Photo: Neha Mangat
Beatrice Murch spent her childhood in and around the film industry in both America and Britain. The daughter of Academy Award winning filmmaker and editor Walter Murch and author Muriel Murch, she’s lived all across the world and now works as a photographer and designer. She currently resides with her family in Utrecht, would love to have met Rutger Hauer, and enjoys Dutch directness.
How did you end up in the Netherlands?
My husband was recruited by Bol.com, so we moved here from Buenos Aires in October of 2018. We’ve made our home here for the past four and a half years. I’m a bit of a trailing spouse, as they say. I was coming here to help support him with this move and create a home. We now have a house, our son is in Dutch school, and I do photography and freelance work for websites to keep my creative juices flowing.
The long, long, long version of the story is that I was once married to an American and we went to Burning Man in 2003, 2004, and 2005. It was really quite an amazing experience and it opened up his mind. He said, ‘I want more experiences like this and to experience more of the world.’ So he came up with this crazy idea of moving around the planet and living in different places in order to learn the five major languages of the world in two years in each country.
I said, ‘let’s start with Spanish’ because we were living in California at the time and I couldn’t even talk to our neighbours from El Salvador. So we wound up travelling around South America for six months while looking for a place to move and we wound up in Buenos Aires. Two years turned into twelve. In the interim, unfortunately, we got divorced but it was amicable and it was all okay.
After we split up, I started dating my husband Santiago and we very quickly fell in love. It was great, I got pregnant three years later, and we continued living in Argentina. Then, one night, he got a LinkedIn message from a company in the Netherlands and we checked it out. So he decided to give it a try, had the interview, it went well, and they flew him over here. Then, suddenly, we were moving to the Netherlands and it all worked out.
How do you describe yourself – an expat, lovepat, immigrant, international?
I think of myself as an immigrant. I came across a discussion about the terms ‘expat’ and ‘immigrant’ while I was living in Buenos Aires. Initially, I thought of myself as an expat, especially since I was coming from a British background as well as an American one. I took into consideration the impact of British expats and colonialism all over the world.
I now consider myself an immigrant. I tend to think of expats as temporary residents of a country. Our move here is not temporary. I like to use the hashtag #GrowingUpDutch. Our son is growing up Dutch. He’s going to have all the Dutch traditions and he speaks fluent Dutch since he’s going to a Dutch school. So we’re not from here, but we’re here.
How long do you plan to stay?
We’re thinking, at this point, a lifetime. We bought a house in the suburbs of Utrecht and, like I said, our son is in Dutch primary school. It was really important, when we made this move, that he was only three years old. He doesn’t have such a strong connection with Argentina, since he doesn’t remember very much of it, so it was very easy for him to make the transition.
He’s growing up Dutch, participates in Sint-Maarten, the Avondvierdaagse, Sinterklaas, and all this different stuff. It’s really important for him to have a good quality education and to have stability. Oh, and no guns, like over in the states. That’s really, really good. People ask us, ’Oh, are you ever going to move back to America?’ and we’re, like, ‘nooooooooo.’
Do you speak Dutch and how did you learn?
‘Ja, maar is moeilijk te oefenen.’ [yes, but it’s difficult to practise] Dutch is my fifth language. I’m almost 50, and so my brain isn’t as elastic as it once was, but I’m definitely trying. I started with Duolingo once we knew it was possible that we’d be moving here. I’ve been using it for four and a half years. That’s helpful, but it’s obviously not classes.
I took classes and it was going really well, but then the lockdowns happened. The classes went online, which is fine, but my son’s classes also went online. I was trying to have six hours a week, three hours at a time, with my lessons while my son was at home also doing his online lessons. He was five during the first lockdown, so I had to drop my classes. I couldn’t manage everything happening online and all at once.
The classes were helpful, but I couldn’t keep up with them, so I stuck with Duolingo. I talk with our neighbours as much as I can, and I’m also part of a group called International Women’s Contact Utrecht. They have different groups and one of the ones I’m in sporadically is a Dutch book club. We read a book in Dutch and we get together once a week to talk about the chapters we’ve read. So we’re talking in Dutch, reading in Dutch, and making mistakes, but we’re trying as best as we can. There’s also a conversation group once a month and it really helps because nobody is embarrassed that we’re speaking so badly.
