If I was a jar of food I suppose my label would read “Product of more than one country”. After all, I have got a surname that originally comes from France, a Christian name that comes from The Netherlands, a parent from The Netherlands, and a parent from England. Oh – and I think I may have some German blood in my Dutch family as well.
However, you could say that my connection with The Netherlands also appears on every single official document which includes any personal information about me – even if it doesn’t explicitly state my late Mum’s nationality.
(If I want to confuse people I just tell them that my Mum and I were both born in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. This is actually true up to a point. My Mum was born in the actual city of Rotterdam. You just need a diary and a telephone directory to find out how someone who was born in Kings Lynn in Norfolk, can claim to have been born in Rotterdam as well. If you look up the international Dialling Code for Rotterdam you will find it is +31 10 – which happens to be the same as 31 October – my birthday.)
This may seem really strange to you but I feel more at home in Holland – even though I have never actually lived over there. I have been over a couple of hundred times during my lifetime.
Something else which may surprise you is that there are a lot more rules and regulations about how to conduct yourself in Holland than you might have been led to believe. (The idea you can get away with anything in Holland is something of a myth – unless you happen to be a tourist.)
There are two rules (which I consider to be “Dutch”) which I was brought up with.
The first one is always calling a stranger Mr or Mrs So-and-so until such a time as they tell me to use their Christian name. I feel seriously uncomfortable when someone who is a lot older than me introduces themself to me by their Christian name alone. I honestly don’t feel I am treating them with sufficient respect if I call them by their Christian name on first meeting them.
The second rule I was brought up with (and I later found out that they have the same thing in French and German) is the difference between “formal” and “informal”. That is one thing I really miss when I am in England – I just hate the “one size fits all” you. As in – “you” as both formal and informal. “U” and “je” I can live with – same with “Vous” and “tu”, and “Sie” and “Du”. In fact – this may surprise you but when I was in Holland a few years ago there was a discussion which made front page news in one Dutch National newspaper – whether or not to get rid of the formal “U” in the office environment.
Another couple of things I really love about Dutch people are – their insistence on shaking hands even when entering and leaving someone’s home – as well as their habit of blunt straight-talking. Put it this way – the Dutch aren’t exactly known for tact and diplomacy.
I will leave you with something I found really confusing when I was growing up.
In the UK – if you are in a large group of people you are only supposed to speak to the people closest to you??? This is what is known as “being polite”.
In Holland – if you are in a large group of people feel free to bellow at the person sitting or standing across the room from you. This is apparently seen as “being polite”.
There was one occassion when something else got my “oh oh – there may be trouble here” radar buzzing in Holland. I had been half-listening to a discussion between two of my Mum’s uncles and my Dutch Grandma’s next door neighbour when I heard “Madam – you are wrong” (in Dutch of course). For some reason my brain had switched itself into English mode (which explains why I started to feel nervous when I heard that remark) conveniently forgetting that Dutch people are programmed to call strangers “Sir” and “Madam” in conversation without being accused of sarcasm.
Different countries do have their own rules of behaviour – don’t be surprised if someone from another country does something you do not expect – instead try to learn a bit about their rules and customs.