“What I can’t get used to here are the birthdays. Everyone congratulates each other, “Congratulations to your neighbour”, kiss kiss kiss. Why? It’s not my birthday! And that terrible song ‘Lang zal ze leven’. Nearly every other country sings to the melody of ‘Happy Birthday to you’, but of course here it has to be different, and ends with ‘hip hip hooray’.
But what I can’t live without is the Hema. I’ve even infected my mother (in Venezuela) and my sister (in Chile) with the Hema virus. When we speak on the phone we start to hum the Hema tune. I made an ‘I miss you’ parcel up for my sister. As well as stroopwafels it was full of items from the Hema.
I was very unhappy in Amsterdam when I first came here. It was really tough. Not because the people weren’t kind, but because of the way of life. There are waiting lists for sport clubs, the crèche, for everything. “How can I find a job if I have nowhere to bring my child” is a sentence I’ve often heard. And that language! Do you know how difficult it is for a thirty seven year old Venezuelan women to learn it? Sometimes I want to hit the walls in frustration. But then again, I can hardly ask an entire country if they would please speak a different language.
What I most remember from my early years here was one specific evening. It was about six in the evening and my husband and I were walking past the houses when we looked inside one to see a family sitting down to a meal. “What are they doing?” I asked. It seemed a bit too late to be eating lunch. “They’re eating dinner” my husband answered. I asked him to repeat what he’d just said, because I couldn’t imagine that people were already eating their evening meal at six o’clock. I also had to get used to lunch. We’re used to eating a hot meal. When I tell my mother that I give Giulia a peanut butter sandwich her eyebrows touch her hairline in surprise.
We also have family members in Italy where my husband’s from, so we could always move there. But I prefer to stay in Amsterdam. My Dutch is improving. My husband’s is much worse. If the local kids ask if Giulia can come and play he says, “Me too”. And he pronounces ‘alsjeblieft’ (if you please) like ‘Microsoft’. What’s great about Amsterdam is that you can be exactly who you are here. So my husband is allowed to play outside, Microsoft!”
269 people in Amsterdam have the Venezuelan nationality