According to expat-studies professionals, there are five stages of expat adjustment:
1st stage: Honeymoon
2nd stage: Rage
3rd stage: Understanding
4th stage: Adaptation
5th stage: ‘Gone Native’
For example, an expat in China might progress through the stages as follows:
1st: The neon and red lanterns are so pretty at night!
2nd: Why is every God damn person in this country smoking all of the fucking time?
3rd: Well, the air is so bad perhaps the filters in the cigarettes provide some additional protection.
4th: What smoke?
5th: 麻烦你, 我想买万宝路的一个纸箱. (Sorry to trouble you, I’d like to buy one carton of Marlboros.)
I, myself, have never followed a predictable linear path of adjustment and have completely skipped stages in certain countries. I feel confident, however, that here in the Netherlands, I am deep within the honeymoon phase.
I credit the following eight items for blessing me with a glorious first stage of expat adaptation this time around:
1. Nazomer (‘Indian summer’). It hasn’t rained (much) in weeks and we are set to hit 24 degrees Celsius (76 F) every day this week.
2. Biking in nazomer. Randomly cycling the outskirts of Utrecht, I encountered this fine view yesterday evening:
3. Neighbors who are just friendly enough. They brought us flowers when we first arrived. They say hello. They pretend not to notice me when I am arguing with my children in the street.
4. On-line grocery shopping. True, I accidentally ordered the wrong size bottle of wine, but now I needn’t haul a week’s worth of shopping home by bike.
5. Chatty ice cream shop owners. I have enjoyed extensive conversations about ice cream flavors in gelato shops and may have even convinced one shop owner to try lemon grass and coconut milk next spring.
6. Internet. Within one day of taking possession of our rental home, we had broadband service. By contrast, the family we are renting this house from just relocated to Italy and, many weeks later, are still waiting for an internet connection.
7. Amusingly odd Dutch humor. At the Dutch Railway Museum (Spoorweg Museum) there is a display about a historic Dutch train genius, F.W. Conrad. The display begins with a large, black, old-fashioned baby pram, which is dramatically lit and perched on a platform. The accompanying signssays something like: “While not much is known about F.W. Conrad’s childhood upbringing, historians can definitively confirm that this was not the perambulator that he was pushed around in as a baby.”
8. Date night. For the first time in our expat history, we have identified a suitable babysitter within the first four weeks. Last weekend I perched on my husband’s back bike rack (as is Dutch style) and was cycled by him to an al fresco dinner. On our way home, we stumbled across a small lane covered with bunting and lights in preparation for a street party:
In summary, to ensure a happy expat honeymoon period: move to Utrecht and be lucky.
I remain in denial of stage two — rage — which will likely be induced by poor-weather once nazomer ends.