The Unfiltered Life

My sis-in-law wrote something on her blog recently that makes me think. She wrote of Instagram, and how the images can sometimes make others lives look so much better than your own. I think the same can be said for Facebook.

Her thoughts, although given with the caveat (“please do not feel like you have to feel how I felt”), make me think about the picture I’ve been sketching out of my life here in Amsterdam. Am I being honest? Am I being accurate?

Are people who never have had the chance to travel looking at my blog and going, “Wow, Erin’s so lucky. It’s like she’s living in a perpetual vacation. I feel like she’s having so much fun riding a bike around a really historic city, sipping lattes at cafes, and reading a book on Dutch”? Or are mothers with small children drooling at my freedom? Or do single women wish they had a Frans? Or…or…or.

Looking through my Instagram pics, I try to see through the eyes of others. It’s actually pretty impossible, because we’re all given different lives and aren’t meant to see another’s life perfectly, but still…it’s interesting to wonder what maybe even you, as a reader, see. Well, here are some. Yep, and it looks pretty darn magical. But, don’t you see? These are the best moments, the moments of pure happiness that you don’t want to let go of. A moment of intimacy you want to capture. What they don’t show is someone on their bed in the fetal position crying for sunlight and/or their mama. Maybe I should try to Instagram that.


IMG_0505 IMG_0503

What you don’t see on Instagram is the exhilaration of riding down a big hill on my bicycle through the streets of old Amsterdam, my legs kicked out like a crazy person. No one acts like that in a city. Everyone’s far too serious. But it’s fun. And I love little things like that.

What you don’t see is the woman hitting me (hard!) in the arm with her hand because she wants to cross the street and I happened to cross her path a second before the light turned green. Yes, a woman hit me. Today. And this was the second time I’ve been hit in the arm by somebody just out of plain rudeness. I’ve also seen a man on a scooter nearly knock a woman off her bike an into traffic. The car who she swerved in front of honked at her.

I was raised in a culture where mostly men open doors for women. You certainly don’t go around touching strangers, and we were taught not to hit around the age of one. Today, one of my classmates opened the door for me. He’s from Iran. He honors women and doesn’t get it. Another classmate gave me his banana when he heard I was hungry. He’s Serbian. He doesn’t get it either.

What you don’t see is my anxiety when Frans and I have dinners for people, the consistent dinner conversations about cultural differences, the awareness nearly every second of the day that something is always a bit different. The kitchen appliances. What you eat for breakfast. How you pour the tea. What you say. How you say it. Wearing winter clothes. Well, for a Florida girl, anyway.

Sometimes, living in another country is painful. It hurts. You miss your family so much you can feel it in your torso. You miss familiarity. You miss being able to skip through the day, doing mindless errands at familiar stores selling familiar things, and ending the day crashing on someone’s couch you have a long history with.


Something within me, in all of this discomfort, is growing. Something stronger, faster, better (Kanye). I truly believe, “that-that-that-that don’t kill me, will only make me stronger…” but still, in the words of a Danish friend living in America, “It sucks, sometimes, doesn’t it, Erin?” And I need permission sometimes to say, “Yes, that’s right. Sometimes it does suck.”

And Instagram doesn’t do a good job at showing that.

10 thoughts on “The Unfiltered Life

  1. I cannot BELIEVE a total stranger HIT you. Intentionally!

    I always feel pretty strongly that we shouldn’t expect too much vulnerability from Facebook and Instagram (I actually don’t have Instagram, because I don’t have a smart phone). I just don’t think they should be venues for sharing difficult information. Break-ups, cancer diagnoses, and lost jobs just don’t belong there, in my opinion, so I’ve really changed my expectations for the type of content I see there. I never share that stuff with Facebook, so I don’t expect my friends to either. Blogs have much more opportunity for context, so I do think they can be an appropriate place to share difficult news; it feels more appropriate there simply because you have more text space to give a fuller picture.

    All that is to say, I haven’t been imagining life being easy and glamorous for you, though I have been hoping that being a newlywed with a good attitude, a general penchant for adventure and affection for old things would sustain you during dark days of cold weather and the perpetual issues that come from living in a foreign (to you) context. I’m proud of you for learning the language, for the dual citizenship, and for continuing to write, when I’m sure your emotions are being spent in other places these days. Miss you so!


    • I know! I was suprised as well. And also very surprised at my first instinct to hit back. All I managed was a “Hey!” which was a good thing. We’ve been reading Wright’s book AYB, and it was a reminder that our true character shows in the moments something suprising happens. I like to think of my response as ‘righteous indignation’ but there was also something very primal there. Now I know my instinct is fight and not flight.

      I like your point about the importance of the contexts in which we share important information. I think this trait of recieving sound bites or sentence blurbs extends past the personal and into economic or political activity. It’s easy to mark an opinion by a photo and two or three paragraphs and then we feel a bit defined as an “identifier”, but this is often a gross inaccuracy of the entire picture, and often leaves out most of the truth of a story. This recent phenomenon makes me pause and reflect on the sentence “Knowledge is Power.” We’ve certainly seen what propaganda can do…esp. in Europe, and I wonder how it’s getting slipped into photos and sound bites. Anyways…this is getting conspiracy theory, so…thanks for your words, Val. Miss you too!

  2. It does suck sometimes. We have to cling to the really good times, cherish memories, and embrace it when it’s rough. Thanks for your honesty.

  3. He Erin,

    Thanks for sharing!

    I’m most sorry to read that you were hit twice by strangers! Although I live here all my life, I never had an experience like that. I just checked with my family and no one has. I don’t know why this happened to you. Anyhow it’s not normal here at all to touch a stranger.

    But you’re right about the men not opening doors for women 😉

    Liefs, Annet

  4. That rude amsterdam people! 😉 I’d like to think that amsterdam is the rudest city of the netherlands and that such things don’t happen in our city Utrecht… but these things happen here too, not often, but I’m sure they do. Recently I stepped out of our car for the first time in a certain little village, a few teenaged boys drove by on their bikes, one of them saying ‘sir, you have a @#$% ugly car!’ (which is objectively speaking, untrue). I was stunned… yes this rudeness is there in our dutch culture… we boast being open and direct, as in: being honoust and transparent, but dutch people sometimes go too far. Sorry to read this Erin! Dutchies should make all effort to make you feel at home and welcome you instead of hitting you.

    You’ve got a good point, regarding the thing of what image one gives on social media. It really amazes me, the power of facebook, to make people addicted to it and make many people feel more lonely and unhappy. Appreciate your honesty.

    • Thanks for the encouragement and support, Guido! I think Amsterdam (or at least parts of it) might be a little like New York City. If everyone judged the States by the tempo and honking cars in New York, it wouldn’t be fair.

      I also think the directness of the Dutch is a fine quality much of the time.

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