What’s your favourite Dutch thing?
I’m going to say it’s directness. A lot of people usually complain about that, but I really love it. There’s a caveat, though. It can’t be so direct that meanness is involved. What I really love about it is that there’s no beating around the bush. The information is clear. Personally, I tend to be too direct for Americans and especially for Brits. I struggle with filtering what comes out of my mouth. So the directness is very helpful for me. I can just say, ‘Okay, there’s this problem, let’s sort it out.’
Still, being both an American and a Brit myself, I’m still conflict averse. However, Dutch people don’t see directness as confrontation. They just want everything to be clear and to get their ideas across. I find that really nice.
How Dutch have you become?
I don’t know if I’ve become very Dutch, but I have an agenda for everything. Here you have to plan things out. Everybody has their agendas and if things aren’t planned, they don’t happen. I miss popping by a friend’s house or people just texting and saying, ‘Hey, do you want to have dinner tonight?’ My agenda is useful, but I hate it.
I also ride my bike and I only just got a car. For four years, everything was done by bike and public transit. I used to ride my bike in California and Argentina, but it was terrifying. There was very little bike infrastructure. Earlier this year, I tried to ride a bike while holding onto another bike. I had bought a new bike after my old one was stolen and had to return a rental from Swapfiets, but I crashed. That was definitely a disaster, so I guess this means I’m not that Dutch. The woman who helped me was very nice. She told me, ‘If you haven’t learned how to do this by the age of 12, you never will.’
Which three Dutch people (dead or alive) would you most like to meet?
Rutger Hauer. First, another caveat. I’m really annoyed with myself that these are all men. I wish I knew more about famous Dutch women. I chose Rutger Hauer because I watched Ladyhawke over and over and over again as a preteen. I just loved that movie. I also saw The Hitcher once on TV. I don’t know why it was on TV, but it was. Both of those got me back then. I didn’t see Blade Runner until later, but he’s amazing in it. For me, his portrayal in Ladyhawke as Captain Etienne of Navarre was just so good. He’s also in an interactive video at the Spoorwegmuseum here in Utrecht and I just love that. My son had no idea who he was but I was, like, ‘There’s Rutger Hauer!’
Johannes Vermeer. I majored in Art History. I loved studying his paintings. The way he would show light moving was just beautiful. I was so thrilled and happy to finally see some of his art in person in Amsterdam. I would love to talk to him and actually see if he used the camera obscura that people theorised he used. There’s no proof either way, but it would be cool to find that out.
Edsger Dijkstra. He was one of the fathers of computer science and programming. I would love to sit in on one of his lectures and learn from him, even though he was too harsh and too direct for even the Dutch. He wasn’t known for being warm and cuddly. It was interesting to read up on him. Most people have professors who are absent-minded and distracted, but he was not like that. He did not even have a secretary. He took care of everything himself, was incredibly organised, and I find that very interesting. He’s influenced the world so much and very few people know about him.
What’s your top tourist tip?
I have two different things. If they are here in the spring, they should go on a bike ride through the tulip fields near the Keukenhof and ride out to the beach and back. It’s a totally different way to experience them and they can use all five senses if they time it right. They can stop for a coffee on the way or have lunch out at the beach. It’s amazing and beautiful, but they shouldn’t go stomping through the tulip fields and pissing off the farmers.
For the other one, they’d need to go to Hoorn and take the old steam train from there out to the coast. Then they’d get on a steamboat, sail along the coastline, and then take the normal train back up to Hoorn. There’s also a museum. It’s this whole circuit that allows people to sort of time travel. They can see parts of the country that are definitely off the beaten path and Hoorn is just lovely.
Tell us something surprising you’ve found out about the Netherlands
I had absolutely no idea that the Netherlands is a kingdom. I knew there was a king, but I didn’t realise there are other parts of the world that are part of the Netherlands. There’s the Caribbean islands, for example. That was new and interesting for me.
If you had just 24 hours left in the Netherlands, what would you do?
I would throw a big party for the people I’ve met here. One last big shindig with all of our friends. It would be here in Utrecht. I’d try to get as many people involved as possible to come and have fun, but *not* sit in a circle.
Beatrice was talking with Brandon Hartley. You can learn more about her photography and design projects via her studio’s website.
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