Third culture

sociology, international

Foreign students don’t feel at home in the Netherlands (Netherland!). Does not quite match the image that exists amongst Dutch natives, as I have experienced it at least in my time in Amsterdam. The source is a Dutch newspaper, so come armed with your Netherlandic skills!

Having been on the receiving end of living a longer period abroad, I suspect this not feeling instantly at home is probably mostly dependent on how different the culture exactly is from the one you came from. I went to France, which is not a large geometric distance, but certainly a larger cultural distance than going to Germany. Most people I know that went abroad went to ‘culturally near’ places like Berlin or the UK, and I imagine that makes easier to feel at home than a Romanian in the Netherlands.

Cultural distance, by the way, is something I’ve never dug into. Is it actually quantifiable? Someone must’ve tried, right? Well, indeed! But can we get some numbers? Here you go! Without having dug into what the number actually mean, from a quick glance I see my personal observations validated: Germany-Netherlands have some of the lowest cultural distance in that dataset (of mostly European countries, and I think only Ukraine-Belarus beats us), at 0.026. The UK comes in at 0.047 and France at 0.065.

I digress. People will, to some degree, not feel at home elsewhere. It’s important to correct our self-image based on data that we are in fact not the Valhalla we tend to tell ourselves we are. It’s of course an uninformed self-image: what makes the Netherlands a Valhalla? What exactly is good, and why? And what not? I think in general people are not really aware of their own culture, outside of some stereotypes. After all, it’s a quantity best seen in contrast to something else, and the more you experience the else, the more you actually know about your original culture.

A related article (Dutch again) was recently published at the NRC: it introduced something I recognize. Although I haven’t lived significant periods in eight different countries, I do experience the Third Culture effect: if you’ve thought about all those different cultural traits you’ve experienced and have experimented with them all and made your own custom synthesis, you have arrived at something new! While in itself it’s a great thing to not just accept a single home culture wholesale but are able to hand pick from a few the parts that you find best, you make yourself different and therefore lose a certain capability to integrate. You don’t even need to go abroad for this, your country or city may have many different subcultures that in practice don’t mingle all that well, because they consider themselves very different. It’s not just a feeling ‘us third culturerers’ feel, you usually notice it through other ‘countrymen’ as well. They see you’ve changed a few parts in your culture, and often… ’neglect’ is a strong word, but there is some sort of avoidance? An ever so slight look of disapproval? Basically what the foreign students experience I think (I have): it’s not very visible, because there’s a lot shared as well, but in the details it can become quite apparent.

One of the students says:

Ik heb ook in België gewoond. Hun Nederlands is makkelijker uit te spreken, ze hebben beter eten. En ze zijn net iets minder arrogant.

Through my partner I’ve become aware of a few aspects of spoken Dutch that are very unusual (hard-g, variety in vowels, diphthongs) which are less pronounced in the way the Flemish speak Dutch, and therefore easier. In terms of food and arrogance most agree. Another student:

We missen allemaal hetzelfde: het eten en het goede weer.

One of the students writes that the temperature changes makes him sick. I never realized this, but when I lived in Lyon (France), I indeed took a lot less sickleave!