Against the backdrop of the Dutch EU Council presidency, OneWorld.nl has sent Reinier Vriend on a mission to identify the everyday European values and concerns. In the interview series #ThisIsMyEurope he speaks with colourful individuals in and of the continent, trying to find out what ‘Europe’ means to us. This week he speaks with American-German Alexandra, who lives in a rural part of the Netherlands.
“Europe is a great name to refer to a continent, but when I think about Europe, I don’t see it as one place. It’s really all about the specific countries, that are so different one by one. Each country offers such a unique living experience that ‘Europe’ is more a category of places.”
It’s a choice. You can’t make it back for everything that happens. You will miss your friends’ weddings. But there are a lot of good reasons to stay
The American-German Alexandra (30) works for an international NGO in The Hague. She lives in the provincial village of Wateringen, something that seems to surprise her as well. “I moved in with my boyfriend. I was hesitant at first, because otherwise I have no business in small Dutch village. I grew up around big cities: Baltimore, Philly, DC. I get this sense of comfort from having lots of people around. Wateringen is the opposite.” The proximity of The Hague brings respite: “It’s OK that it’s a little boring here. There’s an escape nearby: I know that 10 kilometres away something is happening. I only have to jump on the bike or take the bus.”
Living in Europe as an expat has consequences for Alexandra. “It’s a choice. You can’t make it back for everything that happens. You will miss your friends’ weddings. But there are a lot of good reasons to stay”. One of those reasons is her German family. Born to an American mother and a German father, Alexandra spent her early years moving between continents. When her parents separated, she lived with her mom in the States, and saw her father once a year. In her early twenties, the contact deepened. “I started to visit more frequently, and I realised we got along so well. A thought about dad hit me around then: ‘I may like you better than rest of the family I have known so far. You’re almost seventy, maybe I should find a reason to stay somewhere closer’.” It was an important realisation. “There’s this weird thing about having family on both continents. My move to Europe may have been a subconscious balancing between connecting with my mother and father. Getting to know my dad more has been amazing. I now have a kind of support I didn’t know I was missing out on for 25 years. It’s very cool to have the opportunity now to understand a father-daughter relationship.”
In Europe there’s this universal sense of mobility. There’s no hassle
Another reason for Alexandra to stay in Europe is the advantage of connectedness it has to offer. “I realised that in the Netherlands, you don’t need a car to get around. Even the smaller places are completely connected. In the US, even in some urban areas, you won’t be able to get by without a car.” This connectedness extends internationally as well. “In Europe there’s this universal sense of mobility. There’s no hassle. You can choose between a bus, a train and a plane and you’re able to afford each option. In the US, every trip you make is long, expensive and takes up all your leave days. It’s not that Americans don’t want to go elsewhere; they simply don’t have the opportunity like here in Europe, so why dream it up anyway?”
Talking about her Americo-European identity, Alexandra is quick to choose sides. “I’m not here to explore my German roots. I’m very American.” Her cultural identity is a daily source of enjoyment. “I like the challenges of doing everyday things. Even though the American and European lifestyles are similar, these small things can be staggeringly different and challenging. How does the post office work, how to register at the municipality, how to pay bills? When I go back to the US, I know what to expect, how stuff works, how to interact, talk to people. Here, none of those certainties exist. I like being confronted with these issues all the time. Maybe I’ll get sick of it, but now it’s nice to live in a place where you don’t know how things will turn out. Each time you have to figure it out on your own. Once you find out how something works, it’s deeply satisfying.”
This interview is part 11 of the series #ThisIsMyEurope. Join the conversation on Twitter [@OneWorldNL] and read the other interviews on the special #ThisIsMyEurope Oneworld page.