It’s not you, it’s me… I just need some space.

I often complain about the Dutch lack of kinaesthetic awareness. I think that in two and a half years in the Netherlands, I’ve been bumped into by more strangers than during all the other years of my life combined. I accept that sometimes this happens because the top of my head sits so far below the standard Dutch eye level. But mostly I think it’s a matter of personal space.

Australia has a population of 23 million. The Netherlands has a population of about 17 million. However, Australia is about 205 times larger than the Netherlands, which means I require about 160 times more personal space than the average Dutch person.

Australia vs. Europe

You would think that with a large population in such a tiny area the Dutch would be more, not less considerate of getting in other people’s way. But having spent the Christmas break (plus a bit more) in Australia and being instantly overwhelmed by the crush of people upon my return to Den Haag, it has been illustrated time and again that this is not the case.

I’ve identified four public spaces that are favourite congregation points for Dutchies:

1. At the end of an escalator. Because it’s inefficient to move to the side to figure out which direction to take, in case you end up on the wrong side. Much better to deliberate exactly in front of the escalator.

2. In the middle of a flight of stairs. A perfect place to catch up on some gossip, make Saturday night plans, or ponder the meaning of life.

3. In the crossroads of busy pedestrian corridors. With relentless tides of foot traffic coming from every direction, the best approach is to plant yourself like a rock in the middle of all oncoming traffic in order to consult Google Maps.

4. Immediately inside or outside a doorway. It would appear the Dutch value the ambiance of a shop as much as the products they sell, as they prefer to step just inside a shop in order to decide whether they actually want to peruse the merchandise. And if they do perchance make a purchase, they will hover immediately outside for a few minutes, just to be conveniently close in case they end up with buyer’s remorse.

I often end up startled and alarmed whilst out and about in the Netherlands as people encroach upon my personal space . To those Dutchies that I jump away from with a look of horror and disgust, it’s nothing personal. I just need my space.

Space that happens to be the exact same height, depth and breadth as you.

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Full circle.

The last Christmas I spent in Australia was in 2010. My first European Christmas occurred the following year, and was in fact my first time in Europe at all.

A friend from school was living in Germany at the time, working as a rocket scientist, and had extended an open invitation to anyone who wanted to visit her. I had planned to go to the UK after New Year’s anyway to have trial lessons and suss out schools before auditions the following year, and was easily persuaded (and in turn easily persuaded my parents) to extend the trip by a few weeks.

In that first week of questionable, alcohol-fueled life decisions in Germany, the Rocket Scientist introduced me to the BFGD, or Big Friendly Giant Dutchman. I don’t think I’d ever seen anyone that tall at that point in my life. He arranged a brief sojourn in Amsterdam for us, including seeing a concert at the Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ.

In a nice bit of symmetry (which I always interpret as the universe telling me I’m doing the right thing with my life), I recently performed at that very same music hall as an intern with the Nederlands Kamerkoor. Right before boarding a flight to bring me back to my first Australian Christmas since that European holiday in 2011.

Since moving to the Netherlands, I’ve had many people ask me what Christmas is like in Australia. Some even question whether it happens at all! (Answer – yes, we have Christmas. We’re in the southern hemisphere, not on Uranus.) Basically, the essentials remain the same: family, food, presents, food, not working, food. But there are a few key differences, namely:

1. Summer

Seeing as we’re on the other side of the world, our Christmas occurs in the middle of summer. We still sing the traditional carols like Jingle Bells, they just make no sense. The Christmas holidays are part of the longer summer holidays, and so the family get togethers can be huge, as everyone is free to travel to whichever relative lives closest to the beach.

2. Salad and seafood

Many families still do the traditional roast ham, turkey and chicken as part of the Christmas lunch or dinner, though more often that not these are served cold rather than hot. But where we Australians really come into our own is with the salads – the more unusual the flavour combinations, the better. Seafood is also a pretty important element on many Christmases now – why eat turkey when you can have prawns?

3. Presents on the 25th

I’ve always found the European thing of opening presents on Christmas Eve really strange, not realising that this is the more “authentic” tradition. But for us (or at least my family), Christmas Eve is just a large feast and then filling stockings and putting remaining presents under the tree. Christmas morning is when you open the gifts.

