When I first came to the Netherlands 12 years ago because of my husband’s job, I arrived with optimism, energy and motivation to spare. I was thrilled to be starting a new life in a new country with my husband and our two children, aged 5 and 1. We found a quaint little house in a very Dutch and family-friendly neighborhood, a neighborhood plucked straight from a picture book. During our relocation interview we had been very strongly advised that we should invite the neighbors over as soon as possible, as this was customary and expected in the Netherlands. So, we invited the entire street for a house-warming party within two weeks of moving in. Everyone, really everyone, whom we had invited came. It was a wonderful party with our neighbors sitting in a circle, eagerly and competently speaking English to us. Everyone, children and adults alike, thoroughly enjoyed themselves. Future plans were made and much advice was given.
We were off to a perfect start. Visions of friendships, carpools and neighborhood parties danced in my head. And that fabulous start was also the end of it. During the year that followed there were none of the informal neighborly visits that I had envisioned, no invitations arrived to the parties that were being celebrated in the houses around us. As a result we were completely out of touch with our neighbors. Something had gone terribly wrong, and I still have no idea what it was. A year later we bought a house in another neighborhood on the outskirts of Eindhoven and there we were blessed with next-door-neighbors who quickly made us feel welcome. This time around we refrained from repeating the obligatory welcoming reception and we were decidedly more successful in coming into contact with the neighborhood.
One of the major factors, and I truly believe this, was that another wonderful neighbor sent her 5 year old son to our house to ask my son to come out and play shortly after we had moved in. I will never forget my feelings at the sight of that little boy with his head of curly blond hair and the courage to ring a stranger’s doorbell. The boys became instant friends as did their younger sisters. The whole family opened their hearts and helped us to get in touch with the neighborhood and Eindhoven.
To be continued…