Thursday, March 13, 2008

Cultural Design

Something about my perception has recently changed.  Within the first year of this cultural journey I went from viewing the Dutch culture out of something similar to amazed alien eyes to the drastic difference of seeing it through a sophisticated know-it-all American's eyes.  Somehow it went from innocent amazement to criticism of a Cro-Magnon civilization.  Personally I think it was more an instinctive self-preservation reaction than a judgmental one, but nonetheless it wasn't pretty and it didn't feel right.  There were moments when it seemed I was being judged by individuals around every corner and at some point I decided to turn the finger on them, innocent or not.  It is hard to explain the adjustments which I've gone through during this international transition, the good ones or the bad, but I've once again reached another corner.

You know it when you pass by a non familiar bridge standing steady over the lapping water of a small canal and get a sudden urge to snap a photo just because you know one day you'll miss it.  And instead of seeking out the store with the limited supply of American pudding mixes you pick up a different carton of vla just to see if it happens to be different from the last failed attempt.  Even better is when you realize that you actually like the concept of buying pudding in a carton and being able to pour it into a bowl . . . or even liking the taste.

For so long I'd concentrated on what I was missing from the states, how things tasted differently, and why would anyone want to do this or that differently.  Like the time I finally tracked down cheddar cheese and it only came in a 6oz paper wrapped package and I almost cursed the best cheese makers on planet earth for not stocking my cheese.  Just how was I going to garnish my tacos now?!?  Strangely, what I thought was an open-mindedness mentality began to reveal it's layers upon layers of discrimination.  I grudgingly shredded young Belgian cheese over my tacos and, over time, put away the thought of making tacos before someday returning to the states and began relishing the different variety of dishes I could make with this limited amount of glorious cheese.

It is still amazing to me to see a culture of people who look so much like us but do things so differently.  "Different" is a word I've used often since our move and I've used it in (pardon the overuse) different ways.  But once I stopped accusing the differences as being absurd and started looking for their purpose I found I could look at this world around me in a new light.  Yes, there are still things which I think the Americans have perfected, but I have also figured out that not all which is different is wrong.

It has been a while since I've shared stories about the Dutch, their customs and country.  It probably stopped about the time the newness rubbed off and started tearing at me with its jagged edges.  There are several things I'd like to introduce my non-Dutch readers to.  I hope you'll see the differences from the weather-worn expatriates' view and not the cynical better-than-you Americans'.


Holy said...

It's hard to explain cultural differences without seeming to come from the "American" side or the jaded expat side.

The trick is finding the space between the two dichotomies -ie. Dutch-ness and AMerican-ness.

You are in that special place between the two, able to have double vision and identify with both. You'll notice that more acutely, post Netherlands living, when you find yourself defending the Dutch to the death at some later point in life. That's when realization comes that you really were and did become one of them, after all, even for the short years you may find you lived there, and even though you may always have thought of yourself on the fringe as an ex-pat.

I understand the journey you speak of though.

I went from the jaded disillusioned Canuck in year one to the disgruntled Canuck year two to settling into being an Americanadian now in Year 3. And I like it. I like Americans, I really do! LOL

Seriously, it does take a while to get over the cultural differences amongst so-called Western and civilized societies - and find that space, that place where the two overlap. I think that once we, the expats of the world, find it, a sense of home emerges.

That is what I have found.

Mannyed said...

It sounds like you are assimilating!

What a great life lesson you are learning...

bibi said...

A few years ago I moved from Canada to England and didn't make any mental adjustments for the move because I wasn't expecting any, after all they speak English too.
The actual culture shock was a rude awakening. The English spoke English but I couldn't understand the accent. I couldn't keep the strange food down, losing over twenty pounds in less than six weeks. And English clerks & waiters don't smile or be helpful or say 'have a nice day'. They're blunt, earthy & generally gloomy and sound a lot like your Dutch.
It took me a long time to sort out the differences and embrace the good ones. And there are many good ones. But do you ever lose the homesickness?