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.
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.