As some of you may know, I moved to the Netherland around three months ago. While I can’t say the move has been easy, I can’t say it has been difficult either. Most of my time here has been great, but as with any move, it comes with some significant readjustments.
I’ve moved countries a few times, so I’m kind of used to the resettling process. I think that’s part of the reason it’s taken me this long to feel the strains of moving.
But today something happened that rattled me.
It shouldn’t have rattled me, but it did. Now, this particular social interaction has happened a few times in a few ways but today’s was, for some reason, more painful than normal. I guess it’s like the glass finally got too full and now everything is spilling out. My seams got cracked.
Today I forgot my public transport card.
That is not a big deal, I can still buy tickets and get where I have to go, it’s just slightly more expensive than travelling with the card.
I figured out how to buy a ticket and proceeded to meet up with the Dutch girl I was travelling with that day. We were heading to roller derby practice. When I told her about the incident, she said something that I am finding it difficult to move past.
“You’ll never be Dutch if you keep making these mistakes.”
I’m not entirely sure what she meant by that, this was the first time I had travelled with her and the first time I’d forgotten my transport card. So while I should’ve taken this comment and thrown it in the trash along with my bus ticket for some reason I held onto it all the way home. I carried it around in my coat pocket while walking my dog, and I pulled it out to glance at it every now and again.
I couldn’t figure out why this comment bothered me so much.
I realised it’s because this wasn’t the first comment of it’s kind. Throughout my time here I’ve been told that I’m not Dutch enough, that I’m not integrating fast enough and that I’m making too many mistakes. The interesting thing is that it’s not all from the same person. Many Dutch people in my life have made comments like this.
The most rattling thing these Dutch people have in common is that they all expect me to want to become Dutch.
They think that’s why I’m here.
Act Dutch or get out.
I don’t want to be Dutch, I’m British. Its who I am. I’m not changing who I am to live in this country.
I have been asked on multiple occasions when I will be applying for Dutch citizenship. The answer is not for at least fifteen years… why? That’s how long I will have to live here while being married to be eligible for dual citizenship. If I want to become Dutch before that, I have to give up British citizenship. It’s shouldn’t be as hard as it is to explain to someone why I wouldn’t be willing to give up my British and Irish citizenship.
Dutch people think that the Netherlands is the best, and yes, it’s great. I love it here, it’s a good place to live… but I’ve lived a lot of places, and I wouldn’t say that it’s the best.
When I suggest that I don’t want to be Dutch, people get angry. That’s fair, but I’m not Dutch, I’m not proud to live here.
I don’t want to give up a part of who I am to belong here.
Yes, I will learn dutch. Yes, I will get used to riding a bike everywhere. No, I will try not to forget my public transport card. That’s as far as I’ll go.
I’m not willing to compromise on this one I’m afraid. I’m already losing so much to move here, I won’t lose my nationality for this country.
What makes it hard.
There are little things that happen in everyday life that pile up, and it is slowly breaking me down. These things include but are not limited to:
- Not being able to speak a common language with a stranger.
- Being called a slow language learner two months into living here.
- Being told that my strategy of watching children’s TV (the only thing I can confidently understand) won’t help me because the vocabulary isn’t useful.
- Switching back to English because me speaking Dutch is painful for everyone
What natives can do to help newbies.
So I’ve shared a lot of negative experiences, but I don’t want this article to be about that, I want this to be a learning moment. If you find yourself welcoming someone new to your culture in there are a few things you can do to help us settle in.
- Ask us how we feel about speaking the language, ask if we want to try, then let us try.
There are some days that we feel like practising, and there are other days where everything is too overwhelming. Letting us decide which language to use is helpful, there are so many emotional factors that go with speaking a new language. It’s okay if we want to take a day away from mental fatigue.
- If we want to try speaking your language, try not to respond in ours.
Sometimes when I’m trying to speak Dutch people switch to English to make it easy for me. That doesn’t help me learn.
If someone is trying to speak your language, please let them try. We won’t always understand your responses, and you won’t understand ours, but when you switch languages, it makes us feel like you’re giving up on us.
I know that it’s hard to respond to us, it takes a lot of thinking to change your natural words to the ones that we will know. We appreciate the effort. So thank you for trying!
- Don’t assume we want to become one with your culture.
We don’t move places to give up who we are in favour of another culture. That’s never the reason why we do it. We are not going to change who are the moment we enter your country. We might pick up habits or sayings as we go on living here but changing is not our intention.
What can we movers do to help?
There are things that both parties can do to make the transition from culture to culture easier. Here is a list of some things that movers can do to ease some of the internal tension.
- Process feelings as they come up.
Don’t do it like me, I bottled up all of the things that bugged me until it caused me to stop functioning for a weekend.
- Keep trying to speak the language.
It’s hard to learn a language but keep trying, the faster you learn, the easier your transition will be.
Try to talk to strangers, fool the cashier into thinking you speak fluently, keep going and pushing.
The more interactions you have, the easier speaking comfortably will become.
- Forgive people for making mistakes.
People will do things that offend or hurt you. Let it go, and do your best to move past it. Holding onto hurt won’t help your transition, so do what you can to get it out of your system. Write a blog post, a poem, a short story, go on a walk or a jog do whatever it is that you do to process information.
Know that they probably didn’t mean to hurt you, they didn’t even realise they were doing it. If it keeps happening mention how it makes you feel. Explain your point of view and let them explain theirs.
I know I’ll be taking some of my own advice.