A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
After a day of cycling for more than 15km, running to the beach because it’s a sunny day and spending some time at the tulip fields I find myself asking the question: Have I Finally Integrated to the Dutch Life? To this country?
The day someone asked me for directions to some place in The Hague and I was able to describe the way to them was the first day I felt like a proud local. (Or a Hagenaar as they say) This was three years ago, I suppose some time during my first couple of weeks in the city.
But you could be a local without really integrating. You could live somewhere for years without picking up on the culture, especially if you are surrounded by other internationals. I was blessed with several lovely Dutchies and surely they introduced me to their culture and customs, traditions and special days.
I love the speculaas and muntthee, the stroopwaffles and the borrels. The love Dutch people have for sitting at terraces and having a drink, I gladly shared. I loved using the words lekker and gezellig. I’ve cheered for their national team, celebrated Kings Day in Amsterdam and did my best to pronounce Scheveningen just the right way.
But all that is more like dipping your toes in the water rather than jumping straight in, isn’t it?
I hadn’t noticed the existence of such a difference until I fell for a Dutchie and started actually experiencing the Dutch life rather than simply interacting with it. It was only then that I started getting more insight into the ways in which Dutch people interact with their family and friends. Whats normal for them, what they do, what they think, their grocery preferences and eating habits even.
1.I used to judge my boyfriend for having yoghurt for breakfast, saying that was not a real meal. (Im Turkish and you should google what a Turkish Breakfast looks like to understand what I mean.) But after a while I found myself also having yoghurt for breakfast sometimes. It was healthier and meant one less meal to think about.
2. I’ve been to Dutch dominated borrels and parties which was certainly a new experience for me. I say Dutch dominated because as an international student in the BA International Studies we are a very international community. (You probably figured that out by the word international being used three times in one sentence.) I found myself dropped in the middle of a Dutchland rather than my regular (mostly non-Dutch) crowd.
3. I’ve celebrated special days and birthdays surrounded by Dutch people. An example of a different experience is from my boyfriend’s birthday celebrated with family. On the day I was rather puzzled when all the guests were saying “Gefeliciteerd met Rens.” to me. Gefeliciteerd means congratulations and is used for birthday wishes too. But why were they celebrating me then? It wasn’t my birthday? Congratulations with Rens? Were they celebrating us? Well by that time we had been together more than a year and his larger family had met me before too, so why would they? And my wonderings kept going on… Apparently everyone says this to everyone at such occasions? It still doesn’t make sense to me and when I’ve asked some young Dutchies they also weren’t able to explain the reasoning behind it. It’s just the way it is apparently and while it certainly doesn’t make sense to me, I’m trying to get used to it.
4. I had also resisted cycling for a long time, though I do have some very entertaining cycling stories (read as attempts and crashes). But as I said earlier, just the other day I cycled more than 15km and I am SO proud about this!! I don’t know whether one day I’ll be cycling like a real Dutch person (by that I mean cycling while eating, drinking, texting and carrying extra people on the bike under heavy rain and stormy weather) but we’ll have to wait and see. I’m getting there. Slowly. Vey slowly. Cautiously, with my hands on the brakes at all times.