A Month in Amsterdam

Earlier this week, as I watched the crazed Dutch cyclists zip past each other along the tiny streets of the Jordaan district next to where I am living, I wondered if a summer is long enough to figure out Amsterdam’s traffic rules. I’ll let you know, but at the moment, one month in, I’m still bewildered.

While I was pondering the mysteries of the Amsterdam traffic, I began to reflect on the stages of adjustment I always go through when I relocate to a new city, even when it’s just for a short while.

At first, everything you see and smell and taste is delightful. You can’t believe you are where you are and you notice and marvel at every little detail. On my shorter trips, I rarely move past this phase.

The second phase is when the differences you first marvelled at start to annoy you. Why do those cyclists have to go so fast? Why don’t Dutch store clerks ever smile? Why are there so few ticket machines in the Metro at Centraal Station?

The third phase is when you start to adjust to the differences. For me, an important step in reaching this phase is when I’m comfortable navigating the city without a map and stop noticing that I don’t understand the language.

The fourth and final phase is acceptance. This doesn’t mean that you feel completely at home or you have become fluent in a new language. Rather, you understand and accept that you may never feel at home — and you’re OK with that. How long it takes you to reach this final phase is the big unknown. In Paris, it took me only a few months. In other cities, it took me years. (Toronto, I’m looking at you.)

I’ve been in Amsterdam for a month now, and I’m most definitely in the second phase, inching slowly towards the third.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

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