I've been thinking a lot about the Welcome to Holland piece I passed on a few days ago, and even though it is totally true, I feel like it left out an important stage of the trip, at least in my experience.
I don't think the flight attendant announces that you're in Holland when you land. She smiles at you as you get off the plane and you smile back, thinking about what you're going to do first in Italy. But as you make your way through the airport, your smile starts to fade. Things aren't making sense. You don't recognize any of the phrases you studied. Things don't look right, though you can't quite put your finger on how. When you finally get out into the streets, you become disconcerted. It's cold and you can't locate any of the landmarks you expected to see and the street names don't match up with your map. You try to ask for directions in Italian, but no one understands you. And that's when you start to get scared.
You're obviously not where you're supposed to be, but you can't figure out where you ARE. You're alone and you don't have any of the tools you need to rectify the situation.
And then somebody walking by notices the panicked look on your face and stops. She looks concerned and asks you something, and though you can't understand the words, you know she's asking if you need help. But you don't speak the language here, so you can't ask the one question you most desperately need answered: Where am I?
At this point, you realize that you're crying and you feel ridiculous because you're a grown up and you should be able to figure this out. But the stranger puts her arm around your shoulders and leads you around the corner to a little cafe and sits you down and orders you a yummy warm drink and just sits with you. Somehow, sitting there with someone who lives in this place is comforting, and something in you starts to relax the tiniest bit. You look around the streets and watch people coming and going, marveling at the idea that people are living normal lives all around you, and that's when you see it, on a sign down the block. You're in Holland.
And THEN you get new guidebooks.
And THEN you see the windmills and tulips.
And eventually, after you've set up your own life in Holland, you become a person on the lookout for panicked faces in the crowd.