I’m in my pajamas reading a book in bed in my parent’s guest room — back in the Netherlands after living in China for over five years now. My mom walks into the room and sits on my blanket for a chat, but I tell her that’s so gross because she has been wearing those pants outside all day, to which she laughs about how Chinese I’ve become.
I’ve forgotten — or unlearned how I used to think about that. Did I used to sit on my bed with my ‘outside clothes’? Or after taking a shower, did I not wear slippers when walking back to my room? Did I wash underwear in the laundry machine? Now I cannot imagine doing that anymore.
When people talk about culture, they think or talk about huge things (and when they do, they think about the wrong things, as if lanterns or calligraphy have a bigger influence than the lack of social security).
What stands out for me are these tiny details. I’m driving a car here with the reflexes as if I’m still in China, but actually — people generously respect the right of way. Each time I’m hovering my foot on the brake pedal, thinking I’ll be cut off, but it never happens. Instead, I’m the one still throwing my car in front of others when the space is marginal. I’ve been horned at.
The historic city center which was once so familiar, now feels remarkable. Visits to the supermarket are fun, rediscovering forgotten products. I’m stunned about prices — food, hotels, and let’s not talk about train tickets, but things costs when there’s a proper minimal wage. I’m stunned about the lack of public toilets. And when pouring coffee, I give my parents their coffee first and put the cup down ceremonially, because that’s how they do it in China. And when going out for dinner, I wonder; Dutch people really do not share plates?
I sleep on the edge of the mattress because the middle is too soft for me now. In the evening I think about ordering some food before I realize that’s not possible, and the shops close on Sunday.
My dad fills the water tank of the coffee machine in the pantry: “This is closest to the boiler so here the warm water is really warm, so you put it in the machine and get really hot coffee.” So yes. There are some things I did not forget but just did not know about this place.