I actually have no idea why my home country is in my head so much lately. Maybe I’m homesick.
Maybe it’s a coming-of-age thing.
Maybe I should have left this place a long time ago, maybe there’s still a hidden reason why I am here.
And right now, I regret letting the Dutch get to me like they did. I regret not staying true to myself.
For years I’ve been taught by those around me the Dutch way is superior. I was also trying to adapt to a new country. It took me years to realise that the Dutch will consider their way superior, because that’s part of being Dutch. It took me less time to realise that there is no way I could fully become Dutch, and that I had very little desire to do so… and that it would be completely pointless as I’ll never be fully accepted. And that’s OK. I needn’t be fully accepted as Dutch. I’d rather not, actually, given the hell I’ve been through here.
I think it was an article I read in some women’s magazine. The point of the article was that women need to learn to let go or something in that line. What struck me was this sentence, translated: ‘The current generation of 20 somethings and 30 somethings have grown up in an affluent time. Everything was possible, they could have anything, so they choose everything. Stress is a status symbol these days‘. In my mind, I saw my ‘peers’. The young women, raised by SAHM’s, who were taught the values if individualism, secularity and their own control of their lives. They’ve had it good.
Bam. That’s not my generation. My generation has experienced adversity. We knew what rape was before these Dutch kids got sex ed. We’ve seen our country change, we’ve known since our early years that nothing comes for free. We know nobody who knows nobody who has never been confronted with violence. White South-Africans of my generation will never experience the elitist position our parents had, we’re just in there with the rest of everyone. And we knew that all along. We get on with life, shrugging ‘alles sal reg kom’. It will. Everything will be OK somehow, even if it won’t. We, all of us, are building a new country and a new culture. And we’re in it together, yet most don’t realise it. (Most white South-Africans have no idea how African they really are. Distance allows for perspective!)
Well, I’m here.
And I am once again realising that I’ve grown up in a different world than the Dutch kids I was supposed to ‘integrate’ with. I regret how far I’ve gone before realising it’s futile, and I regret many of the choices I made. I regret not staying true to myself, but I can’t really blame myself. I regret allowing some Dutchness tempt me, but I do not know how I could have done otherwise.
These kids were affluent, grew up in an individualistic society and they were raised with all the ‘rights’ they have. They were raised to be individuals, just like everyone else. They had every opportunity available, yet never appreciated it and never had to do more than barely enough for it. I’m startled these days to see children whose parents are on social benefits walk around in expensive clothes, but they’re entitled to it. (Apparently off my tax money, but that’s a different story!)
I grew up in a rapidly changing country, and a relatively unsafe one at that. I was raised to consider myself part of the community, altruism being somewhat a given thing. (Let generalisations be generalisations please!). I was raised with the idea that I had to provide for my family one day, and at least be able to take care of myself. I never had the shiny stuff many other kids had, in South-Africa it wasn’t as bad. In Holland I had less, and they had more. When I was 14, there was no money for a new winter jacket for me, so I wore my rain jacket over my red-orange-yellow jacket, designed for a 4-year-old but made in a size I’d never grow out of. (My mum bought it when I was 9 or 10. She didn’t realise I’d be wearing it at age 11 until it fell to pieces somewhere in my mid teens). The rain jacked was stupid, but at least navy is less prominently visible than red-orange-yellow. My parents were stricter and any ‘personal development’ was aimed at my future. In fact, while many of the Dutch teens were allowed to do whatever they pleased after graduating with whatever grades they pleased doing whatever they thought would make them happy… I found myself caught in between parents -especially a father- who not only pressured me to make most of the opportunity I had to go to university, but to make sure I put survival before pleasure. …. and my Dutch school on the other hand who did not understand this at all and pressured me to pick ‘whatever makes you happy, it’s about you!’.
The same school that half marginalised me and my foreign friends – none of us here because we like tulips so much- probably because it was easier than dealing with cultural differences. Funnily enough, those I’ve managed to follow on Facebook turned out to be doing all right. And me? I’ve proven that Zaffa chicks don’t die. I’ve never had it easy, and I’ve had to deal with some pretty serious stuff I think. ADHD is the annoying one, the dangerous ones were depression and the eating disorder. Not only am I not on benefits, but I’ve graduated medical school, am working full time as a doctor and I am very much fit to practice. Thank you very much.
Side note: apparently the Dutch are one of the happiest nations in the world. This puzzles me. I rarely see them being happy. I see them being cognitive, sure, but if someone’s happy you can see that without asking!
Then the economic crisis hit. The Dutch responded by doing what they do best: discussing it.
I rarely stick around for Dutch discussions, as there rarely is an outcome.
I’m watching this whole circus go on. As a whole, they’re still better off than South-Africans. I watch the massive results being booked by Oliver’s House, with gifts from the community, in South-Africa. I watch the Dutch go on about how the solution is to basically give everyone the same income. MEANWHILE there ARE children here, living in poverty, but I’ve seen no community incentives to gather food for them, like I’ve seen at my relatively well-off primary school in South-Africa EVERY YEAR. I have stopped following the news, sometimes just scanning it on my app, just in case SOMETHING happens. Usually, it’s just talk talk talk. The minister of health SAYS. But what does she do?
Then there’s this new trend, mainly among Dutch women, of ‘consuming less’ and mindfulness. Flow magazine, anyone? Look, I’m a pretty creative person, but Flow magazine just makes me nauseous. It’s a middle class thing, sort of hipster I think. Main goal is to find depth and happiness I think, to each their own… I don’t understand the self-orientation in it. Doesn’t matter. Often it also involves being more of a housewife than they were before. Speaking of which, the ‘feminist’ magazine ‘Opzij’ recently woke up and smelled the coffee on sexism. Nothing I didn’t know at age 12, when I learned what being a woman in Holland meant.
Anyway. I’m watching. We have freedom of speech here, but I’ve also learned that there’s little point to voicing an opinion that isn’t mainstream: they don’t care.
And I’ve realised that this shit is not going to be over soon, and this society needs some massive changes if it wants to survive.
Nope. The Dutch way is NOT superior.
The South-African way definitely has it’s drawbacks. I mean, we’re still talking about a country in which paperwork involves actual paper and an hour long sit at the embassy or home affairs to fill it out. And we still actually DO have street children…
But still, I am doing things SA style from now on. Why? Because, looking back, we’re a pretty amazing nation… and my dad was right about so many things the Dutch seem to be wrong about. And because it’s the only way to fix the ‘damage’ done by trying to be Dutch.
Lesson learnt. Never try to keep up with the Joneses if your last name isn’t Jones.