One of the things I knew for certain coming into my new Dutch life was that I wanted a car. It’s been almost seven years since I was an automobile owner, and I’ve missed the accompanying freedom and autonomy almost daily in the interim. A car is more than impractical in New York City; it’s a liability, an irksome burden. The few times I looked into owning a vehicle in the city, I walked away from the research sad and disgusted.
For many the idea of living in a city or region with efficient, reliable public transportation is a dream. None of the stresses and commitments that come with car ownership, no high gas prices to bemoan, squeezing in a nap or a few chapters on your daily commute. It certainly sounds like a good deal. But for me, someone who grew up in a small suburb of a relatively small city, a car has always been a ticket to somewhere, anywhere. It has always meant independence and freedom to come and go as I please. And living in a new, strange place, anything that makes me feel more autonomous and in control is a very good thing.
Marco and I started car shopping about two months ago. It started with scouring the internet for cars that fit a very specific set of parameters: used, relatively low mileage, good maintenance records, automatic, four-door sedan or station wagon, under $10,000. To make things a little more difficult, I was pretty certain I wanted a Volvo or a Volkswagen. I couldn’t bring myself to drive an American car in Europe. No way.
I’ve never truly been car shopping in the States, let alone in a foreign country. I had no idea just how difficult this process would be. The websites are all in Dutch, so first I had to learn the lingo. Benzine (ben·zie·nah) is gas. Automaat (ou·toe·maht) is an automatic. Merk (mayrk) is make. Bouwjaar (bow·yar) is year. And there’s a thousand other words that I learned and plenty I still don’t know.
Something else I learned: automatic vehicles are very rare in The Netherlands. If I want to conform to the norm and drive a stick shift, I first would need to learn how. Then I would need to take a driving test (theory and road) on a manual vehicle. After one driving lesson with Marco, I decided that wasn’t happening. The streets and laws are different enough, let alone learning to share the road with a zillion cyclists. I decided I’d rather not add any additional stressors to the situation.
Finding an automatic car here is something akin to finding a needle in a haystack. Finding an automatic car that is also not a 2-door or hatchback is next to impossible. But these were challenges I had to accept.
The worst part of the entire process was having to travel to different parts of the country (by bike and train) to see and test drive cars. Alone. While Marco was at work. I wouldn’t want to do that alone in the States, let alone here. But I did. I traveled to Soest (8km), Leiden (80km) twice, Haarlem (67km) twice, Oisterwijk (92km), and Amersfoort (13km) twice. I saw and test drove five cars, four of which Marco also eventually saw and test drove. We made an offer on a lovely little Volvo S40, but they wouldn’t even negotiate the $500 afleverkosten (ahf·lay·ver·kos·ten – delivery costs).
The one plus of spending all that time traveling to far-flung places was getting to see more parts of the country and some really beautiful cities. Leiden is pretty dreamy, and I’m looking forward to going back and spending more time there sightseeing!
And after all of my searching high and low, I decided to go with the very first car I saw in Soest. A used Audi A6 Avant station wagon. It’s a lovely car with relatively low mileage and plenty of room for groceries and road trips. I’m looking forward to exploring my new country in my new (0ld) car!
PS…I’m attempting to add pronunciation to Dutch words as I introduce them. It’s not as easy as I thought. Please bear with me!