23 Dec

So I’m going to write about something completely irrelevant to Christmas on this Eve of Christmas Eve. This post is inspired by a thread in an expats group on Facebook, of all things.. I suppose it still is a sensitive thing for me, living in this country. It’s not about ‘fitting in’. It’s about wanting different things.


1.conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected.
“it’s quite normal for puppies to bolt their food”
synonyms: usual, standard, typical, stock, common, ordinary, customary, conventional, habitual, accustomed, expected, wonted, everyday, regular, routine, day-to-day, daily, established, settled, set, fixed, traditional, quotidian, prevailing More
antonyms: unusual, abnormal
(of a person) free from physical or mental disorders.
“until her accident Louise had been a perfectly normal little girl”
synonyms: sane, in one’s right mind, right in the head, of sound mind, in possession of all one’s faculties, able to think/reason clearly, lucid, rational, coherent, balanced, well balanced; More
2.technical(of a line, ray, or other linear feature) intersecting a given line or surface at right angles.
“a single plane of symmetry with a diad axis normal to it”
(of a salt solution) containing the same salt concentration as the blood.
“dilute the stock solution with sterile water or normal saline”
(of a solution) containing one gram-equivalent of solute per litre.
denoting a fault or faulting in which a relative downward movement occurred in the strata situated on the upper side of the fault plane.

noun: normal; plural noun: normals
1.the usual, typical, or expected state or condition.
“her temperature was above normal”
a person who is conventional or healthy.
a line at right angles to a given line or surface.
“the view is along the normal to the surface” (Source just plain Google, I think?)

Too many years in Holland have completely changed what ‘normal’ means for me. Before, it was just a vague term, with not much judgement in it.

Then I came to Holland. (I refuse to say ‘the Netherlands’ simply because I can.). Country of ‘doe maar normaal dan doe je al gek genoeg’ (translates to ‘act normal, then you’ll be acting crazy enough). A few other bloggers have also explained this utterly important Dutch cultural norm:
Stuff Dutch People Like
Dutch Language Blog
Lily in Holland.

‘Normal’ is the thing to be over here. Being ‘niet normaal'(not normal) is highly frowned upon, and may leave you shunned until you’ve normalised yourself. Coming from a place of diversity, and a place where it’s completely OK to want to stand out in a good way… this was a hard one to get used to. ‘Normal’ seems to be what white Dutchmen have in common, mostly. It’s this very stringent moral code and behavioural code. Do not dare deviate.

I’ve drawn this simple logic conclusion: if the entire nation has to try so hard to ‘act normal’, it’s safe to assume they’re not normal. Perhaps it’s a ‘fake-it-till-you-make-it’ kind of thing?

See, I ran into a problem pretty quickly. While the exact boundaries of ‘normal’ sometimes still are a mystery to me, I’ve learned one thing: I am not ‘normaal’. And I pretty much suck at acting it. I keep on failing this integration exam.

  • I am not ‘normaal’ because I am from South-Africa. I didn’t bother to point out that, if normalcy is defined as where most of the majority fits in, South-Africans outnumber Dutchmen 3:1 so that may change who is defined as ‘normal’.
  • I am not ‘normaal’ because of the ADHD thing. Formally this may be true, but I’m lost as to why it has to be such an issue. I’d rather suffer from ADHD than this thing called ‘normalcy’, to be honest, because ‘normalcy’ seems to be more limiting.
  • I am not ‘normaal’ because my build has been described as somewhat ‘exotic’ by a Dutchwoman when I mentioned altering my bikini top to prevent it from falling down. Cool. Exotic sounds interesting. I’ll take exotic. Not what springs into my mind when I think of me, but still.
  • I am not ‘normaal’ because I know how to use shoe polish. Yeah, there’s this thing about Dutch women’s shoes… I have a pair of worn down flat boots which I save for when I need to appear well integrated in order to save my life.
  • I am not ‘normaal’ because I’m lactose intolerant, just like the majority of adults in the world, apparently. I’ve been at organised ‘luxury’ lunches (bread with more than just cheese on it, and three types of milk to choose from) where I had to bother kitchen staff for a glass of water because, well, three types of milk is still milk.
  • I am not ‘normaal’ because I don’t aim for ‘just sufficient’, or, because I’m a woman, I am not a perfectionist. I like to give 100% and see how far I can get.
  • I am ‘not normaal’ because I don’t want to control every small aspect in my life. That terrifies people.
  • I am, mostly, ‘niet normaal’ because I don’t fit in the box. I think the owner of these mental boxes really is missing out on life. Sadly, not fitting in the box makes it harder for me.

Over the years, I’ve tried to ‘act normal’. It only made me very unhappy.

The harder I try to conceptionalise this ‘normaal’ thing, the more I end up defining it like this:

Terrifying, isn’t it? That’s the mental image associated with ‘normal’ for me now. It’s not that far off. The norm ‘normal’, and the negative response you get from being ‘niet normaal’ is destructive to creativity, to love, passion, to diversity and many things that makes humans wonderful. Especially when combined with the ‘headiness’ often seen in Northern Europe, where the mind is glorified. A crying child will hear ‘act normal’ snapped at it by it’s mother.

It seems like ‘niet normaal’ is the worst thing for a Dutchman. This, also, is an easy way to ‘integrate’ by the way. Instead if calling something appaling, or horrible, just call it ‘niet normaal’. Understanding this helps me to supress my initial ‘so what?’ thoughts when someone comes to me with something they consider ‘niet normaal’.
“It’s been going on for weeks! ‘Dit is toch niet normaal?’
My thought: not normal? So what… oh wait, you mean you’ve spent the last weeks being terrified that it somehow is outside of your concept of normal and it’s unbearable? I see that everything really HAS to be normal for you, even though I don’t understand why’.
“I’ll have a look at it, see what we can do.”

There is nothing wrong with normal, in the end, but everything wrong with using ‘normal’ as tool to judge.

I think the obsession with ‘normal’ is the love child of Calvinism and today’s secularism, in which ‘good and bad’ are perhaps a Christian thing, hence not accepted in a society which believes everyone should decide for themselves what their values in life are. Normal is the collective average,I think. ‘Niet normaal’ is the new ‘you’re going to hell’. You can be whoever you are, as long as you don’t stand out. As long as you’re ‘normal’, as long as you’re average. You can be whoever you are, as long as you’re exactly the same as everyone else.

I have a problem with that, and not only because I’ll never meet those standards of normalcy.

For the record, I don’t care if I’m technically abnormal or not. I’m fine as I am.

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Posted by on December 23, 2014 in I believe, Rant


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