International Relations – from a private perspective

(Episode 2, part 2)

You could say my wife, whom I met while working in Germany and abducted to Dutch Friesland, and I have been surrounded by cultural differences for so long they have become second nature. In our relationship we rarely think about the fact that she grew up in one country and I did in another. We think – maybe others don’t – that we do not fit the stereotypes.

Our personalities, what we like or dislike, our political preferences, our relationships with others and not our origins, play the central role in our relationship. We hope we have integrated, adapted to local norms and behaviours, but remained who we are.

However, we do hang on to old favourites, whether programmes or food that we liked 40 years ago; in the Netherlands I felt compelled to give my children as much of my culture as I could in the shape of kids’ books, TV programmes and above all “British” values such as consideration for others, modesty and good manners.

I insisted on taking them on British holidays so often my wife complains she knows Britain better than her own country! On these visits she will shake her head at the local plumbing with separate hot and cold taps and hot water tanks in the loft, not to mention carpets in the bathrooms and toilets. After 40+ years of regular practice she still cannot stand being swaddled in bed sheets and blankets. (My tall uncle Reg, on the other hand, loved telling anyone of his experience of shivering in winter in his first Bavarian bed: no one had told him the duvet was folded double.) And plastic Christmas trees with flashing brightly coloured lights send shudders down her spine.

The first 20-odd years of your life shape the core of your personality and beliefs, however much you later adapt to your environment. Even after so many years here I still resent the ban on gardening on Sundays – the day most Brits mow their lawns. I struggle with punctuality and still haven’t got the hang of when exactly to use “Sie” or “Du”, especially as that is different in other countries too. I still swallow hard at Germans’ directness, though the Dutch outdo them in that respect, and am sure Germans often miss the subtle undertone in some of my comments. And I respond emotionally to “Land of Hope and Glory” and “Jerusalem.”

I hate my automatic response of defensiveness when my “home” is criticized, although I am no great fan of the Royal Family, loathed Margaret Thatcher and raged against the Iraq War, the Falklands… But then there was Boris and Brexit and I was convinced my “home” had gone completely mad. I was so furious I applied for German nationality.

So now I have both. Britain may decide to stop recognizing double nationalities. So what do I do then?


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