TALES OF A PROFESSIONAL FOREIGNER
BY DAVE MANGENE
WHY DO I DO IT?
…I know it’s ficticious, but the Sunday I described above is my idea of a perfect day. It’s got everything I love about life in the Netherlands: an easy Sunday, cozy breakfast, cuppa coffee, great girl, good sex, long walk in the sun, time with my kids, beautiful city, killer music, cold drinks, shameless dancing and a good night’s sleep before the hectic work week begins anew.
When the sun is shining, the Netherlands is my favorite place in the world. Having said that, I do realize it is no more of a utopia than anywhere else on the planet. It’s a country, a real country, warts and all. In the 25 years that I’ve lived here, I’ve come to know Holland’s imperfections and blind spots. The weather can be gray and gloomy for weeks on end, the taxes are outrageous, and the Dutch people can, at times, be totally lacking in common courtesy. So I get it – there is a bad that goes with all the good.
But, as I press on towards the ravage of middle age, I have chosen to focus on the good stuff, which, oddly enough, sometimes makes the Dutch raise an eyebrow. If there’s one thing that the Dutch find suspicious about my opinion of Holland it’s that I’m too positive about their country. All that positivity can’t be for real, they’ll tell me. It’s just too American. But I love the place and for the foreseeable future I can’t imagine living anywhere else.
As with everything, having chosen to stay in Holland and create my life as a professional foreigner does come with a price tag. There is pain involved, too. Most importantly, I miss my family and friends in the USA. I am blessed to have a solid relationship with my mom and dad as well as with my brother and his family. I also have very close friends in the States and they mean the world to me. We try to see each other as often as possible but it’s very easy to let a few years slip by. Despite living so far away from, and seeing each other infreqeuntly, we are still close.
How do I deal with the pain of missing them?
Most days I remind myself that even if I lived in America, I would not see them on a regular basis. We have all grown older, we all have busy lives, and America is a huge country. In a heartbeat, circumstances can change and you suddenly move several thousand miles away from your loved ones. It happens all the time. I find peace in that simple truth. On top of that, I’ve gotten used to the situation. We are all creatures of habit and this has been my reality since the day I left the USA. I have developed a kind of resilience, or numbness, to the pain.
But a few times a year, particularly around the Christmas holidays, I lose my shit entirely. Every year, like clockwork, I slip into a deep funk at the thought of not seeing my parents, or my brother, or my friends at the holidays. It’s just really hard. I always manage to keep it together when I’m with my own children at the holidays, but as soon as they go back to their mother and I am suddenly alone and staring at a Christmas tree, I drop my head into my hands and sob.
But that, too, passes.
And then I remember where I am, and that I’m living a life I could only have dreamed of as a young boy in America. I remember what makes my engines tick and I find my way out of the funk. So why do I endure the pain of missing my friends and family, each and every year? Why do I do it?
Because I’m curious, that’s why. It’s really that simple.
I want to know.
I want to learn.
I want to explore.
I want adventure.
I’m curious about how to order those delicious looking pastries at that funky bakery in Barcelona. I want to know how the Schengen agreement came into being. I want to learn how it’s possible that I can go to the pharmacy and never have to pay for medication. I’d like somebody to tell me how coffeeshops that sell weed in Holland get stocked with weed when the growing of marijuana for commercial purposes is illegal. I’m curious about why grown men and women run with bulls in Pomplona. I want to learn the difference between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland and why they used to blow each other up. I wanna know how the Dutch invented bitterballen. I’d love to see the Northern Lights up in Sweden or Norway or wherever that happens. I’m dying to see if the cooks in Napoli can make better pizza than I can get here in Utrecht. I want to experience the atmosphere at the Ryder Cup Golf Matches in Paris when the Europeans play against the Americans. I wanna take the tour of Vermeer’s Delft. I’m curious whether Trump-style politics will spread to European countries. I wanna drive on the right in Britain and see if I can do it without crashing. I desperately want to watch the Dutch national soccer team finally win the World Cup, preferably with one of my sons on the team. I want to eat at a Michelin star restaurant in France and I want to eat gambas on a beach in Andalucia. I wanna stay in love with my special Dutch girl who can teach me new words every single day while we’re laying in bed, looking up at the stars.
And I can only do it here.
Is that too much to ask? God willing, I will live out my days trying to find answers to those questions. That’s why I want to stay and keep turning the next corner. Figuring out this stuff, learning it, experiencing it – that’s what gets me off. That’s what makes the life of a professional foreigner. Sometimes it hurts, but I learn a lot and it’s never boring.
I have no idea why I’m like this and I certainly don’t mean it in some kind of pretentious, “look at me exploring the world” kind of way. Often times, this choice of mine is a pain in the ass and I deride myself for not living a simpler life near my friends and family in New England. But this is who I am. I’m not sure if my curiosity was born of a life spent constantly moving around, or if it’s just an inherent part of my personality. I guess it doesn’t really matter. This is me and, even though I need regular reminders that a more traditional 9 to 5 life would never make me happy, I have accepted it fully.
There are still so many things that I don’t know and so many places I have not yet seen. I’m 48 years old and I haven’t yet been to Asia or Africa or South America. I can’t wait to go, I want to go, I need to go. Life hasn’t made that possible for me yet, but when it does, I’m going. And when I pack my bags and head off to the airport, flush with excitement for a new journey, my mother will call me on the phone sweetly say, “David, it’ll be an adventure.”