I am often asked if I feel more American or Dutch. The fact that I am writing in English may answer that question, but it’s more complicated than that. First a little background. I was born and raised in the US with Dutch parents. We spoke only English at home because my dad wasn’t good at switching between languages. They had already lived in the US for 12 years before I was born having moved there when they got married at 25 and had no intentions of moving back to The Netherlands. But then my dad was offered a work opportunity in The Netherlands and we ended up living there for 2.5 years when I was 5-7 years old. I attended a local elementary school and within a month I was fluent in Dutch. But back in the US, we returned to speaking only English.
While my parents were fully integrated in the US by only speaking English and having primarily American friends, their norms and values were still very Dutch. These were of course woven into my upbringing. Things like directness, frugality (“Going Dutch”), normalcy (The Dutch have an expression that translates to “just act normal, that’s already crazy enough!!”) and tolerance (everything and everyone is allowed, especially when it came to alcohol, sex and drugs). The last aspect was most noticeable during my teenage years when all the kids around me were experimenting and rebelling and I didn’t feel the desire to do so. This was because things weren’t strictly forbidden by my parents except for being home in time for curfew and no TV during the week. Rebelling wouldn’t get me any extra attention from my parents, which is the reason kids often rebel. In college, I noticed that the Dutch directness was sometimes seen by Americans as being tactless.
At the same time, American norms and values were being ingrained in me just by living there. Things like the sky is the limit, being very self-confident, learning to sell yourself, optimism and enthusiasm. After moving back to the US, we vacationed in The Netherlands every year or two to see family and friends, often at my insistence. This allowed me to maintain speaking Dutch and reinforced the Dutch norms and values. When I was 24, I moved to The Netherlands to get my MBA and experience what it was like to live in the country as an adult. During my MBA, I met my husband and decided to stay in The Netherlands, much to my dad’s dismay.
I am approaching having lived half my life in The Netherlands. I have almost always worked at international organizations in international roles where English was the primary language. Being an English native speaker has given me an advantage in these types of roles and working in international environments always suited me well.
Much like my parents, on the social side I am fully integrated in The Netherlands with mostly Dutch friends. I am less immersed in the Dutch (pop) culture and don’t really watch Dutch TV, listen to Dutch music or read Dutch books and magazines. I prefer reading and writing in English, but I am perfectly capable of doing both in Dutch. But as my native language English is just easier for me. Unlike my parents did with me, I am raising my children bilingually and speak a mix of Dutch and English with my husband. The Netherlands is a great country for people with children, which is one of the main reasons why we have continued to live here all these years.
When I recently started as a freelancer, I decided to do all my communications on social media and my website in English. Not only because it’s easier for me, but because a significant part of my social network connections does not speak Dutch. I am focusing on small and medium sized organizations, which you could argue are primarily Dutch speaking. But I believe this has already changed and will continue to do so. Our economies are becoming more and more globalized, especially for a small country yet economic powerhouse like The Netherlands. Being fluent in English and Dutch and being culturally flexible is what differentiates me.
So, the answer to the question is that I feel at home in both countries. I don’t go to the extreme of either culture but like to think that I have a nice mix of both Dutch and American norms and values.