Wednesday, January 13, 2016

New in Rotterdam

I often see comments and questions in the expat facebook group from people who have just moved to Rotterdam from another country. I had a chance to adjust gradually - 5 years in a village in the north of Holland, then a year and a half in a town nearby Rotterdam. By the time I actually moved into this metropolis I was fluent in Dutch and knew my way around the city.

But to come here directly... that could be quite a shock.

 Maybe not so much if moving from London or New York, with their ethnic diversities, skyscrapers, and city bustle. But arriving from a sprawling suburb in Florida or relaxed town in Argentina? Quite different. Bikers crisscross the city and conversations in every language spill through cafes. Apartments are compact or even tiny; gardens are outnumbered by concrete streets and highrises. When it's raining (which is often), the sky seems to drop like a grey blanket over the city. When it's sunny, the glass buildings sparkle and the stonework glows. Buses, metros, trams, and trains run through the city, convenient for people who know the routes, confusing for people who don't. My radio picks up a channel with Indian music; the IMAX movie theaters play popular movies with Dutch subtitles. The markets are full of exotic fruit and even more exotic clothing, in case I need to cook kip tandoori or attend a bellydance or salsa class. Random foods at the supermarket may be there one week and gone the next. I often get asked for directions.

As Pippin gets older, I search for information on raising bilingual children, and on the Dutch educational system. Children can attend a dagverblijf (daycare) at a few months old, a peuterspeelzaal (toddler preschool) at two years old, and then basisschool (primary school) from four years old. From what I've seen, foreign mothers in Rotterdam are more likely to stay at home while Dutch mothers often work part-time. Incoming expat mothers have questions about children's activities: where can children swim? sport? have birthday parties? I rarely have answers, considering Pippin is not yet 2. I also don't have answers about a good nail salon, or gymnastics lessons, or bringing over a container of furniture. I can't recommend a driving school because I don't drive here. I don't know what the going rate is for dry cleaning or roofing contractors.


But I do know that Hema sells good quality clothes and that Kruidvat has excellent prepaid phone cards. The Maritiem Museum has fascinating ocean exhibits. Ikea is the king of affordable furniture, and De Tuinen has some of the best organic creams and foods. The Laurenskerk church was one of the few buildings that survived the bombings in World War II. Zuidplein is the place to go for shopping at a 'real' mall, and both Ikazia and EMC have good maternity options. Xenos has real candy canes around Christmas. Albert Heijn grocery stores often carry Dr. Pepper and Mountain Dew, while Dirk usually has the lowest food prices outside of markets. Feyenoord, Sparta, and Excelsior are the three biggest football (soccer) clubs in Rotterdam. 'Kikker en Vrienden' is a good children's series for learning about emotions, and the weight limit on a front bike seat for babies/toddlers is about 15 kilos or 33 pounds.

Part of the art of living here is staying focused on what matters, instead of getting distracted by the thousands of opinions and options. Everyone has their own questions, their own worries, their own hopes for this city. Here's to finding the answers.

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