It’s about time. In a new place – and Maastricht is my new place, fresh out of Brexit London – there’s always a fresh awareness of the clock.
The four minutes (five in the rain) it takes to get to the SSC for a bakkie koffie. The stomach-rumbling time it takes Delibelge to snap an elastic band on your paper-wrapped broodje. The extra time needed to cycle to meetings in terra incognita over the John F. Kennedy bridge, or that time you should have asked where UNU-Merit was… before setting off. The no-time-at-all it takes to make your first friend, Albert (yes, Heijn). Only to discover he’s never heard of oatcakes: no shelf room among all those strangely inedible beschuit.
Dutch time. Limburg time; they’ll tell you it’s different to the Hollanders’, but it hardly seems much more fluid. You see it in colleagues’ impressive internal clocks, drawing meetings to a close at one minute to the hour and bringing talkative buitenlanders to order.
Home time. Work-life balance time. Grote Staat shops shutting up tight at 6pm six days a week, sending you back to Albert. Or to Aon de Stasie, home of fietstassen and moustached philosophers, cheerfully sorting out your two wheels from 5:15am to 1:15am: priorities, priorities. The weekly thrill of koopjesavond: a solitary wander through HEMA’s wonderland for a sinful extra few hours, eyeing up bright containers for your boterhammen (cheese, always cheese).
Time spent among silent Maastrichtenaars at the milieuperron, methodically sorting paper from plastic and sending bottles clattering to the unguessably distant bottom of the bin. The excitement of Tuesday night – rubbish night, hurrah! – when it’s time, at last, to put your festive red-and-white bag outside, as a mournful little cloud of fruitflies follows behind.
All the unknown times. Calendars measured in numbers (week 41?) When, exactly, u becomes je. How long you should wait before trying out a jaunty Hoihoi instead of Bye, sorry, dag. How long before your apartment smells like home.
The time it takes – who knows? – to have a heart-to-heart. I suspect Albert only loves me for my pinpas, and as conversations go, bonnetje erbij? isn’t up to much. Especially since Albert has one of his staff say it to me.
Before you know it, time has added five months to that first May day. Time, and tijd, wait for no one.
Karen Shook, communications adviser/editor at the School of Business and Economics