After almost three years of integration in Swedish society, Paula Dubbink’s homesickness has mostly disappeared. At the same time, she has started suffering from sudden attacks of chauvinism.
I’m not a nationalist, I have always told myself. Nationalists are those people who don’t come to your party as they prefer to watch the national team play soccer. And who then are grumpy for over a week when the team loses. Nationalists are those people who cannot understand that people in other countries have different customs or food and who label anything foreign as “stupid”. And in the most extreme case, nationalists are those people who think that only “people like us” can live in their country, and nobody else. Nothing I want to associate with.
But I have changed my mind slightly since I became a part time teacher last fall. Twice a week, I teach children with at least one Dutch parent my lovely mother tongue. The primary school grammar is no challenge, but motivating my pupils (“why should I care about improving my Dutch?”) definitely is. Still, at certain moments, there is some secret feeling of community. Me and them and their Dutch parent(s) – we share something in this Swedish society. We understand a language that for those around us just sounds like awful g-sounds. We know what Koningsdag means and why your breakfast becomes better with hagelslag. We understand, the others don’t and that shapes community.
The feeling is comparable to what happened at one of the first parties in my Swedish student house. At the end of the dinner, the party committee organized a music quiz, with one question being: “Which country has this song as a national anthem?” Directly the Wilhelmus blared through the room. While everyone looked completely puzzled (“Austria maybe? I really don’t have a clue”) I tried to hide my smile.
In the middle of Swedish food, Swedish drinking songs and in the company of about twenty Swedes, I formed my own small Dutch community. There was something that I understood and none of the others did: a song that I have heard numerous times at countless sport events without ever feeling too emotional about it. But in this context, it belonged to me.
All in all, it seems that my chauvinist feelings grow when I’m abroad, whereas they rapidly decline when I’m back in the Netherlands. But actually I’m in a luxury position.
On my quest for educational materials on our national King’s Day, I stumbled upon a film clip about a Syrian family. They had only been in the Netherlands since last year and spoke just basic Dutch, but they were all convincingly dressed in orange. They were shown strolling over the flea market, joining in all the strange games and eating orange cake. “What do you think of this traditional day?” the interviewer asked the oldest daughter in English. “Mooi”, beautiful, she answered. Her father expressed his thankfulness for his new life in the Netherlands and his hopes for the future there.
How blessed one is to be able to remember the country one has left with joy.