With 58 percent of Dutch expats suffering from homesickness, it seems certain types of food and drink, a collection of peculiar household items and the miracles of modern communications are the best remedies for what ails them.
A questionnaire completed by 1281 native Dutch members of Radio Netherlands Worldwide’s Global Panel shows that 42 percent of them never feel homesick.
So, clearly, more than half of Dutch expats do feel homesick to some degree some time or sometimes, and as many as ten percent say those times are frequent.
Predictably, family and friends are the ‘things’ that are missed the most, but other things may come as more of a surprise.
These include the Dutch landscape, which is known for its flatness and large amounts of sky, as reflected in many a 17th century painting; Dutch shops – hopefully ones with better service than is normally found in the Dutch capital, Amsterdam – and the daily bike ride or rides.
All of these Dutch ‘treats’ are missed by more than 40 percent of the respondents.
The Dutch language, however, does slightly less well in the homesickness pop charts, with only a third of the RNW expats saying they miss their native tongue. Now a cynical foreigner might tend to think that no one really ought to miss this strange-sounding, guttural language anyway.
After all, it never even caught on that well in the Netherlands’ colonies, other than becoming the dominant element in that even more peculiar South African language, Afrikaans.
But the lower number of people who say they miss their language could be a reflection of the fact that many Dutch expats have a partner or spouse living with them, possibly offspring too, in their current land of residence, and hence they can be as guttural as they like in the privacy of their own homes.
Some 70 percent say they still think in Dutch and 45.5 percent dream in it. Then there are the more than 42 percent who report getting down and dirty in Dutch when having a verbal dust up. This, surely, must reflect the presence of other native speakers in their immediate vicinity – although one can also imagine that swearing in Dutch at those who do not speak it could also prove an advantage, depending on the size and aggressive nature of the opponent in a given argument situation.
Next there are the typical Netherlandish foodstuffs which are so sorely missed. Whilst a non-Dutch person’s thoughts might immediately – and rather predictably – speed to cheese and, perhaps, chocolate, it seems the Dutch expat’s taste-bud and stomach-related nostalgia focuses more on the loss of easy access to copious amounts of raw herring – oft served with raw onion – or the compact, thin sausage (made largely, it’s reported, of the inedible ‘by-product’ parts of various animals) known as a frikadel or frikandel, or that other – some would say addictive – Dutch delight, and the cause of high-blood pressure in many a young child – salted liquorice.
However, as with the missing of family and friends, it seems that modern technology has provided something of a remedy for certain types of homesickness, including the one that concerns the palate; many food products can now be ordered over the internet if a shop which sells Dutch products cannot be found nearby.
Satellites, another modern development, mean that many a Dutch expat now enjoys television from home – and even from next-door Flanders – courtesy of RNW’s own BVN Dutch-language TV station, while RNW’s Dutch radio service also reaches across the globe.
Then there’s the internet, with things like Skype and other telecommunicational possibilities, and also the reduced cost of phoning abroad brought about by liberalised telecoms markets.
But, as the RNW survey shows, nostalgia and homesickness still exist nonetheless, so many an expat will try to mark special Dutch holidays as a way to keep the connection alive.
The national holiday, Queen’s Day, is marked by almost 25 percent of the Dutch expats, while the number who make and deep-fry the special Dutch doughnut balls or oliebollen for New Year is closer to 40 percent.
Top Five household items for Expats
- Cheese slice
- Matching tea and kitchen towel set
- Face flannel mitts or gloves
- Birthday calendar in lavatory
- Shopping bag from Netherlands
Then there’s the more tangible way Dutch expats deal with missing the land of their birth, by incorporating physical ‘reflections’ of life at home in their life abroad.
Number one on this list of ‘practical’ items is the typical Dutch cheese slice (a special utensil for slicing the less mature versions of Edam and Gouda cheese), which is found in over 84 percent of Dutch expat homes.
Others are matching tea and kitchen towel sets, face flannels that fit over a hand rather like a glove, birthday calendars (to be found in many a Dutch lavatory), clogs, Dutch flags and Delft blue crockery.
Some of the other items mentioned by the respondents: a biscuit tin, tea cosy, and, last but not least, a front door bell!
Finally – and returning to the stomach and palate – there are the alcoholic and beverage remedies. A number of the responding expats report enjoying a beer (Heineken, Grolsch, Amstel? We do not know) or a glass of Dutch jenever gin to ‘drown their homesickness’.
But others stick to good – Dutch? – coffee and a cookie; just the one cookie, as normally in Dutch homes only one is offered before the lid goes back firmly on the biscuit tin.
Margreet Strijbosch and Tessa Hoogvliet / Expatica