Sunday, 22 September 2013

Coffee morning

It's official. I am a repat. An ex expat. Back 'home'. And I am not sure that I like it much. At least not yet.

It's not my new surroundings that I mind, I mean, yes of course looking at snow capped mountains on a daily basis had a certain charm, but no, it's myself that I seem to like less in the new place. It feels like a bit of a failure that whilst being surrounded by people that I can understand perfectly, I don't seem to get them at all. Nor they me.
Scene 1. My daughter and I decide to take a trip by  train. (She wants to see the Hague, because she 'needs to know where our government is based'). Eight years ago, you would buy a ticket and that was that. These days you need a special public transport card. We manage to get two of said cards out of a machine, but don't have a clue as to what you do with them next.
I ask a friendly student who points to a machine on the platform. I need it to 'beep' my card, he tells me, all the while struggling not to laugh in my face. As it turns out, the public transport cards were introduced a good five years ago.
On our return journey my daughter and I completely forget the business with the cards until we have made ourselves comfortable on the train. There is nothing for it but to leave my daughter with all our bags and coats on the train for a desperate sprint trying to locate one of the very unobtrusive beeping devices. I make it back on board with just seconds to spare.
Whereas it is kind of fun to figure things out when living abroad - in fact I got a real buzz  the first time I managed  to buy tickets from an Italian speaking machine - back home it is just annoying. You are supposed to be intimately aquainted with things you have never even heard about.
Scene 2. For the umptieth day in a row my daughter hasn't managed to get herself a play date. To fully understand my feelings you need to know that Dutch primary school children go over to a friend's house - or invite a child back to their's - most afternoons. My daughter, used to playing in the school playground after school, finds it really difficult to initiate a play date. But when she is asked by one of her lovely new class mates, she tells them she can't make it that afternoon as she is afraid we have something else on.
Scene 3. Whilst living abroad I felt an enormous freedom to shape my life exactly as I pleased. And although no one says so out loud, the message I nonetheless pick up is that I need to go back to work. To conform to the juggling act of a parttime career and being a mum. Being different anyway whilst living abroad meant that conforming was utterly pointless and I really liked that.
Struggling with this - and my endless to do list - I all of a sudden get an invite for a coffee morning. A group of twenty or so repats, all living locally, meet up once a month for a good old natter about
their expat adventures and life in general. Although I hesitate at first, not being the coffee morning type, I let curiosity get the better of me.
And what a good decision that proofs to be. I genuinely like meeting a bunch of women that are (or were) in exactly the same boat. I quicky gravitate towards three women that look as bewildered as me. As it turns out neither of us has been back for more than six weeks.
Finally I manage to have a laugh about some of the things that I am doing at the  moment. Trying to buy a car while still owning a Swiss driver's license? Check (it can't be done), getting medication from the nearest pharmacist without registering at said pharmacist which you
can only do if you bring a passport? check. Calling the health authorities trying to explain that children get jabs in other countries too and my 12yo therefor doesn't need the four injections they have lined up for him? Check.

Women that have succesfully reintegrated two, three or sometimes more years ago are at hand to sprinkle little pearls of wisdom. Which really helps. /span>
I also discover a woman, back from I can't remember where, who lives just round the corner from me. She listens patiently while I lament the fact that my son, now that we're in the Netherlands really enjoys his bit of freedom and doesn't seem to need me anymore, except for studying Dutch, something we both dread. She tells me to brace myself, because playing catch up with my children's 'mothertongue' is not necessarily going to be a quick process. And also to knock on her door when I am at my wits end. > The meeting cheers me up no end. I get to talk to loads of interesting women and no one (no one!) asks me what I do with myself all day, or when (not if) I plan to go back to work. It is utter bliss. Hours later on the school's playground, waiting for my daughter, I am still smiling. Life isn't so bad after all. At least not today. Not even my tired, grumpy daughter who tells me she wants to go back to Switzerland, because she really, really misses her friends, can dampen my spirits. It's going to take us a while to adjust. And that's ok.