The first hours in a new country can be pretty anxiety inducing and stressful for me. I distinctly recall the stress of finding a hotel in Dubai and a German man telling me it was a bad neighbourhood. I was a little calmer arriving in St Petersburg, but I think this was because I just gave myself a free pass – ie I caught a cab to a hotel. Simple. For Amsterdam, on my last working day (yesterday feels like forever ago, but that’s when it was), I at least had the foresight to print the GoogleMaps directions for a bus and walking to my AirBnB.
So I seemed semi planned. My Australian phone carrier doesn’t do global roaming, and mostly I don’t mind this. However, staying at AirBnBs and coordinating with European friends, when I saw it was under 30 Euro to buy a dutch SIM, i bought one. The cost – not a problem – I just transferred my worries onto ‘how long will that much data last’ and ‘should I use the data for checking an email when I might *really need* it for a map later?’. Because even with my google maps written directions (I opted out of maps), I got off the bus and headed the wrong direction. Once I hit the next bus stop, I found a man who was… hooking up a trailer which I noticed is for recycling of batteries and light globes, and he advised me to head the direction I’d came in. When I found the final street, Google assured me the destination was on the left. It was on the right. One thing Europeans maintain is odd and even sides of the road! Also, quaintly, they are still far more inclined to put their name to their door bell or property. So when I found a home with the right number and “Merel and Mike” it seemed a good enough match to my AirBnB paperwork which said Maria and Mike. I was so concerned that the roofer would be puzzled or annoyed by my rolling suitcase, I carried in the last 50m. Yep – next level considerate (or next level “trying to fit in”).
So… I’ve knocked on the door. There’s been no answer. It’s about 4pm in the afternoon, and quite unlike my last visit to The Netherlands, it’s sunny and warm and mild! I was last here between Christmas and New Year and it was snowy! So I’ve bunkered down behind a short hedge for the shade, and set my new SIM up in my phone. That’s when I checked the email account I use for AirBnB (which, stupidly isn’t linked to my ‘normal’ accounts I check v regularly) I see my hosts had politely asked what time I was due to arrive. To be honest, I cleared customs far faster than I anticipated.
My anxiety is from all the ‘what ifs’. What if I’m sitting here til it’s dark and cold? What if they don’t come. I mean… I’m in a country of very well educated English speakers – there’s not been a person yet whose thrown their hands up and had no idea what I’m saying. Yep – that includes two bus drivers, the man with the trailer – even a dog walker apologised when her dog sniffed me as I was sitting here! I can’t imagine I’m going to end up frozen, starving and camping out for the night in this quiet street, not far from THE famed tulip farm (and therefore, there’s likely hotels). I just seem to be able to do ‘next level worry’ when things aren’t seamless. Like… what’s the bother I walked a kilometer the wrong direction on a sunny day in comfy shoes with a small wheelie suitcase and a backpack? Anyone who noticed my mistake… I’ll NEVER meet. And even if I did, it’s a laughable mistake right? It feels like in the age of smart phones, not knowing things is even more distressing for me. And I have no shame in Australia asking where things are (ie somewhere to donate foreign change in Sydney Airport – there is no exaggeration 15 places you can exchange money, but the two I asked didn’t know where I could ‘donate’ coins. In the end, I was heading to the Qantas Business Class lounge as I know they run a program on board, when I noticed on the general concourse there was a Rotary bin for coins).
I think my discomfort goes to something deeper though. I like to appear, to others, including strangers, as capable and confident. I don’t like feeling out of my depth, and I seldom do feel that way. Connected to that, I don’t like to inconvenience people – by asking for help. Yet I’m someone who is acutely aware of someone reading a map in Sydney streets and OFFER to help (supposing they may have the same ‘which stranger do I ask’ anxiety). I also feel very aware that as an English speaker, we come to assume every speaks English, and how gosh darn lucky I am, by nature of my birth, that it’s my native language. Everywhere I travel, I wish I spoke the language. And in some countries, it’s much much harder to travel there due to language and the penetration of English (I’m looking at you Russia!) I can only imagine my stress levels if english was my second language, and I was travelling communicating with others whom it’s their second language, and then second guessing if my English was right.. or theirs, or we’d ended up speaking nonsense and making things worse… It’s times like these, mime seems a viable alternative!! And iconography!
In the end, i think I sat in the sunshine reading for about 3 hours. The neighbours across the street had been in and out, walking their dog, and their kitchen faced the AirBnB. Their 22 year old son came out and asked if I’d like to come inside and join them for dinner. I politely agreed! What a wonderful offer (cause I had been thinking that once my hosts arrived, and I’d showered, then I’d need to work out where and what to have for dinner in my state of tiredness). I sat at their dinner table in their light and airy home, ad of course, being Dutch, Mum, Dad and both sons spoke English! Once I’d eaten, and they’d poured me a cup of tea, the hosts arrived. They have an eight week old baby, and today the mother had gone to her mother’s house to get some help caring for the baby whilst she did some work tasks. Combine that with a traffic jam and the father not having keys and I think that explains the ‘we could be there in 15 mins’ turning into a very pleasant three hour wait.
Everything turned out better than fine – and it usually does. I can logically think that in those moments, and I tend to reach out to others to talk to and distract me, and remind me, things are FINE. A wonderful friend from church was on line to talk, as was my little brother in England. By the time I’d checked into my AirBnB, Australia was almost waking up…