This morning I had a doctor’s appointment in Delft with someone new and as the appointment began, I gave the woman my address.
“Above the childcare?” she asked (getting directly to my least-favorite aspect of our otherwise very pleasant rental).
“Yes,” I said.
“I used to live there,” she said. “Years ago, when it was one house, a student house.”
Small world, you might think; and it’s true—but this woman (middle-aged, a longtime Delft resident) is actually the second person I have met who used to live in my apartment (not including the previous tenant, who comes by occasionally to grab wayward mail). Other than that my building has a lot of turnover, what this and other encounters tell me is that people around here stay put. It is not at all uncommon for me to meet someone in Delft (outside of students or postdocs at the university) and ask where they are from, and for the person to look at me and say, “Here.”
In the US when I ask a friend where she’s from there’s often a long story: I was born in California but grew up in New Jersey and went to college in Pennsylvania and then moved to Boston after that. (Note: that’s my story.) For my Dutch acquaintances here, the story is often a bit simpler. I asked a friend who lives in den Haag how often he sees his family; he replied nearly every week, since they all live within a half hour. Our neighbor one house down told me he’s lived on our street for more than twenty years—but before that, he just lived one street over. It all kind of fits: The smaller businesses. The shops where I see the same person working every time I go. The university of course throws a more transient, more international group into the town’s mix, but I get the sense that many people who live here really are “lifers.”
It’s difficult for me to imagine living my whole life in one town… perhaps because it’s a bit too late.