What brought you to the Netherlands?
Do you know that saying “of my free will and without coercion?” In my case, it was exactly the opposite, and I was, in fact, bound to take this step. In short, I followed my husband in 2011. I came out of my husband’s love for the Netherlands. He’s loved this country ever since he was a kid, when he was seven. When I met him, this was the first thing he told me, that when he’s older, gets married, and has kids, he’ll move to the Netherlands. I didn’t believe him, I married him, and here I am.
What was it like in the beginning?
Terrible, terrible! It was one of the toughest experiences of my life. It manifested as a pain that I didn’t know how to interpret back then, I didn’t know it’s called “homesickness.” There are places in the Hague where I still cannot go, if you can imagine.
First of all, I was completely unprepared for this move. My husband was already prepared, he had learned Dutch on his own, he already knew a lot about this culture, he felt from the beginning that this is a country where he would like to live and grow – because I feel that he’s thriving here, he’s a different man. He did try to help me prepare as well, but I refused with obstinacy, I didn’t want to prepare. I came here, plunging in the deepest water and realized I was drowning. My husband tried to save me as good as he could, but you know how it goes, until you’re the one to actually make the effort…
Can you tell me more about how it was difficult for you?
Here is a situation that infuriated me terribly, speaking of not understanding the culture and the place where you live. I had an appointment with a friend at the Children’s Book Museum in the Hague, which is located in the center. Disoriented as I am, I eventually find where I’m supposed to go, I get to a door, and walk into what I thought was the Children’s Book Museum – later I found out it was the Royal Library –, and I ask the lady at the reception desk “Is this the Children’s Book Museum?” The lady answers “No.” I leave and walk the same route and end up again back where she was and I ask anew “Is this the Children’s Book Museum?” And she replies once more “No.” I get downright mad! I find my friend, eventually, I tell her the story, and she says “Well, you didn’t ask where the museum was…” Why would I have asked, wasn’t it obvious that I was looking for it? “Yes, but you have to provide all the information.”
That was a shock to me! I could picture myself in Romania, in the same situation, taking myself by the hand and walking with myself to the museum that was within a stone’s throw. This situation was rendered by a cultural difference that I couldn’t understand. It was an incompatibility that I didn’t understand, and which I had a hard time getting used to.
Now, I’m able to say that I feel like a fish in water in Romania, but I couldn’t return there anymore. Here, even though I don’t feel yet that much at ease, it’s a home that I wouldn’t want to leave.
When did you start to feel better?
When I was ready to accept the change. And I think that lasted about four years, and I’m still in the middle of a continuous adjustment process. If you asked my husband, his answers to these questions would be completely different. He’s very happy here. Whenever we have arguments about what the Netherlands means, he just walks out of the room. To him, the Netherlands is home. I’ve eventually adopted the Netherlands as a second home, having seen him thrive.
But, still, at what point did things start to change for you?
There were several factors. The first: the way things are with the kids. Everything is so simple, my children are free kids, they do what they like, they get a very good education, they’re not restricted by their school – in the sense that school is not a burden on them –, they’re happy kids. This was the first factor – as long as my children are happy, that means that things are going really well from one point of view.
The second aspect: we’re doing better than ever. Can you believe that? I, who am always the devil’s advocate, have a really good life here. And this state of wellness does not necessarily translate into material welfare. From the moment you wake up in the morning and you go out and get on your bike, the people that smile at you… Of course, this can be regarded as being on a superficial level, but I must say that even when you go into deeper levels, you find things that are very valuable, which I wouldn’t have had in a normal context in Romania. I can tell the difference pretty well.
Can you, please, give an example, again?
I was helped a lot by Dutch neighbors. I have relationships about which I could tell and write entire stories, about each Dutch person that I’ve met, who has enriched since I’ve come here, who has taught me certain things through their very attitude towards me. I’m not saying that all Dutch people are like this, maybe I’ve met the nice ones. It was pointed out to me that perhaps I have a too idealized vision of my relationship with the Dutch people, but this is the truth. I’ve met kind and warm Dutch people, who have approached me, it wasn’t me who approached them, I didn’t ask them anything, they came to help me somehow, in an altruistic way. That mattered tremendously. I was probably lucky to meet such people.
What does Lavinia cakes’n buttons mean to you?
It’s an open door and and a continuous, daily experience with people. It’s not like when you go to the office and you meet the same colleagues, whether ten or fifty of them. Every day I meet other people, I see other faces. Ever since I’ve opened this space, it has enriched me to an incredible degree. Every day there are stories and more stories. I don’t know if there’s anything more precious in my life right now, except for my family, of course.
It’s your little umbrella, which helps you to survive.
Not anymore, it used to be. That’s what it was, initially, a survival umbrella, but I’m done, I’ve come out from underneath it. I was hiding, but now it’s no longer a shelter. I’ve moved beyond the point when I used to take refuge here. It was like a healing phase, I said to myself “That’s it, this is my chance! If even now I’m not able to go out into this new world in which I’ve moved, that means that I’ll never be able to.”
And yes, that’s how I also learn the language a little, I learn it directly from them. Even more so, I dare to share with you a percentage. 25% of them come here aware of where they come, saying something in Romanian. It’s like a cultural exchange. You can’t imagine how glad I am when I see them coming, in a way, with their homework done! They come and say “You know, I know something about your country and I also know about your cakes.”
