask Joy Eggerichs. But yes, I am wearing a quilted onesie.
If you live in Florida, and I didn’t get a chance to see you, I’m sad too. Frans and I made my family the priority this time, since we could count on one hand the number of non-wedding planning/wedding celebrating days my family spent with Frans since they’ve met him. Plus, I spent some of the trip down for the count, with a 101 fever. I did not wish to spread that kind of love. Thank you for understanding.
Flu aside, we had a great time: camping, which included fire lit nights with S’mores (Frans’s first ones!), playing a game called Wits and Wagers which allowed my family to see the depth of my challenge (disability) with numbers (what? The ocean can’t be 60 million feet deep?), singing carols while Frans played piano, touring the historical St. Augustine (to somehow prove that the US does have history), and pretty much whatever you do while trying to fit a whole year of fun and memories into 2 weeks.
Being home* was memorable, and it was fun, and…as my American-expat-married-Aussie friend Kristian commiserated with me, a great chance to get some perspective.
One of these clear-minded moments came when I was talking with Katie. Katie is great at asking questions, and sometimes those questions hit you in the gut—oooof!—right when you least expect it. And her direct question asking (very Dutch-like, Katie), is awesome for getting perspective.
Katie, my mom, and I have some of our best talks in my parents’ kitchen, usually after the Little Ones are asleep. I found myself trying to explain the changes I’d experienced in my five short months settling in Amsterdam, a very large thing to explain, especially when, moments off the plane, I staggered outside after greeting my family (who had ALL come to the airport, with handmade signs!) breathing in and out and mumbling, “It’s so different here. Wow! It’s so different.”
“Well,” I said, after rattling off details like biking around Amsterdam and having a tiny fridge, “Being in Amsterdam, relocating to a different country with different rules, customs, and language is like being an adult baby. People speak to me, and I look at them blankly. Someone makes a joke, and everybody starts laughing. So I start laughing too. But…what is so funny? Is it me? Do I have zwieback crumbs on my face? Am I drooling milk?
When others around you speak a language you don’t understand very well in a country in which you’re still assimilating, two things happen. 1). You have to fight the sneaking suspicion that they’re possibly talking about YOU 2). You become very motivated to learn that language. I have to make a conscious effort to focus on option 2.
To add to my adult baby explanation I continued, “There are also a set of cultural rules for things that I haven’t learned yet. What food and drink do you serve, and when? How do I keep warm? What are people expecting when they come to dinner? Do my husband and friends have a hard time not seeing me as a four-year-old when I’m constantly asking, “What’s that?” and “Why?”
“Why, Fwans, why?”
When I hesitate, or don’t seem to know, those who haven’t had much international experience look at me as if to say, “Come on, Adult Baby, what’s your deal? Everybody knows tea and coffee is served about a half hour after dinner. And you’re expected to pour it!” People who have never left home have a difficult time, understandably, seeing that life as “normal” isn’t “normal” somewhere else. Americans are notorious for this.
Now, before this alleged reaction is interpreted as a rude response without sympathy for my cultural assimilation, you must know that the Dutch are exceptionally straight-forward. As with many things, this is a beautiful aspect of the culture here. People are great conversationalists, can get to the heart of the matter, and voice their opinions freely without cushioning their ideas and words with polite fluff. It saves so much time. But just like any strength, there’s something in that directness difficult to swallow for this American used to some fluff.
Let me try to create an example. And of course, this is a gross generalization. There are all types of people, all over the world. But for fun, let me try. (Americans are also known for their long explanations and caveats. Case in point. We just want to be understood!)
Scenario #1: Let’s say I’ve had a bad day at work. My boss has yelled at me for being late and I stepped in a puddle. Then my American friend calls.
Hey lady, how’s it going?
Oh, it’s going pretty well. A kind of annoying day, but I’m headed home! (focus on the positive).
Nice. Why was your day annoying?
Oh, you know. I was a few minutes late and my boss Carol (good boss name, right?) got so mad at me. So unfair. And then I stepped in a puddle.
Oh no! That’s horrible! (a tad bit dramatic, of course) Did you ruin your new shoes? I hope not. If you did let’s go buy some later. And your boss, she’s so unfair. Don’t they understand that we have no control over the traffic? (always be understanding and side with the friend). Let’s have some wine and make brownies tonight.
I feel so much better. Thanks for talking, friend.
Can’t wait to see you!
Scenario #2: Okay, now. Same bad day. Now I’m in the Netherlands and my Dutch friend calls.
Hey meisje, how’s it going?
Oh, it’s going pretty well. A kind of annoying day, but I’m headed home!
Annoying, you say. Why?
My boss got mad at me because I was late and then I stepped in a puddle.
Laugher from friend. You stepped in a puddle! That’s so funny. (See, she makes fun of this small event. She thinks you need to toughen up…after all, things can only get worse.) Welcome to Holland! Okay, wait, but why were you late?
Oh, there was bad traffic.
Yes, there can be bad bike traffic here. Where do you live? Oh, I see. You have to leave earlier to make that distance. Try taking such-and-such a street next time, and don’t forget to leave five minutes earlier! (Giving advice is the good-friend approach).
Okay, good ideas. Thanks for the advice. (But I’m secretly thinking, “Can I have some sympathy here?”)
No problem. Want to meet up for a wine Thursday?
Okay, will Thursday at 1900hr be okay?
See, one is more nurturing, and the other, more straightforward yet somehow refreshing. And that’s some good bike-advice.
Yet, I digress.
Thank you, Netherlanders and Nederland itself, for being patient with this Adult Baby as she grows into a fine American-Dutch woman. If there is zwieback on her face, please tell her. If she doesn’t understand your Dutch, please remember that inside of her is a woman who feels very grown up inside of her own country.
In fact, if you were standing on the other side of the pond with her in Florida, she would be glad to show you her mad-American skills: like quoting Shakespeare, driving safely in South Florida traffic, reciting song lyrics and movie trivia, speaking a beetje Spans, and encouraging you to stick your head above the grain because you, indeed, are special, unique, and are capable of quite a lot.
*I intend on devoting an entire book to defining the meaning of this term. Bill Bryson, watch out!