Monday, September 13, 2010

A Dutch Decade: Q&A with Jo Parfitt

As part of the Dutch Decade week I threw the floor open to you to ask any question you liked about expat life or life in the Netherlands.....

Jo Parfitt, expat author, entrepreneur, speaker, teacher, mentor, coach and general writing guru, asked,

Jo Parfitt
"They say that after about 2 years abroad there is no going back, that you are now permanently changed and that from now on, wherever you live the grass will be greener. Do you now feel that, happily and completely this is your home, or do you have "grass is greener" moments? Please tell me about the state of your integration".

My Answer: I am not sure about the validity of after 2 years there is no going back; after ten years I think that is most definitely the case. For the first few years I lived in the Netherlands, whenever I travelled back to England I had the feeling that I was going home. In later years that reversed and as soon as we board the ferry or train back to Holland it feels like I am heading home.

I still miss my friends and family back in England and that will never change, but when we go back there I feel like a visitor and not a native. And that is not strange after a decade away.

That is not to say I don’t have my ‘grass is greener’ moments – some things in the Netherlands irk me and there are occasions you will hear me say, “You wouldn’t have this problem in England.” But of course, no matter where you live there are things you don’t like and at the end of the day England and the Netherlands are not poles apart like some cultures are.

I feel well assimilated into Dutch society - I am married to a Dutchman so I have had to  but I remain English and will never be a true local. So in a way, living overseas for ten years means that you live in the no man’s land between being an expat and being a local.

Photo: Myles Davidson
I speak Dutch to a reasonable standard (at least nobody tries to speak English to me anymore when I am out and about), I understand a good deal about Dutch culture and what makes the Dutch tick. I have a birthday calendar in my downstairs toilet, my potato masher is well used in the winter and I get enthusiastic about the national football team; I do my best to integrate. However, there are some things, no matter how long I live here for, that I will not adopt or accept as the norm: birthday circles and bad customer service.

Does your host country feel like your home now or do you still have a feeling of coming home when you travel back to your country of origin?

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