Am I a real expat now?
It’s been a rough week. My husband’s in the States for a job interview, and I’m having all kinds of mixed emotions. I’m feeling a little under the weather. And the day before American Thanksgiving, back home in New Jersey, my grandfather passes away.
I spend a day on the couch, home alone, being weepy and staring into space and doing all the things you might (or might not) expect. I realize that a large chunk of the day is gone and I haven’t eaten anything. I look in the refrigerator and conclude that the correct thing to do is roast 3 carrots and 2 potatoes.
By late in the evening, after many, many conversations, weekend plans—plans I had really been looking forward to—are cancelled. Plane tickets are booked, and I’ll be flying home the day after Thanksgiving. On Thursday (Thanksgiving), I advise myself not to spend the day on the couch again. It’s not that great of a couch.
I go to Amsterdam, and spend the afternoon writing in one of my favorite cafes. It’s kind of pleasant that it’s not a holiday here; it takes the focus off spending it alone. I do a little Christmas shopping, and it’s 6:30 and I’m deliberating whether to get the train back to Delft or get dinner here, when I pass O’Reilly’s Irish Pub, near Dam Square.
Signs in the windows are advertising an American Thanksgiving dinner, tonight only, turkey with all the trimmings for €15. I smile, just because I love that this exists. I keep walking, but at the corner I pause. I think of my Irish grandpa, and I turn around.
I get a table by myself with a view of an English football match, someplace where it’s snowing. Phil Collins is playing on the stereo. Christmas decorations, as elsewhere in Amsterdam, are already up; the light is warm and everything is sparkling off the dark wood. I order a Guinness, thinking that I always forget how thick Guinness tastes. I order the turkey dinner, and it’s—frankly—pretty bad, except for the mashed potatoes, which are all you would hope for from an Irish establishment. But it seems like tonight, the spirit of the thing matters far more than the quality of the food.
This year I got over my fear of eating in a sit-down restaurant alone, so I don’t feel uncomfortable. My eyes get watery a few times. I figure that to the friendly wait staff I must look worse off than I really am—American, eating alone on Thanksgiving, occasionally looking weepy—when in fact I have a loving family, and friends I’m so thankful for, and tomorrow I can eat leftovers at my parents’ house (IF MY BROTHER LEAVES ME ANY).
While I pay, one bartender asks the other, “Where’d you get the candy stick?” The second is sucking a candy cane. He produces another, and the first bartender gives it to me. “This is for you, dear,” he says. This is excellent, because while I used to get saturated on candy canes, I haven’t seen one in ages; and I was just thinking the other day that I wanted one.
I’m sleepy on the train back to Delft, thinking about all the packing I have to do. Two drunk students literally wrestle the doors open to let a man jump on. Everyone hugs. Back at the station I’m unlocking my bike from the masses when directly across from me, I realize a friend is unlocking hers. I love Delft, I think. I love living in a full town so small you still run into people you know. I love Amsterdam; I realized today that I didn’t even bring a map. Here is home. There is much to be thankful for.