Saturday, August 7, 2010
How My Boyfriend Sucks At Being Dutch
My boyfriend is Dutch, at least insofar as he identifies with coming from the Netherlands. However, after having read through many other expat blogs, I have come to the conclusion that he is very, very, atypical for a Dutch guy. For instance, he hates soccer. Hence, the complete absence of Wereld Kop mention in June.
Odd ducks keep odd friends, so it was only very recently that I realized that our entire social circle is comprised of highly atypical Dutch people. While I have been offered bescuit met muisjes before, I have never met a "one cookie!" person. I have been told they exist, and countless stories abound, so they must be based upon something. I just haven't figured out what, yet. The "circle parties" that I've attended are actually kind of fun, although they are a pain in the ass to get to: living in Nijmegen is sort of like living in LA--it's a 2 hour train ride to get ANYWHERE. But at every circle party I've attended, there was always wine, at least, and usually a ton of little kids running around. And since I'm an honorary member of my boyfriend's family, that usually means I get a free pass out of any boring conversations: I get to say, "I should probably help with the dishes."
My boyfriend's birthday parties are a case in point: they start at a typical hour (2 pm) but go on until 10-11 at night. There is beer and wine. There is a ton of food, and most of it is pretty tasty (my boyfriend assures me that the gehaktballen are delicious; I counter that anything with "mystery meat" as the main ingredient can't be that good). The chairs are drawn up into a circle, but that's about as "circle party" as it gets. So for a long time I thought that this--beer, wine, good food, lots of kids, interesting conversations about New Zealand--was typical.
Unlike most expats (it seems), I don't really have much of an excuse for not having learned the language sooner. My boyfriend speaks Dutch, so you'd think that it would be easy to just ask him, "How do you say ________?" and "What's the word for ________?" all the time. The problem is, his English is too good. He doesn't stumble for words, or need to think about what to say, or get stuck on colloquialisms. He certainly doesn't mind me asking how to say stuff in Dutch, but he certainly doesn't make a point of encouraging it, either. And his social circle is comprised of highly-educated Dutch people, so their English is also near-native. It took me a long time to realize that not everybody here speaks English that well. (Fortunately, I happen to be a freak of nature who finds learning Dutch to be relatively easy, so picking up the language as I go isn't very much of an issue for me.)
Another way in which my cultural integration into the Netherlands has been severely hindered by associating with my boyfriend is the celebration of Christmas/Sinterklaas. I mean, I knew of Sinterklaas, but I always thought it was like Halloween in the US--a bit of fun for the kids--because in my boyfriend's family, they celebrate Christmas. This is mostly because of working schedules: doctors get Christmas off (he and his sister are both doctors), but not Sinterklaas. But suffice it to say that it was not until I saw Sint Nicolas upon his white horse, surrounded by capering Zwarte Piets, that I realized just how big a deal Sinterklaas is here. You can read more about it here.
And no discussion about expat trials and tribulations would be complete without some mention of troubles with the IND (Immigratie en Naturalisatiedienst--imaginative, right?). Except, well...I haven't really had any. Really. He had to cough up almost €900, but after that my papers were rubber-stamped and in 2014 I can apply for permanent-permanent residence (I now have a 5-year residence permit), if not citizenship. I meet up with some guy from the Nijmegen bureaucracy every now and then, just to make sure that I am, in fact, learning Dutch, but otherwise, I haven't had any serious issues with paperwork not going through or things like that. The most terrible thing that's happened is that the National Spoorwegen sent me a new card because I wrote my birthday backwards when I first applied for it (month-day-year, rather than day-month-year).
My boyfriend of almost 9 years is a great guy, he really is: he cooks, he cleans, he loves kitties, and he listens when I need to rant. He makes the perfect roasted potatoes for me, and when I'm home, he makes sure there's a vegetable on the table. For the most part, I'm actually pretty glad he's not a "typical Dutch guy". After all, he wouldn't be who he is, if he didn't suck at being Dutch.