9 Questions About Living Elsewhere

1. Where did you live and for how long?
At the moment I live in Rotterdam in the Netherlands and I moved here on april 1st 2001 which means its been almost 4 years now. I chose that date because moving to another country seemed so surreal that it might as well be a practical joke.

2. What made you decide to go there?
I actually have no idea what convinced me to move, I just knew that's what I wanted to do. I wanted to land on the european continent somewhere. I thought okay lets narrow it down... a little like I was blindfolded with a donkey tail waving around in my hand. I checked out which places had interesting art scenes, so I ruled out Italy with all those classical sculpture guys hanging around the cities. I nixed out some more : France; I lived there already for a year, Spain and England never really interested me. It kinda came down to Germany and the Netherlands, but actually I hated the sound of German. Since I was young I had this idea I wanted to die trilingual. That's how I ended up choosing Rotterdam, mostly because I didn't want to hear myself talking german. I had never been here before but I knew a girl that lived in Den Hague so I had landing options to stay with her for a week in order to find a spot in Rotterdam of my own.

3. Did you have to lie to enter the country?
No, Americans can pretty much go anywhere for 3 months. I just never said I was staying longer. Is that a white lie?

4. Were you/are you legal? Plan on becoming so?
I have this really fun role of being nothing here. Basically it's a sticker in my passport that says some official people are still looking at my application for the residence permit. In the end I don't pay taxes but I also don't get the dutch free ride; aka medical and welfare. The tuff stuff is its harder to be on the outside of a socialist system than than not having one because there are less non-subsidized options. Like last time I was sick the doctor wouldn't see me because I would be paying under the table. I was directed to go to the emergency room which costs alot more. Well I went to an acupuncturist instead and talked about energy and vitamin deficiencies.

5. How did you/do you make money? Did you go there with a job or have to find one?
I am the queen of odd jobs. I worked as a dishwasher for the first few months I lived here, I had this very heartwarming universal feeling of being connected to all illegal dishwashers working for someone that doesn't speak the same language. I have also been paid to do English translations and corrections, video editing for festivals, tutorials on video programs, DvD authoring, cleaning house, lecturing at art schools, 16mm film workshops, catering and cooking lessons for random groups from bachelor parties to team building nights of insurance companies, curator of film/video programs, and getting art grants. The cooking job is my main continuing money flow, and I've worked for the same woman and all her sons and husband ever since I moved here. It happened when I got lost in the center of Rotterdam and wandered into her restaurant/deli to ask directions. It was so chaotic busy in there that I ended up ordering a brownie to-go instead. Somehow when she handed me back my change I found myself asking for a job and I started work the next day.

6. Was housing easy/difficult?
The squat/anti-squat system in Rotterdam is what saves me. It's so socialist here that empty houses are considered misuse of space. If a space is empty for over a year you can legally squat it and claim ownership. That's where anti-squat comes in. If a property owner has an empty space he can give it to an anti-squat organization. These folks pass the place on for a small amount of money to artists, musicians etc, to prevent it from being squatted. It's actually a very smart system and I only know of one homeless character wrapped in dutch shopping bags who wanders around town. I was given a house for two years with no rent from a friend of the people where I gave the film workshops. He had squatted it 8 years before and didn't need it anymore. Now, I have a really nice two-story apartment for 25 euro a month. Its anti-squat, so I do my own repairs if there are any, and my contract is only guaranteed 6 months at a time. The neighborhood I'm in is scheduled for yuppie takeover; so the city is giving away houses to artists when the rent paying residents move out. Eventually when all the buildings on my street are anti-squatters then the construction begins. Lucky for me, the Dutch love planning; mention the word agenda and everyone gets a healthy glow. That always results in extended contracts because the future condo actually takes three years of meetings and paperwork before I get the boot.

7. Was the language a problem?
The Dutch speak better English than me. Sometimes I hang out with my friend Steven just so we can use all the slang we know and talk really fast and I can mumble and say stupid shit under my breath. Some guy told me once, very excited, that I should talk with his wife because she speaks fluent American. He said it in perfect English.

8. Favorite things/worst things about the place?
Some of my favorite things are also the worst. Like the english thing...lets just say Eurglish is my favorite language in the world and it provides a never ending source of amusement. But then sometimes I find myself laughing alone at my own jokes that no one else gets. It can also get irritating hanging out with people from so many countries (the Rotterdam art scene is 40% dutch, 60% foreign) because you inevitably have to hear the line "where I'm from, we...".

All in all, I wouldn't live anywhere else at the moment. I guess the favorites outnumber the rest, and until that changes I'll be hanging around the southside Rotterdam. I am used to be the bootiest dirty dancer and the freaky loud American. I don't know what I would do without my bike, surinamse soup, morrocon hip hop and hanging out at the weekly produce market to find weird skeleton phone covers. I might complain still about how people can be too well thought out here, but their reserved manner also gives me a lot of head space. By now, I've got a crew that are organizing a lot of amazing stuff and keep me motivated during the day and out late at night. Did I mention, they have a tradition of putting chocolate sprinkles on buttered bread for breakfast?

9. Any good stories about it or advice for others following?
Well, I expect to get kicked out of the country eventually. Its not only the USofA that has a changing conservative political climate. Rotterdam doesn't have the same policies of open-mindedness as when I arrived. I definitely feel it as somebody that is not quite in the system, the rules to keep out unwanted immigrants are appearing out of nowhere. And somehow they are also applying to me... go figure.

 

- Rebecca Moran