Johan was born in Holland but moved to Scotland with his parents when he was about 10 years old. He went to school there and struggled for a few years to speak and write English. He also met his wife there, and together they lived and worked in London and later in Phoenix, Arizona. After 12 years of life in the USA they decided to go back home. But where is home now? Their London house had been sold, and they both felt that with the Brexit the UK was heading in the wrong direction. Johan had always renewed his Dutch passport and was still a Dutch citizen. They decided therefore to return to Holland.
The Netherlands is civilized and cares about itself as well as its people. It works well on many levels. It cares about education, healthcare, infrastructure and public transport. It is also well structured with defined guidelines.
You feel safe and secure and people on the whole are very accommodating. People here seem to enjoy life. They work hard, but they also play hard. They like drinking, but you never see them fighting drunk. We live in the city centre, and on weekends there are always big noisy parties in the pubs. But I’ve never seen anybody aggressive there. I think underneath the Dutch are very respectful of other people and they don’t like aggression.
If you watch how the Parliament works (as seen on the daily tv broadcasts), there is never any shouting. There is a tolerance of other people’s opinions. People are open to discuss things, they talk about everything and they’ve got an opinion. I think this is why they’ve got 16 different political parties. For a country it is a healthy sign of a proper democracy. Everybody has a voice.
Tolerance under threat
We have a Dutch friend who lives in a rented house in a village south of Deventer. She is friendly and caring and smart and worldly. Over the last couple of years, she has become more and more annoyed with immigrants coming to live in the village. People in the village who have been waiting for a new house are being passed over by immigrants. Neighbours next door who came from Romania messed up the garden. She thinks it is unfair. Her way of life and that of a neat little village are being disrespected. She believes that the Dutch lifestyle is being threatened.
I think there is an undercurrent in the Dutch society of becoming less tolerant. It’s not about the colour of your skin or your religion, it’s being suspicious of anybody who is not Dutch.
I found myself in a very disturbing situation at the market one day. The market was closed and I made a mistake by driving my car through the blocked car park. I saw the stall holder and started to apologise to him. But he pushed me in the shoulder, shouting and screaming with such anger that his eyes and blood vessels were about to explode. I said to him: ‘Calm down, just calm down’. Obviously, saying it in English did not help. He became even angrier: ‘Donder op, you bustard, go back to your Brexit Land’. I was shocked and kept thinking: where is the tolerance gone in this country? What has happened to make a humble stall holder so angry about what I did, who I was and what I represented? And what would’ve happened if I my skin was darker or the language I spoke was completely alien to the stall holder?
Let them be proud
Becoming Dutch is not easy but it gets easier if you realise that being Dutch is a state of mind, a way of thinking.
The Dutch are proud of their country and themselves and their social structures. For such a tiny country they have made their mark and deserved status on the world stage. So let them be proud of themselves: their sense of commerce and trade; their art and engineering; their bikes and dikes; their beer and football; their ability to learn and speak many languages; their sometimes strange customs and habits and celebrations.
The Dutch will test your commitment to living and assimilating into their culture. They believe: It takes two to tango.