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Chance Encounters

By - August 10, 2005 (Updated: November 30, 2014)


One of the truly special things about living in a foreign country is the people I’ve met.

Sure, I’ve met some interesting people when I was vacationing in different places, but the opportunities for meeting people are much more frequent and interesting when you are an expat.

It’s true that many people warm to tourists and want them to see the best sights, but when local people realize I am an expat, and I chose to live in their country, their attitude towards me changes.

They are curious about why I came here; they want to know about my home country; and they especially want to know how I feel about my new homeland.

One of the biggest displays of hospitality Andrew and I have had so far, has been from our landlords (Mvrw. and Dhr.). In fact, the day we moved in, they brought us beer and champagne and toasted our rental contract.

Dhr. is one of the happiest men I have ever met. He hardly speaks a word of English, but his face is so expressive, you always know exactly what he is thinking and it’s usually: “No problem”.

Mvrw. is a bit more intimidating. To be honest, I was terrified of her at first. She is a tiny woman who never stops moving and she is very particular about everything. I felt I could never live up to her expectations, as I am not exactly the domestic goddess type.

But she has been so kind. She drove me around our neighborhood during our first week here and showed me all of the important places; the post office, grocery stores, town hall — even the recycling bins.

And yet despite their kindness, it is the chance encounters that I love. As expats, Andrew and I often stick out in a crowd. You are noticed by the locals and tourists alike … albeit for different reasons.

The locals, obviously, notice right away that we are different and some take pity on us.

One of my favorite encounters happened several months ago, when we were living in the Netherlands.

There was a big parade to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Netherlands’ liberation from Nazi occupation in World War II. Many Canadian veterans had flown in to participate in the parade. There was a huge turnout; the streets were packed.

However, the weather was horrible. The rain was coming down in buckets and there were periods of hail. Of course, not yet used to the unpredictability of Lowland weather, Andrew and I were unprepared. I was quickly handed a spare umbrella by the gentleman beside me.

When he realized I was Canadian, he began to point out political figures to me and explain who they were. In the meantime, an elderly couple had struck up a conversation with Andrew and soon invited us to their condo for tea.

They dried us off and gave us snacks and we spent the afternoon listening to stories about how they and their families endured the war. I will never forget this.

But we’ve also been sought out by tourists and fellow expats because they relate to us.

We’ve chatted with a former American football star who is now managing a fast food restaurant in Brussels; we had dinner with a couple of American professors who had spent time in the peace corps and were now biking their way around Europe; we have even been befriended by a Rwandan cabbie who has lived here for years with his family, who calls periodically to make sure everything is going well.

We have made some wonderful friends in Andrew’s European co-workers and we have met some wonderful people whom we may never see again. But the fact is, we would never have had any of these encounters if we had stayed sheltered in Canada.

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