No – the title to this blog post isn’t a spelling mistake. Nor is it a demand to see your Birth Certificate to prove your parentage. When you hear this in The Netherlands they are asking to see your identification papers (passport or driving licence). The chances are you are either in a bank or talking to a Police Officer.
There has been a lot of discussion about “identity” in the Mainstream Media recently. However, there is a side to it which people haven’t really understood yet. At least – my experience tells me they haven’t understood it yet. And I wanted to tell you my view of it.
I was born, raised, and educated in England. In fact, the only times I have spent any time on Dutch turf have either been visiting relatives or on holiday.
I also have a British passport.
So surely this means I am English??? The fact that my Mum came from Rotterdam in The Netherlands is beside the point??? (I should point out that – until I was 18 I had dual Dutch/British nationality through my Mum.)
Well – you could technically say that I suppose. Just please do yourself a favour and do not say it in my earshot. I tend to get more than a little grumpy as a result of hearing it.
Forget the fact that I was brought up in a home where both English and Dutch were spoken (sometimes even in the same sentence) and the fact that I was immersed in Dutch culture as much as possible even without leaving England. There are some pretty obvious clues as to why I always identify myself as at least 50% Dutch. One of which could be obvious the minute I enter your presence, one of which is obvious when I introduce myself, and the last one is more obvious to people who know what to look for (I was stunned when someone correctly guessed I had Dutch links in my family as a result of seeing it).
The most obvious thing about me is my height. At 5ft 10 (or 1,79m) I am taller than average for an English female. I am, however, approximately average height for a Dutch female. (One of the reasons I love being in The Netherlands is being able to feel short. Trust me – there is nothing more irritating than hearing variations of the theme “Aren’t you tall?” seemingly on a loop. I end up feeling like I should live in the Giraffe enclosure at Twycross Zoo or Blijdorp Zoo whenever I hear that.)
When I introduce myself my first name isn’t English (very few people guess first time that it is Dutch).
The other clue is on my face. I have only seen variations of my nose on my Dutch family. (My Dad’s family have got “English” noses.)
However, the main reason I identify as at least 50% Dutch is I feel safe and at home around large amounts of Dutch people (in most cases being surrounded by large amounts of English people can make me feel not unlike a very scared performing seal and also make me want to leave the area by the nearest available exit – especially if I don’t know anyone in the group). Listening to a Dutch person speak in either English or Dutch relaxes me. The Dutch “rules” of society guide me even when I am in England (I love the split between the “formal” and the “informal” you in Dutch).
It is funny how I will quite happily walk around on my own in areas of Rotterdam which I have never previously visited but am petrified at the thought of visiting some areas of Leicester which I have been to before.
When I started Secondary school I had serious trouble with bullying and Rotterdam kind of turned into a “safe space” for me. (Well, my Mum did have a lot of aunts, uncles, and cousins dotted all round Rotterdam.)
What I am trying to say is – your “ethnicity” isn’t down to the colour of your skin (I am white) or down to where you were born or grew up.
If my Mum hadn’t been so proud of being Dutch (her mantra – whenever I or someone else asked her if she would get a British passport – was “I was born Dutch, I am Dutch, and I will die Dutch”. The fact that – by the time she died – she had lived in England a lot longer than she had lived in The Netherlands was apparently beside the point. She told me that shortly after moving to England she made enquiries about getting a British passport. She strangely stopped pursuing the idea when she found out that she would have to give up her Dutch nationality if she got one – I haven’t got the foggiest why that might be???) I might have felt more English than I do now.
Being steeped in the language and culture of another country as you are growing up in your own country can be very confusing at times. Especially when there are customs in one which are either unheard of in the other or the exact opposite of what should happen in polite society in the other.
There are three examples which come immediately to mind.
The first one will hit you the minute you read your first Dutch notice (or hear a Dutch shop assistant). There is nothing wrong with the word “u” – This is the formal version of “you”. However, do not be alarmed if you read “u kunt…” – you are not being sworn at or called an unrepeatable name – it is, in fact, a Dutch person being as polite as humanly possible whilst informing you that “you can…”.
The second one is important to remember when you enter and leave a Dutch home. You will shake hands with every human in the room. You will also shake hands with everyone when you leave.
The third one confused the life out of me when I was growing up because it is the exact opposite of social etiquette in England. English people are brought up to understand that – when one is in a large group (say seated at a dinner) – one should talk to the humans on their immediate left and right. Under no circumstances should they bellow at the people sitting diagonally opposite them or even at the end of the table. This is one of the first rules to go out of the window in a large group of Dutch people!!! (I would seriously consider taking earplugs if you don’t like loudness.)
However, the other reason why I don’t identify myself as fully English is I share the Dutch traits for stubbornness and bluntness (a tip – if I ever ask if you really want to know how I am or what I am thinking make sure you know what you are in for. If you say “yes” to that question you will find out in the most direct terms possible – and the chances are you won’t like what I say either).
How we identify ourselves is personal to us. Sometimes the order we identify ourselves in might not be to everyone’s taste. The fact that I would identify myself as a half-Dutch person with a sight problem may not be to everyone’s taste but it is me.