I am writing to you from a small student filled café in the centre of Nijmegen. It’s been some time since my arrival in August and this is the longest I’ve ever been away from London. I wouldn’t say I am Dutch yet but I have grown to love these laid-back, chirpy folk (despite their weird food). Anyway here are some moments that have defined my time here.
My first few weeks back in August were spent in a melee of social activity and bureaucratic chaos. As soon as I arrived I was wisped into the city centre by my Irish flatmate Robbie, who, as always, was keen to socialise with new people and find some undiscovered digs in our adoptive town. So naturally the first place we found ourselves in was a head-hop run by a German hippy. He was probably the most chilled man I have ever met. After some small talk he took us to the garden out back where he gave us a demonstration on how to meditate. This was actually a valuable lesson and I have come to respect the action of clearing your mind of all thought and concentrating on a sole inanimate object; it genuinely seems good for your health.
I also discovered the most fundamental aspect of Dutch culture: the bicycle. You are a nobody in the Netherlands if you do not own a bike, there are more bikes than people here and within hours of arrival walking suddenly seemed inadequate – why walk a few hundred meters in minutes when you can cycle in less than one?
Anyway, the initial day was spent running around campus trying to get my Learning Agreement signed which is basically a piece of paper saying you’re doing as you’re told and will allow you to get free money from Erasmus (which I desperately needed and could do with again tbh).
Although time was taken off from that pursuit after one day as there was a trip to Amsterdam and I wasn’t going to turn that down. This was good, I realised that Amsterdam pre-coffee shop is very different to Amsterdam post-coffee shop. Other than that we went to the sex museum, which was a laugh; there was lots of nakedness everywhere and tacky manikins that flashed whilemoaning like a phone vibrating on granite.
The next day was also a day off because it was Saturday and who works on a Saturday? This was one of my more Dutch days; we went to some kind of craft beer festival that was held on a beached ship by the River Waal (and there was actually a DJ playing house). The people who ran it reminded me a bit of that Dutch lady from Fresh Meat with their long skirts, hemp bags and dreaded hair. I actually managed to talk one of them into giving me a free two litre jug of all the dregs, what seemed like a victory at the time later developed into a bit of a loss the next morning.
After this the milestone’s become a bit spread out. My usual days consisted of learning about Chaucer or the development of the English language and my evenings playing slightly sexual drinking games with the Italians in my flat. I genuinely believe I have become an Italian son; I have a large amount of my meals cooked for me,I am doted on, and I’ve started calling everyone a ‘Cazzo’. Being part of an international community is an education in itself; I’d never been to a pre-drinks where the samba drums are played in place of a ‘Majestic Casual’ playlist before, or a group of Glaswegians exchange football chants with some Sevillanos.
This was all to be dwarfed, though, by the Amsterdam Dance Event the following month, which I was sent to cover for another publication. This is as much a festival for electronic music as it is a conference and meeting opportunity for everyone involved in the industry. You could walk into any given café and it would be crowded with label owners, promoters, artists and journalists everyone working and collaborating together. I fell in love with Amsterdam that week. Wherever you looked there were beautiful people, cultural tit-bits and hedonistic experiences to be had. I had never spent a night in Amsterdam and I had also never been clubbing solo before, both of which I had to face on my first night. Half a bottle of wine over dinner helped ease me into this and the vodka on the tram assisted further.
Clubbing by yourself is actually quite fun, I expected to be the weird loner in the club,like the guy you see at drum and bass nights with the leather trench coat staring at everyone, but I actually made loads of friends, albeit temporary ones. I managed to blag getting backstage for James Zabiela and there everyone treated me like a mate, I actually got kicked out half way through but in some kind of drunken talk with the Bouncer found myself back there having a great time (Dutch bouncers actually aim to be as nice as possible unlike in Britain). That morning I found myself in a coffee shop with two Dutch girls, wondering who I really was and what I had become, so it just goes to show that clubbing by yourself is actually an experience that will teach you a lot, mostly about how little boundaries you have. So yeah that week was a big milestone that I spent running around town, desperately trying to network and party, which together can feel a bit like work.
October then ended with exams that I probably could have been more prepared for. After that I jetted back to Leeds for Halloween (I say jetted it took a bike ride, four trains, a plane and a taxi ride all to get use a budget airline from Dusseldorf). I don’t need to explain Leeds on Halloween because most of you will know what that entails. And now after all of this I sit here in my comfortable Dutch café looking at the orange foliage that has fallen from the trees as I churn out what I hope is an enjoyable read.
This month I will be going to Berlin for my 21st; a Techno festival the following week and having my parents over after that, so hopefully my next letter will be as eventful as this one.