Does that mean that the wall you’ve built around you has started to collapse?
Yes, it’s true. It hasn’t collapsed completely, but it is falling into pieces, bit by bit…
What is there still left of it?
The last frontier that still remains is the language, although it should have been the first hurdle to overcome. It seems to me that the most difficult steps have already been taken. I am learning the language, no doubt. So, there’s very, very little left. So, I wouldn’t go away anymore.
What if tomorrow you’re told that you have to return to Romania? What would you do?
I’d panic. Each visit to Romania, whether it’s for a day or more, brings me tremendous joy, but also a matching sadness. I feel good there, it’s the place where I was born, but it’s sad, because I see the differences. Don’t think that I want to speak ill of the country. No, that couldn’t be further from my mind. I don’t want to split people into “I with my own” and “you with yours”, but when I’m there, I see and feel the frustration of the people much more than ever. Here, the people are simply relaxed. Even this straightforward manner of theirs of calling a spade a spade strips them, in a way, of some masks. Whereas, in Romania, you see layers upon layers and you have the feeling that cannot, in fact, reach the person in front of you, even if you know them.
Have you seen the movie The Others with Nicole Kidman? In short, some people in a house complain that they’re haunted by some ghosts and they keep trying to get rid of them. In the end, it turns out the ghosts were, in fact, the people themselves. That’s exactly what it feels like to me when I’m in Romania, that I enter a country of foreigners. I’ll probably upset a lot of people by saying this. And I mean the details, the little gestures, the looks, the things that fall into a certain mentality.
What do you like about the Dutch society, besides what has to do with raising children?
I’ll repeat the fact that I’m glad the kids are very happy in school. The absence of this stress regarding them going to school seems fantastic.
I like it that they don’t care what you do in your own backyard, in your house, in your garden. I’ve seen moms at school in their pyjamas, they bring their kids to school dressed in pyjamas. I was the only one looking at them. “Oh, she’s in her pyjamas!” “So? What’s the problem?” I like it very much that your space is not restricted, you set up this space yourself and nobody tresspasses it, unless you allow them or ask them to.
What do you dislike?
Well, I don’t like that, if I were to go to a Dutch person at 10 p.m., I’d probably scare them. It’s different than in Romania, where I can open the door to a friend without having planned that in my agenda. Here, you can’t do without an agenda.
I’ll give you an example. We have some Dutch neighbors who are also very good friends. To me, they’re the typical Dutch people. My little boy tells me one day that he’d like to play with their son. I write to my friend “Sebi would like to play with Rob. When can he come over?” She replies “Sure, gladly. Two weeks from now, Tuesday, at 13:50.” Seriously? The kid wants to play now. What kind of an answer is that, Tuesday, two weeks from now, at 13:50? I don’t get on well with agendas. It’s a lack of adaptability I’m still struggling with. I have five agendas, all empty. I get agendas as a present from the Dutch, from the Romanians, the habit just doesn’t stick to me. When someone asks something, now I’ll say out of fear “I’ll check my agenda”, but, in fact, I’ll check the agenda in my head. I can’t say I’m fooling them, but if I remember, fine, if not, then so be it!
What does success mean to you?
In the Romanian society, you automatically live and assimilate a certain idea about what success means, and it infiltrates into your system without you realizing it. Now, success means something completely different.
To me, it means what I currently am: doing what I like, enjoying people, experimenting, learning new things in a new culture, which, until now, has brought me nothing but benefits. In short, this is success, what I feel now, here, after years of having suffered and not having managed to see the joy that was right in front of my eyes. All you need to do is embrace what is happening to you and learn from the new reality in which you live.
What kind of a relationship do you have with the Romanian community in the Netherlands?
I like the Romanian community here, but somehow I see everyone as an individual, not as a group. Although I wear many ii (ie, plural ii, traditional embroidered Romanian blouse, ed.), kerchiefs and veils that have been reinterpreted and given an urban touch, and I wear little symbols of the Romanian spirituality, however I’m not a fan of wearing flags on your chest, nor of shouting “I’m a Romanian.” and “Let’s all sing together now.”
I regard every person as a human being, not as a nationality. I don’t discriminate. I would say that in the beginning I used to seek Romanians with a longing, but now I wouldn’t say that I’m no longer seeking them, but that nationality is less important. I bond to people in general, not to Romanians, French, or Dutch people. Of course, I interact a lot with Romanians, and I was lucky also in this respect because I’ve met wonderful Romanians.
What would you advise a Romanian who would like to come to the Netherlands now?
They should be prepared to lead a beautiful and peaceful life. They should accept the challenge of coming to this country, which has a lot to offer, but you won’t be getting it handed on a silver platter. As a good example, I’d like to mention my husband, who came prepared to the Netherlands. It’s as if you’re going daily to the gym to do your training and one day you take part in a sports competition and you finish first. Because you prepared yourself. He was open when he came here, and I see he’s happy. And now I’m also very happy and… the Dutch are nice, even though they wouldn’t tell you which is the Children’s Book Museum unless you explicitly ask them.
An interview by Claudia Marcu
translation by Mihaela Nita
photos from the personal archive
Photo-portrait by Cristian Călin – www.cristiancalin.video