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Ik hou van jou – T’estimo

It was a December evening in Coimbra, Portugal. Neither of them were from the city. As a matter of fact, they were both born far from each other in different countries, yet somehow ended up listening to the same background chatter of their friends. Just one day before they simply could have passed each other on the street without knowing this other person was going to share their lives in the future. During that evening two separate European paths, one from Barcelona and the other from Groningen, merged into one.

A farewell party turned into “Well, hello there!”

On that evening a decade ago Agnès, native of Barcelona, was reluctantly dragged to a party by her sister, who was engaging in an exchange student program in Portugal. Earlier that day, another Erasmus student Melle had bumped into his friend at the supermarket and had gotten invited to a farewell party later that evening. Against all odds Agnès and Melle had found each other.

It escalated quickly. Agnès returned to Barcelona while Melle moved to Belgium. They kept traveling back and forth every few months for a year and a half, until in the summer of 2007 Melle finally found his way to Barcelona under the same roof with his loved one. Years rolled by. Studies took them to London and when they found out Agnès had a bun in the oven, they concluded it was best to sit down and talk about the future.When I was pregnant, we decided to move to the Netherlands, because we wanted to have a set of parents close to us.” she describes their reason for leaving London. “London is very good for single people. We are very urban, but now we have a kid, so I don’t think it’s our city anymore.” she adds with determination. Despite being world travelers, the years in the Netherlands have made it a home to them. In five years of time the couple sees themselves living in Delft or perhaps in Barcelona; both cities that have impressed them a lot in their journeys.

Moving to the Netherlands was a decision to have a family close, but there were other reasons that were enticing from a career point of view: Melle had the opportunity to start a company with some of his friends. Despite Melle coming from Groningen, the couple chose Delft for multitude of reasons after living in Dordrecht for a while. Delft was one of the few places in Randstad where I would come regularly. It grew on me: it’s a small city, but it’s right in between two big, very dynamic, important cities, and it’s the heart of the Randstad.” explains Melle.

Maxing it up

Before leaving Dordrecht Agnès was already browsing through mom activities in Delft and had found her way to delftmama.nl. After settling in, Max was born. She praises the Dutch Kraamzorg system and points out it’s something she wishes they had in Catalonia as well. As a fresh mother Agnès didn’t crave for baby company initially for a while. “It took me one year to find my way to playgroup.” she explains.

Max’s mum doesn’t have a maximum what comes to traveling as a family. At the age of nine months Max had visited nine countries. Now that he is two, they have already lost count. It’s no wonder, since meeting new people, tasting new food and traveling are their favorite things to do as a family. If faced with a dull Sunday afternoon, Agnès and Melle might get an idea to spice it up by driving an hour and a half to Nijmegen just to wander the streets in an odd city. Spontaneity oozes in the presence of this couple, but they do their traveling in respect for Max’s wishes, too: “When Max sees a playground, he points at it and say it’s time to play.” Melle talks lovingly about his son. Other than playgrounds, Max finds various ways of keeping his parents grounded. “Max taught me to be more naively curious. More open to everyone, more sociable. I see him smiling to anyone.” adds Agnès proudly of her little munchkin.

Although Max is not yet much of a talker, he manages to play his parents at this age. When he doesn’t feel like doing something, he pretends not to hear, but will instantly run towards his parents the moment he is promised whatever he desires at that moment, in whichever language it’s expressed. At home they have a harmony of multiple languages: Agnès speaks only her mother tongue, Catalan, to Max, but with Melle she expresses herself in English or Catalan. Melle speaks English and some Dutch to Max, mostly depending on the setting. When I go to my parents house, I speak Dutch with Max, and English when it’s just the two of us.”

Reminiscing and readjusting

Looking back at their lives in Barcelona, to this day there are things they both miss: food and respect for it. After having spent so many years away from the Netherlands, Melle found it most difficult to fit back into the Dutch eating culture. He gets quite philosophical when discussing food and if given the chance, he would like to see the southern European appreciation for food to make home in his native country. His suggestions are simple: “Value the time it takes to grow something. — If you know how much time, effort and energy is being put into getting good, tasty food on the table that you cooked well, I can’t bear throwing it away.” Food additives isn’t something Agnès is accustomed to and they are making her ponder. “When I read the ingredients on products, it’s never straightforward: it’s full of E- and A-codes.” she points out. However, the Dutch dinner time and scheduling gets a praise from Agnès, who has grown up having dinner not far from the general Dutch bedtime: I like to eat on time and going on time to bed.” Perhaps one day she’ll combine them both and simply eat in bed.

Dutch cuisine hasn’t been the only struggle of this energetic couple. Fitting in to the Netherlands wasn’t a piece of apple pie for them, either. Just like most newcomers, Agnès struggled in the beginning: “The feeling of frustration is very high here on the first months. It’s like living with your ex-partner; someone that’s constantly reminding you that you are on the wrong place at the wrong time doing the wrong thing. Elephant skin is very much needed.” Agnès has figured out her way of dealing with the culture shock and the Dutchies: thick skin, going through your unwelcoming experiences with your significant other and eventually having a laugh about them at the end of the day. The Dutch have a naturally thick skin and it’s something Melle wishes the people in Catalonia would have too. It’s one of the things he would import there in a heartbeat if it were possible.

One thing is clear. This couple loves the city and the people in it. People in Delft are always very friendly. When you live here, you don’t really notice that, but you do when you go to other parts of the country.” Melle describes his feelings about Delftians. The size of the city is another reason to love it, since small circles are all they really need when raising a toddler. Agnès puts in words what a lot of expats have experienced while their stay in Delft: The international crowd is very interesting here. Most of them are highly educated or have high interest and that’s something we value. The couple will expanse their Delftian horizons when they have visitors over and those will get treated with the best of the area: Scheveningen, Schipluiden, Delftse Hout and the historic center of Delft. Returning visitors get trips to Kinderdijk, Markethall in Rotterdam and Leiden. However, at the end of the day there is no place like home, says the couple who just bought their very first house, where else, but in the city that gave them a warm welcome: Delft.agnes melle max.2png

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Tarja Van Veldhoven

Finnish-Delftian mom of three, married to a Dutch man with a decade long blogging history.

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