On 25 July, my family and I boarded a plane with a one-way ticket to Amsterdam. We're called expats (and there are thousands like us, there are bags of Brits here), but I prefer to use the term "immigrant". It's more accurate because we're not just expatriates living in a foreign land, we're immigrants, having taken a permanent residence here.
We're all in. The way you should be when you're careering headfirst into an adventure.
So it's been a month, and here's what I've learned so far.
1. My language skills are embarrassing
We're so spoiled here. I've not met a single person who doesn't speak English. The only practise I get on my Dutch is when I remember to use my Duolingo app (which is ace, by the way). It's got to the point where I've made a pact with the manager of my gym that he'll only speak Dutch to me. I don't have a clue what he's saying now. #allin.
2. Spoken language is just the start
I've spent 35 years slowly absorbing cultural ticks and unspoken rules in England. I thought I knew the main differences that would arise. I knew that Dutch people were more direct and that no one besides Brits start almost every sentence with "Sorry" but it's so much deeper than that.
Facial expressions, kissing hello (THREE cheek kisses, I know!), queuing (it's more 'swarm and grab' here) and interpretation of traffic rules. I'm black and white on rules - I follow them, religiously, and they help me cope with the world. That doesn't really fly here.
And the direct thing is true. Most Dutch people I've spoken to have been very matter of fact, maybe even blunt, but that doesn't paint the full picture. They have also been incredibly helpful, welcoming and far friendlier than I ever found strangers in London.
I've realised already that it doesn't matter if I become fluent in Dutch, I'll never pass for Dutch. And that's okay.
3. Baked beans are called tomato beans
Which, when you think about it, is more accurate. Also, you won't find any grim slabs of sweaty Edam here. They just ship that crap to the UK, the cheese here is way better than that. I've eaten my body weight in "oud kaas".
4. Children are just frickin' amazing
I'm wide-eyed and shell-shocked because baked beans are called tomato beans and everyone zips over the pedestrian crossings on their Vespas. Meanwhile my big two are catching a train to another town, in a brand new land, to get themselves to school and my seven-year-old is being taught in a second language he started learning two weeks ago. And they're just rolling with it. I will be forever amazed by these kids.
5. Everything you think you know is wrong
Well, it might be. My point is that so much of what feels permanent and absolute is actually just our experience. From the very basic stuff (for online shopping they use those payment gadgets like you need for logging on to internet banking) to the big (you can buy a house without a deposit, get a mobile phone contract with no credit history but you need to carry ID on the train).
Everything I thought was "just the way everyone does it" was just the way we did it. And that's after a month in one city, imagine how many varieties of life there are out there that we miss out on every day that we just stay in the same place. Yeah I know, pretty deep right? What do you mean everyone else already knew this? I didn't.
6. Getting rid of a car is the best thing I ever did
I'm averaging nine miles of walking a day, just doing the school runs, shopping and wandering about. My carbon footprint is still a bit rum (I'm flying back to the UK one weekend every month) but it's better than it was day to day. I'm healthier, fitter and spending less money because you're a lot more selective with purchases if you have to carry them home yourself. Apart from the 17 cushions the other day because I felt a bit homesick.
7. Dutch people really are tall
That shit is not a myth. The average Dutch person is 9' 8".
8. You can live without all your stuff
You really can. We arrived with a suitcase and almost all our stuff is in storage. It's fine. All those things that we spent years collecting and curating and, frankly, I can't remember what most of it was. It got to the point in the packing where the most used phrase was "I don't care, just put it in the skip".
We're middle class folk with jobs and a load of stuff in storage, this is not the same as actually having no stuff and no means to get stuff, make no mistake. I can't even imagine.
9. If you want to lose weight, live in a canal house
Our kitchen is on the ground floor, our living room is on the third floor. I have to really want those snacks to bother. Similarly, it turns out I CAN get out of bed (fourth floor) without a cup of tea.
10. You get to rewrite yourself when you start again
And the best part of that is realising which bits you want to stay the same. Yes, I'm getting a whole new hairdo at the weekend (it was that or a tattoo - I'm such a cliché) and feeling all radical because I'm no longer eating meat and I'm out exploring a city and throwing myself into new situations, but when it gets to 7pm, I still get into my comfies and watch Netflix with the kids. And that's cool too.