Posted by: Corri van de Stege | January 2, 2007

A question


Every so often you go back to the Netherlands and then realise how much that country is still part of your system, just as much as England is.  And then you begin to wonder again what it is that in the past would always draw you back to England.  Is it the language?  Or is it nothing more than the search for something that simply happened to focus on England, because of the fact that you happened to come across it.  It might as well have been anywhere else in the world, it happened to be a catalyst, handy, helping you to grow up where your mother country felt too claustrophobic.

Rotterdam, a modern city, vibrant, with many new buildings, offices, its harbour with massive cranes, big shipyards, boats, p1010018.JPGmachine workshops, and its museum harbour, in pristine condition (no vandalism visible anywhere even though you freely wander into the maze of footpaths and planks that provide a way through this other-world that is so far removed from your own life and work).  How is that possible?  What is it that makes the Dutch so similar yet so different from the English?  Is it their protestant ethic of hard work but at the same time the notion that rest is well deserved and that life is there to be lived, not single-mindedly worked, and that god always intended the seventh day to be the Sabbath?  Not that it is necessarily the Sunday that is taken as a day to rest, rather that rest after hard work is well deserved.


Thatcherite England forgot all about this balance, the market ideology and then the incipient notion that competitiveness, hard work and meritocracy are the rules of life, took hold. 

Nevertheless, for me, England in the sixties and early seventies was an exciting country to live in, even if all I knew was London where I began to free myself from a decade of anger with everything protestant and the constriction of living in a family environment in the Netherlands that would not allow me my freedom and space to develop and grow.  England did allow me that opportunity, and I began to cherish its language, culture and way of life.


Meanwhile huge changes have taken place, like anywhere else in the world, communication so easy and matter of fact, taking a boat journey across the channel no longer means distancing yourself, it has become a hop and step away to go from The Netherlands to England and back again.   However this hop and a step is still fundamentally different from stepping across the border to Germany, say, or France, where you can go, by getting in the car and closing your door, no customs officer flagging you down, no long queues with an official peering at you from across a high desk, scanning your passport and making you feel tiny and helpless if only for a second.  You never know.


Being a grandchild with parents from two different European countries, grandparents from three different countries across the world, an uncle who lives in another European country from your parents and grandparents, other uncles who live in your mother country, none of that is such a big deal and so you learn languages and accept the fact that people will talk to you using different words for the same thing.  How hard is that when you’re not quite two years old yet? You don’t seem to mind much!

And so you get confused between your ‘eyes’ and ‘aai’, stroking faces and eyes when somebody tries to tell you what these are, and you insist that these are ‘Augen’.  Just one of the many things, all of which hilarious to you and great fun, picking up words, listening to your mother and then, for this short time whilst you visit, to all these family members speaking English, with an odd Dutch song thrown in for good measure.  Life is a hoot when you’re 22 months old and having so many mentors and willing companions around, all grown up and thinking you are it.  And so you fling yourself from one lap to another with books that show you horses and ‘Pferde’, all one and the same thing as far as you are concerned.  Everyone willing to sing along with you, the nursery rhymes, the Christmas carols.


And in the middle of the night you cry out, too many impressions, restless, wanting your mother and the security of arms and your pappa, reassurances that the world is a safe place.


I still don’t know what it is about England that drew me, I just live here.  It’s just too late to change again, I feel old.


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