On a mission to find a house in Amsterdam, real estate agents ask me the same questions. Why do I prefer old, dilapidated houses? And why am I moving back to the Netherlands after living abroad for nearly a decade?
I love being abroad. Every day holds an adventure, from a discussion with a neighbor about the proper color of baguette to a mountain trail on snow shoes. French principles and standards of behavior are different from Dutch ones and invite me to reflect on my own morals, from the legalization of prostitution to peanut butter sandwiches. The best thing about living abroad though is meeting extraordinary people who, like me, left their home country, like the passionate labor union organizer from Australia or the Texan nuclear scientist who is partial to wearing pink butterfly wings.
Nevertheless, recent experiences have tipped the scales against living abroad. I have realized, at length, the insignificance of existence while filling out forms, waiting on hold or standing in line for Swiss taxes, French insurances or a municipal manhole cover. But I’m increasingly losing my cool. Administration and bureaucracy are just as tedious in the Netherlands, but at least I know my way around the system.
Worse than any pointless paper hassle is my halting social integration. Foreign cinema, fashion and (up to a certain point) cuisine didn’t pose a problem; my marriage with a woman does. My French GP told me I can have sex with a man by pretending a penis is a very large clitoris. Civil servants, both in Switzerland and France, ensured me that my lesbian relationship does not merit the same rights as a “normal” one and charged us tens of thousands extra in tax. In the Netherlands, the fact that we’re two women together is not an issue. We’re just us.
As for the extraordinary people I find abroad: I will miss them. But I still have fantastic friends in the Netherlands, whom I have missed so much in the past decade. We have some serious catching up to do. It’s about time Spouse and I find the Dutch dilapidated house of our dreams.