Drawing (and story) by Naomi Hattaway
Some days being back in my home country mystifies me. Behaviours, or unspoken rules, that after living abroad for eight years strike me as really weird are in a Dutch context of course perfectly normal. I am the one that needs to adapt, or am I?
Just this morning while I was contemplating how lovely it is to be able to take my 10yo daughter to school on my bike, I almost bumped into an au pair from the Philippines trying to steady a heavy carier trycicle with three blond children aboard. Poor thing. Whereas I at least have long legs and a past rich of cycling expeditions, head first into gale force winds with rain slashing in my face, she has not.
Is it so much more natural, or normal to see an American au pair in a big four wheel drive Volvo collecting a couple of kids from the international school in Switzerland, or children being picked up by a private chauffeur every day from our school in Italy? Not really no. Still the image of this tiny Filipina struggling to keep her monster bike afloat, strikes me as really weird.
Just as weird really to find myself severely overdressed at my neighbour’s fortieth birthday party. She had send out handwritten invitations, hired a caterer and erected a party tent in the garden. So it wasn’t an informal, bring your own booze type of get together and yet at least half of the guests were wearing jeans and a top.
In the Netherlands it is considered perfectly all right to wear jeans, trainers and the latest knitwear wherever you go, be it a party, the theatre, a restaurant, or a graduation ceremony. Ten years ago I would probably have thought nothing of it, but after living in England where everyone wears something sparkly and festive to go out and Italy where you wouldn’t be seen dead going into town wearing flip flops, or out to dinner wearing the same clothes you had on all day, I feel it is much nicer if everyone takes the effort to put on something special before going to a party.
My English friends will smile when I confess that I do struggle with the bluntness of my Dutch countrymen. Although my English mates have always found me cringingly direct, Dutch people can be forthright to the point of being rude. Over the past couple of days waitresses and shop assistants have told my 10yo daughter off in what I perceived as a very unfriendly manner. Yes, she was touching some things in shops that she perhaps shouldn’t have, picking wax of a candle in a café and hiding under a clothes rack just for the fun of it, but before I even got the chance to tell her to stop, someone beat me to it. And not in a gentle way with a smile on their face, no, more in an old-fashioned headmistress kind of manner. I didn’t like it and have decided to take at least some of my business elsewhere.
Instead of being one hundred percent Dutch as most of the people I meet these days, I have become part English (I love their politeness, eagerness to queue and – dare I say it- their over the top Christmases) part Italian (I love the fact that they all love my children and always make me feel like
the guest of honour in their café’s and restaurants) and part Swiss (sometimes it is nice if everyone just obeys the rules. I for one really enjoy spotless clean swimming pools and dog poo free pavements).
A friend of mine send me a lovely story the other day in which a circle from circle country gets on a plane to go live in square society for a few years. On moving back this little circle discovers that although he hasn’t become a square, he certainly isn’t a circle any more. Instead he has changed into a triangle, without quite realising it.
So that’s what I am: a triangle and proud of it. I even found some lovely other triangles to hang out with. Joking about our inability, at times, as square pegs to fit into round holes, really makes my day. As does fantasising about a little lady moving back home to the Philippines one day taking with her a Dutch carrier tricycle and telling everyone around her exactly what she thinks of them.