You may remember a whole year ago when I first moved to Amsterdam. Life was not as rosy as I assumed it would be. My first few months were stressful. I was living in a teeny tiny room on Airbnb; the “double” bed barely fitted us in and there was nowhere to sit to eat dinner except on our bedroom floor. I was working horrendous shifts at an unfriendly “restaurant” on the Leidseplein (eugh!) and would come home in the wee hours of the morning, being very much underpaid (below legal minimum) and overworked. At one point, the manager was so rude and unkind that I burst into tears on the restaurant floor.
It was cute.
One whole year on, and I can start to look at everything in a much more positive light. Perhaps I should not have jumped into a job so early, but we had no money. One of us was studying, with no student loan, and our food bills were adding up.
Which brings me to the positives, or rather looking back and seeing the silver lining. Returning home at 2am each night on a very low monthly wage meant I had to get a bike to reduce costs and travel time. Which meant that I could practice cycling (something I hadn’t done in about 5 years) in the dark when no one was really around on my way home.
Having no money meant that we learnt creative ways to bulk out our food, beans and pulses became our culinary best friend and this is something we still do now. It made me a better cook, as I would try to recreate my favourite culinary dishes at home. For those who enjoy Chinese, I cannot recommend Omnivore’s Cookbook blog enough. I can now make sweet & sour tofu, Pad Thai and Kung Po tofu off the top of my head for a fraction of a restauranteurs’ price. It also meant that when I did have some cash to go out for dinner, I really appreciated it. I would get dressed up to go out and spend hours reading reviews to make sure to spend my hard-earned pennies well.
I discovered the best time for a sale at the supermarket and the best markets to get cheap fruit and veg. I asked for recommendations for the all the vintage shops and flea markets that were worth going, IJ-Hallen being the biggest (and cheapest). I made my own facepacks, body-scrub and cleaning products.
Moving to a country with no friends has meant that I push myself socially, I learnt to say yes and be the instigator of social events, instead of retreating to my well-known social circle of friends with similar views and opinions.
I was honestly prepared to give up, to cut my losses and move everything back home to the familiar and easier and better socially connected life. Sometimes though, it is great to be out of your comfort zone. Before taking the job I currently have, I was warned several times that my manager “could be a bit difficult to work with” . Compared to the management in the restaurant he is a pussycat, and experience with more difficult senior members of staff has made me a lot more resilient and thicker skinned. In the words of Nietzsche or Kelly Clarkson (whichever floats your boat) what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Sometimes you need to hit rock bottom to put things into perspective.