Postcards from Abroad: Breaking into the Dutch world

Living in the Netherlands you’d assume it’d be easy to get in and amongst our lowland counterparts, I mean for a start you’re surrounded by them, and secondly, well, it’s their country. In every classroom it’s about 75 per cent Dutch, and occasionally you have to interact with them, normally this turns into very pleasant conversation with the oft-fluent English-speaking local. Outside the classroom they’re every where; the check-out at Lidl, the bit where you attempt pull-ups at the gym, in their living-rooms where they always leave the curtains open (this is actually a ‘thing’ they do, no reason, they’re just reverently open people), and so the list goes on – I mean they are literally EVERYWHERE. So why is it so difficult for someone who’s resided here for nearly eight months strong to break into their world? Why is the best glimpse of real Dutch day-to-day life seen through moments in the supermarkets or through their windows at night? (I’m not a weird stalker, I’ve been pushed to the brink and it’s the best way. Think of it more like an anthropology study: ‘The family around the television’).

In fairness, recent months have seen me branch out of the international student bubble that the others are so content with. I’ve partaken in voluntary work at the local refugee camp that has introduced me to whole arrays of people from Syria and Iran, as well as the Dutch organisers at JustPeople. I actually met one Iranian who was really into trance raves and had been put in prison for sixth months for making a hip-hop album, he was pretty nonchalant about the whole thing; apparently he befriended all four walls of his room. One of his girlfriends had it worse though. She was locked up for 15 years (still there at time of publication) for doing graffiti on a government building. So yeah, Tehran sounds fun. JustPeople are a great bunch though, while they did confirm my presumptions about the Dutch before coming here, i.e. blonde dreadlocks, lots of paisley, and plenty more incense, they were so welcoming and so determined to work at grass routes level to just help people, and while there were some ideologies being bounded around it was this concept of helping other’s being essential that one me over.

Otherwise, clubbing has proven the most consistent provider of Dutch friends. Sometimes they only last the length of a cigarette (in which time they’ve invited you to their house in Groningen, and got you to chant a ‘typical English football chant’ to their little brother who’s birthday it is over the phone), but some of them have proven more permanent, and have introduced me to many more of their network.

While you should never befriend someone based on ethnicity, it is good to befriend those of the nation in which you live, and this makes me wonder how different actual ‘living abroad’ would be to the very easy, and somewhat closed bubble of a typical Erasmus student.


Oisin Teevan

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