Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Welcome to nowhere

I've very much been enjoying abfh's counterpoints to my recent posts, so I thought I'd reciprocate with my own take on Welcome to Holland. It's not as funny as hers, Welcome to Italy, but it's something I've had on my mind to do eventually. Today's as good as any I suppose.

Welcome to Nowhere

I was born in Italy to a nice Italian family. Or so I thought. My parents were so proud of their heritage. Mama started breaking me in on the music of Verdi and Puccini before I was even born. We spoke only Italian at home, though Mama and Papa were fluent in several languages. I never did get the hang of Italian. I hated to be such a disappointment, but it just didn't make sense to me.
The house was nicely decorated with Da Vinci prints and replicas of ancient Roman sculpture. On Sundays, Mama cooked a big meal, working all day in the kitchen to prepare huge servings of linguine with clam sauce or fusilli pomodoro, which we ate with the finest Italian wine the family could afford. It was good, I guess, but very heavy, I always felt tired and cranky at dinner. In school, we learned about the Caesars, Napoleon and Mussolini. Why does history have to be so full of violence?
There was a Dutch boy in my school. Everyone felt sorry for him because he was from Holland. I tried not to stare at him, and sometimes I took up for him when the bullies picked on him, but not if the cool kids were watching. I was never mean of course, but you have to be careful not to be seen hanging out with someone like that.
Papa explained there was nothing wrong, exactly, with being Dutch, that it was just an unfortunate circumstance into which some people were born. I was somewhat curious about this place, Holland, and started to read a little about it.
The strangest thing happened. I started to have memories of being a little boy in Holland, happily watching windmills spin, pacing in circles around tulip gardens, building a dam out of alphabet building blocks, making a nonsense pattern of letters: Afsluitdijk. It must have been a dream I guess, I'd never been to Holland.
Or had I? The more I read about Holland, the more familiar it seemed. I was noticing many more Dutch people now, and they seemed less strange than before. I seemed to understand their language. It was frightening and disorienting.
When I first mentioned this to my parents, they said I must be crazy. People from Holland were not at all like us. They were slower, they had different habits, and most of them would never amount to anything. Finally, one night, I heard them talking about High Dutch and Low Dutch, and where I might fit in.
So that's it. I'm Dutch. They brought me here so I wouldn't have to know, so I'd be like the others. But I'm not like the others. I'm not Italian after all, but then I'm not sure I'm quite Dutch either. People keep saying I can't really be Dutch because I act so Italian. I don't know anything about Dutch history and culture. Is there a Dutch history and culture to know about? Is it really bad to be Dutch after all? Why would they hide it from me otherwise? I'm so very confused. It's a pain that may never, ever, ever go away.


  1. I wrote this on a message board today after reading abfh's post.

    Holland and Italy (with apologies to E P Kingsley)

    Common misconceptions:

    1: If you can speak a bit in Italian then you're not Dutch.
    2: If you express a preference for speaking Dutch then the general consensus is that you need to speak Italian.
    3: Nobody over the age of 18 can possibly live in Holland.
    4: If you do live in Holland then clearly that is a different Holland to the one people know about today. Even if everything looks the same.
    5: If people believe you are an Italian you have an interest. That same interest becomes an obsession in Holland.
    6: If you can do some things in Italy then that means you can do everything in Italy that Italians can do.
    7: If you have an Italian partner to help you with things that must mean you have no difficulties.
    8: A person from Holland can't possibly help someone from Italy. If they do then they're not really from Holland.
    9: Italy may be made of of different states and people, but Holland is all about the windmills.
    10. Despite the fact that Holland has a sizeable population you are considered antisocial and in your own world if you profess a wish to remain there.

  2. This is really excellent, Bullet. Thanks for sharing it here!

  3. This struck me as a very sad post, Bev, and you're quite right that assimilated minority folks who are "passing" sometimes are the most insistent on proclaiming the superiority of the majority culture. It helps them maintain their comfy state of denial.

    Bullet... that's a great list!

  4. Thank you :). I was inspired by some old threads from Ballastexistenz regarding different skills and abilities. And my own experiences with things as well.

  5. I wondered if it shouldn't be Europe and America (instead of Holland and Italy in the original story and the parodies)... But that wouldn't work, would it, because so many Americans DREAM of going to Europe...

  6. How dare you call them Dutch! Don't you realize the person-first language "person from Holland" is much more sensitive and politially correct?!

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