Big Wins in the Mundane

by farrah on May 31, 2016 · 6 comments

One of the things new expats need to do (as soon as possible) is get into their community and figure out how to get things done. I’m not talking about big things- like buy a car, navigate the grocery store, or enroll your kids in school. Those are pretty big things in my opinion. I’m talking about the little, stupid, trivial things that we used to do ‘back home’ without thinking twice. Things that gave your life a sense of normalcy and mundane detail.

carWhy I need to clean my car.

These aren’t things you would normally be posting about on Facebook- but suddenly here you are in a different country and something so small as going to the car wash can be a rather big deal. I had such an experience today- actually, with a car wash.

Now first you’re probably saying- ‘Dude, you’ve been living there four years. How can you not have all of this down yet?’ Well, because I don’t, and I’m human- and I’ll admit this too: I can be lazy. I can be even lazier when my husband (whilst doing me a favor the first time) says he’ll do it for me and I then forever after assume that he’ll take care of it because I don’t know how.

So here’s what happened today. We had a rough start to the morning. More rough than normal. I have a pulled muscle in the bottom of my foot and I’m on my second day of hobbling around and being in a ridiculous amount of pain for such a stupid injury. Ok, so I’ve been grumpy and in pain- two things that you wouldn’t poke a bear over, surely, but here I am. And we were getting the house ready for my wonderful cleaning person (because who doesn’t pre-clean?) before school. So there I am, hobbling, getting angrier and angrier at my children who were just being normal 5 and 7-year-old boys in the morning.

Get dressed. Put on your pants. Socks. Shoes. Get your bag. Brush your teeth (rinse, repeat). I’m picking up things as they cast them off, griping to no one in particular when my husband is also trying his best to get out of the house. He’s a phenomenal helper- a true 100 per-center if you ask me. He was at the gym this morning and was running a bit behind- so that added to the stress level – but I’m not faulting him for a second for that. It was just regular chaos.

Then I see a bunch of clothes sitting in the front room that are slated for donation. I ask him what I can do with these and he’s like- ‘Uh…”, looking at me like ‘This is your top priority?’. So it was. Anyhow- somehow we all manage to get where we’re supposed to be and I return home fired up to accomplish some tasks like deal with the clothes. Clean out the three junk drawers that made me the most guilty. Rid our storage area of the numerous glass bottles. Vacuum out the car.

Pretty basic, right? Ok. Well junk drawers, no big deal. Clothing… hm. I’ve never done that here but thought I’d figure it out. Glass bottles? I think I knew where a bin was located to take them. But the car…. I have a) never had the car washed here nor b) had it vacuumed here. I think the one time it was done- my husband, doing me a favor- did it. So I didn’t know how or where to go.–I need to note here to the non-expat folk that when I say ‘I didn’t know how to’ means I DO NOT KNOW THE PROCESS. There is always a different process- even for something as simple as washing your car. You’d be surprised.

I decided to figure it out after accomplishing a few of my tasks. I sorted the drawers. I loaded the bags of clothing in my car, along with the obscene amount of bottles (I won’t say what was in them when they were full- but I had an entire Albert Heijn grocery crate filled). I decide to take the bottles to the market a block away because I think there’s a bin there. There is! But bigger score- there’s actually a clothing donation bin right there too!!!! How had I missed the giant metal box that said ‘kleding’ on it I’ll never know. I am pretty sure I was supposed to have them in plastic bags- but the bags I used will just have to do.

Glass- done. Clothing- done. Now to somehow hobble around and find a way to vacuum out the car. The car, I should note, had acquired ‘revolting’ status by this point. Now the boys don’t go in the car often- but when they do they manage to get it as filthy as possible. The floor was covered (and I am not exaggerating) from the seed pods that filled our sidewalks these past few weeks. Little annoying leaves that had clumped and attached themselves to the entirety of the floor mats front and back. Truly- we had reached Bunmi status. It was that bad. Thus, the car had to be vacuumed out- like yesterday.

I drove around a while and remembered seeing a car wash place on the other side of town. Car washes actually give me a sort of anxiety (the drive yourself through ones) because a time or two I freaked out, got stuck and had to be rescued from driving over the track inside the car wash. However, that is a story for another day. I only needed to use the vacuum thing which, as far as I knew- were always outside the car wash.

But how do I start it it? How did I pay for it? I didn’t have any cash on me, and assumed I probably needed coins. Nope, none of those in my purse but I sure as hell did have a few other things that I had forgotten were in there. I parked near the office area of the car wash and went in to ask the person how/what do I do here, I just needed a vacuum.

She was very nice- but when I said ‘Spreekt u Engels?‘ she looked at me very kindly and said- ‘Ah, beetje.’ I replied in kind saying ‘I speak ‘klein beetje Nederlands‘ (a little bit of Dutch) so we understood each other. I then proceeded to make the international sign language symbol for vacuuming and she understood. I said ‘But no euros, take pin?’ and she shook her head- grabbed some coins from her jar and said- ‘It’s ok.’

She walked me over to the vacuuming stations, told me where to park and she went to insert the coins. I watched her,because here I was, yet again, having someone do something for me and I wouldn’t learn to do it myself. I wanted to come back here! Man, she was so nice! And now! I know how to vacuum my car!!

She gave me enough money for 20 whole minutes (which I used until the last second) and I was done. My to-do list of the day was completed- but the best feeling of all was doing something so stupid and boring as drop off stuff and vacuum.

Thus ends yet another fascinating and titillating tale from expat life. I realize you might not appreciate any of this- but once you’re a stranger in a land – and even though you’ve been there a while, minor victories can feel like huge wins. Expats are a resilient bunch. If you have been having a rough go- give yourself some credit. This ain’t easy- if it was everyone would do it.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Ann June 5, 2016 at 4:25 pm

Great tip! It’s funny how those mundane things are so difficult to push past. You really do have to take a whole day to devote to doing something that was so easy “back home”.

We had this issue with all the extra coins before we left. We had several jars filled with coin change. We thought about donating it to one of those guys who plays the accordion outside of my old grocery store. But, we thought giving him 15 lbs. of coins would’ve been rude. Turns out, it was easy to get it turned into cash and it was almost 300 Euros worth of it!


2 farrah August 12, 2016 at 1:31 pm

Man! What did you do with the 300 euros!


3 Megan June 17, 2016 at 6:20 pm

Loved this post. We have been living abroad for just over a year and I felt like such a champion when I found out how to vacuum my car. Like “run to tell all my friends” excited. The small victories mean everything over here!! I’ve used your blog (especially the Where we’ve been page) over the last year and it has been very helpful. Thanks so much for writing!


4 farrah August 12, 2016 at 1:32 pm

Oh Megan I’m so glad! I’ve added a few places today and noted a fantastic tour company (completely unsponsored of course) on my FB page in case Tuscany is in your future!


5 Paul August 5, 2016 at 9:27 am

A friend once told me, ‘Holland, by and large, looks the same, feels the same as America. As a result you feel somewhat comfortable, a bit more relaxed. But there always doubts, a feeling something is off.’ Oh, he went back to the states, couldn’t live here because he didn’t have the mind-set to go with the flow.


6 farrah August 12, 2016 at 1:33 pm

Ha! That really is a necessary component otherwise you’ll go bonkers.


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