In the middle– Dutch in England
On Warwick University campus there are many non-British students. I am one of them. How about you?
In January this year I passed the five year mark. I have been in England for more than five years. Living in another country than one’s own, is a learning process, a way of getting acquainted with different ways of doing things. I have grown accustomed to Costa Coffee, the Great British Bake Off, Comic Relief, Have I Got News for You, Earl Grey tea, and Jaffa cakes. I prefer to speak English rather than Dutch, and when it comes to writing I have to admit that my Dutch is a bit of a mess. Five years in England have changed me.
I had only just arrived in England and was startled by how many people asked me how I was doing. I was so surprised that I even asked a fellow student: “Do they actually want to know?” She just smiled and explained to me the rites of greetings in England. I learned that the question ‘How are you?’ is best answered with ‘How are you?’ Isn’t that odd, one answers a question with a question which doesn’t require an answer. In the Netherlands we invented a word for this. We just say hello. Works a treat! ;)
The Dutch have not learned to speak in riddles. We are upfront, honest and blunt to a point where the English may feel it is rude. I know I can be like that. No-one has to guess what I think, because I will make it clear either verbally or non-verbally. At some point during my PhD I did something wrong. I explained it to my supervisor via an email and soon received a reply: “Next time a different approach might be more suitable”. I read and reread the email, realising she didn’t mention the words ‘wrong’ or ‘mistake’. Dutch people would have said: “Yes, you did that wrong, don’t do it again”. Blunt and clear, no fuzziness. But I don’t live in the Netherlands, I live in England. So instead I the message was hidden underneath a pile of English politeness. Over the years I have learned to read between the lines, to hear the implied message and to listen beyond the obvious first impression. I have learned to live in a world where no-one will be straight forward when they have an option to be polite and equivocal.
Don’t get me wrong. I am happy in this country and I love the British people. Despite your little quirks and strange habits (Seriously, who came up with mince pies or bread pudding?) I have lost my heart to this island full of friendly and kind people. And over the years I have made progress to fit in, you know. I apologise to people who bump into me even if it definitely wasn’t my fault; my favourite TV show is “Call the Midwife” (It doesn’t get more British than that); I sigh deeply when people are jumping the queue to show my disapproval as quietly as possible; I have had more tea and lemon drizzles in the past five years than in the 25 years before that, and I dutifully ask everyone I meet how they are doing without expecting a proper answer.
I’m not British, but neither do I think I am still completely Dutch. I’m somewhere in the middle and I think that is a nice place to be!
Ps. Enjoy the pictures made by my dad of my home country The Netherlands!