4. Trifle

Trifle is hands down the most important aspect of Christmas in my family. For those poor deprived souls who have never experienced trifle, it is a pudding made from layers of sponge cake soaked in jelly, fruit, custard and cream. My grandmother was always in charge of making the Christmas trifle, and it would appear that since her passing, the recipe has become a thing of legend. No fewer than four children and grandchildren claim to have been taught the secrets of the trifle at her knee, yet all disagree on crucial aspects of the recipe. I personally believe that I alone know how to make the real thing, as in fact my last Christmas in Australia was also my grandmother’s last Christmas, and I made not one, but two trifles under her supervision. I’ve tried to make two trifles in The Hague, neither successful. But I might head back this time armed with Aeroplane Jelly and some crushed peanuts…..third time lucky!

 

Merry belated to Christmas to anyone reading, and Happy New Year!

 

 

The rain in Spain.

In contrast to the seven weeks spent gallivanting around Italy and Portugal last year, this year I managed to secure a measly two weeks off from work. Which meant only two weeks somewhere away from the Dutch weather. Based largely on my childhood adoration of Tales of the Alhambra by Washington Irving (and slightly as an “up yours” to Portugal) I decided on Spain. By chance, my oldest friend, Loz, was going to be in Europe at that time, and we agreed to holiday together.

Both Loz and I are by nature slow travellers: two weeks in one city is perfectly normal, as we both like to get a feel for a place by getting lost at our leisure. We both like being able to have a regular café, and believe that frantically dashing around the top tourist sites is unlikely to offer an insightful impression of a new place. However, for our Spanish sojourn, we decided to be different for once and pack as much into two weeks as possible, trying to get an overview of a country, rather than an overview of a city.

Our itinerary was as follows: a few days in Barcelona, followed by a flight to Valladolid where we spent an afternoon, a day in Salamanca, a few days in Madrid, a couple of days in Seville, a day in Córdoba, a day in Granada and a couple of days recovering at the beach in Nerja.

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Future self will deal with that.

The other day, during the daily ritual of pointless procrastination on Facebook, I came across this posted on a now-forgotten someone’s page:

Being an Adult

Amongst all the “inspirational” quotes, clickbait headlines and 50s memes that are plastered all over Facebook, this struck a chord, precisely because I’d been having a conversation earlier with The Guru about how my new life goal was to become a functional adult.

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There’s no place like home.

It was really too short a time to have spent at home.

I spent three and a half weeks back in Australia in February, and for the first time in about five months I actually felt like myself, like there was more to my personality than aching sadness.

I landed in Sydney in the morning, and spent the day wandering around the city and generally revelling in the fact that I wasn’t wearing a coat, wasn’t being rained on or blown sideways by the wind. I was also struck by a few things that had faded in my memory of home:

1. Australia is ridiculously beautiful.

I have been aware of how living in an arguably ugly concrete and brick city, with a distinct lack of nature to break up the monotony of the buildings, has had a detrimental effect on my lifestyle and mood. Walking around the harbour, gardens and day tripping to the beach was like being fed the most flavoursome Italian meal after living on a diet of unflavoured rice. Trees! Flowers! Water! Birds! Space! The loveliest places I’ve been in Europe can’t compare with an even average Australian landscape.

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Operation Evacuation

So the last five months have succeeded in breaking me. Have succeeded in tearing me down, leaving behind a shell of a person standing in the rubble of my former personality. All too often, I feel that the part of me that was happy, playful, attractive and fun to be around has died and is rotting away inside me, poisoning me from the inside out. I used to be funny. Now I’m just glum.

Who knew a broken heart could hurt so much?

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The Festive Season.

So that time of year has come and gone again. The time of year when eleven months of diet and exercise is ruined in a three day spree. The time of year when Bing Crosby is played incessantly everywhere you go. The time of year you start to wonder if your great aunt Mildred has Alzheimer’s, because if she remembered anything about you, she’d be damn certain you wouldn’t be caught dead wearing whatever monstrosity of a sweater she gave to you this year.
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