21st Century Skill

Date Created: 11.11.2015

A new skill for expats in the Netherlands:

Phone-friendly navigation apps didn’t exist 6 years ago. I know this because when I lived in the Netherlands six years ago I used to keep a paper map in the carrier bag on the back of my bike.

Now that I’ve returned to live in The Hague, I have had to develop a new skill: navigating with a phone app while cycling.

No big deal you think? Well, in the Netherlands this activity looks like this: one hand grips the handlebars and steers; the other holds the phone while you simultaneously:

·         Follow the little blue dot on the map

·         Find street names that are stuck high up on buildings at random corners (not every street corner)

·         Keep an eye on other bikes, trams, cars and pedestrians

·         Navigate the bike across streets, tram lines, bike lanes, high medians and angled (therefore slippery) curb edges

This is no big deal for Dutch people; in fact, it is so obvious they wouldn’t think to mention it. But though I’ve lived here before, it took me some time to readjust to cycling around and to using a mobile map app.

And so your next question is: why, if you lived there before, did you need a map to find your way around?

Well, the answer to that question came as a surprise to me too. I wrote, in The Mobile Life: a new approach to moving anywhere, that one of the three basic tools we use to feel at home in any place is a physical map of our surroundings. I had already drawn a detailed map of The Hague only six years earlier so I assumed my map would still be accurate – with minor adjustments for road works or new one-ways etc.

What I discovered was that my maps of specific locations were still clear, but the connections between places were vague or nearly completely erased. I’d find myself at a green traffic light, frozen, wondering if I needed to turn left or go straight, or if going right was quicker. Given that I was on my bike and it was, in my first week, -4 degrees Celsius, I didn’t just want to get there but wanted to go as directly as possible.

Hence my discovery of the Google map app. Actually, my kids showed me how to use it and how to identify the tiny shade of an arrow showing me in which direction I was going when I was completely lost. They’ve rearranged the entire road system around the train station and I was totally disoriented.

Anyway, I realised that I started feeling at home again once I’d managed to connect all the dots AND learned to feel just as confortable as the locals on my bike. Am happy to announce that I didn’t get lost once last week! Next step: drive my car to Amsterdam.


By: Diane Lemieux, 11th November 2015

For more from The Mobile Life visit: www.themobilelife.eu/

Or: http://www.themobilelife.eu/diane-lemieux/

Diane Lemieux  has spent a whole lifetime as an expat and sees moving to live in a new country as a life choice made by an increasing number of people. Those who successfully recreate a full and satisfying life in a new place develop the skills and approaches needed to deal with any change that life presents us.Her new book, The Mobile Life, co-written with Anne Parker, helps those who are undertaking this journey for the first time, and highlights the achievements of those who are experienced resettlers.