Savor Local Color- An Expat Must Do

by farrah on August 5, 2013 · 4 comments

One of the big jokes from our House Hunters episode is when my husband says ‘A church and a pub! It’s all we need!’ or something corny like that when referring to the pub down the street. First of all, we’re not bar flies- and secondly I’m still not even sure what the denomination is of that church. In all honesty though- that cozy little pub has taught me much and more being an American in Holland. It’s the best spot to find our neighborhood’s local color.

cafe3De Knuistboom- where everybody does know your name.

From the outside De Knuistboom is very cute- in the summer they have the awning down (of course) and a few tables and chairs out on the terrace. On the inside there’s a pool table, a couple of nooks with small tables, two dart boards and a long wooden table in the middle. The bar itself sits to the back and the paned windows all have the blinds down half way. It’s pretty ‘brown’ in here- hence where ‘brown cafes‘ got their name– the smoke. It is dusty, and the miscellaneous teapot, bumblebee, etc hanging from the ceiling look like they’ve been there a while.

Typically the sound system is pumping what I can only describe as a Dutch-polka type of music- although American 80s is usually quite popular. Everyone knows all the words- and they sing along. People walk or bike to get here, there is no parking lot, so you know everyone is local and familiar.  (Sidenote: even over here people know all the words to ‘Sweet Caroline’ and sing with equal enthusiasm.)

Last night I walked the sixty-something steps to Cafe De Knuistboom from my front door. The pub sits in the middle of a split in the road- the main drag to enter Oisterwijk. I was looking forward to sipping a pils while the sun set. I thought back to two nights prior when my husband and I took my visiting cousin and her husband there for a few drinks.

cafeMy cousin and her new bff.

We had encountered a very intoxicated Dutch woman who chatted away and kissed our cheeks many times. The fact that we didn’t understand her was not a deterrent. I was glad that my relatives got the chance to see a local resident pub, so last night as I approached the cafe I fully expected to see this lady sitting there- however in her place was a gentleman who looked like he had just stepped off a pirate ship.

Sitting alone by the door was a silver-haired Walter. He was covered in fierce tattoos- one being a lion that spread out across the back of his hand. As I approached, he commented on my green shirt. I looked him in the eye and replied ‘I’m sorry. I don’t speak much Dutch.’ and he laughed and told me what he had said, so I ran in to grab a beer and return to sit next to my new friend.

Walter is typical of many Dutch people- they will be the first to tell you that they ‘Don’t speak good English. But I try.’ First of all, their ‘little bit’ of English is a world better than my ‘little bit’ of Dutch. It never ceases to amaze me how the Dutch almost seem apologetic for their difficult language- and immediately try to put me at ease by speaking ours.

I understood maybe 4 of every 10 words he said- and he tried teaching me a few phrases like ‘Ik probeer het‘ (I try it) meaning I’ll try that word/phrase/etc. I do not know Nederlands- but ik probeer het. That’s all they ask. That’s all anyone asks if you’re visiting their country. Well, maybe except in France because as far as I can tell in personal experience- you should be speaking perfect French or nothing at all.

Our halting conversation informed him that I have three little boys- and when I asked if he had kids he replied (in all seriousness) ‘I don’t know.’ and laughed. We talked about Oisterwijk and what a wonderful village that it was- and Holland and the beauty of the country. Like so many of the Dutch they love where they are from and have a deep pride for their home.

I sat on the terrace with Walter for  over two hours. When his cab arrived to take him home he was in no hurry, but instead invited the cab driver to sit with us while he finished his drink. I was so glad that I had met him- alas he asked me many times if I had an older sister but I had to disappoint. Additionally he told me at least a hundred times that I was a ‘beautiful girl’ and a ‘very nice person’. Let me tell you, hearing that never gets old.

cafe2You can park your bike- but not your car.

I felt safe, where I could see my front door from where I sat- chatting with someone I had just met. I marveled at where I was, what I was doing and how much this experience has changed me. I love being here and I love being an expat. I love the Dutch and their affinity for life and appreciation for slowing down and enjoying the finer things once work is done. Oh, how lucky am I.

You don’t have to speak a foreign language beautifully to discuss the lovely summer twilight. You get by- and if je probeer het, you’ll be fine.

When was the last time you shared a conversation with a stranger?



{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Gayla August 5, 2013 at 8:13 am

I feel lucky to be here, too. It’s such an easy place to meet people. The Dutch are inquisitive making it easy to strike up a conversation with anyone, and you’re right, Farrah,…’if je probeer het, you’ll be fine.’
Groetjes uit Venlo 🙂


2 farrah August 5, 2013 at 11:03 am

It really is. Last night I was trying to think if I would even have this conversation back home… but then I also remembered I didn’t have a neighborhood pub either.


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