Friday, 30 May 2014

Expat Life: Stuck in the Middle

How big is the gap between your two worlds?
Photo Credit: Nate Brelsford
I recently wrote a blog post about how expat life is like Tom Branson moving into Downton Abbey. A wise reader commented that she could relate:

"Especially the part where he is not the same driver he once was and yet is not really posh yet. I am not the same girl who left my country, but I am not really the same as the girls here yet. I am in the middle."

In a recent interview for Expat Mamas I also described how I feel that I live between two worlds - I'll never be mistaken for being Dutch, yet I don't feel that England is my home anymore. Living life being stuck in the middle is a strange idea, but one that is all too familiar for many expats.

When I was asked by Expat Mamas about part-time working and schooling trends in England I struggled and could only really refer to my own personal experience - how it was when I went to school as a child, how it was when I left the country fourteen years ago. Any other answer would be based on what I read in the media, the little bits I pick up from friends and family but certainly not based on any personal, first hand knowledge of how things are right now in England. I don't know first hand how it is to live in England right now.

Of course, I watch the BBC News and keep broadly up to date with current affairs in Britain. And when I say broadly, I mean I know who the prime minister is, who the opposition leader is, who the main cabinet members are (Education Secretary Grove for example just can't seem to keep himself out of the news) and what political expenses scandal is hitting the headlines. But I can't say I know how it is at ground level in Britain. The news coming out of the country generally doesn't directly effect me. That's not to say I didn't feel pride watching the 2012 Olympics, or the Queen's jubilee celebrations, or real shame watching the London riots. But it's emotion from a distance.

Whenever I go back to England I am often amazed by the changes: some little, some much bigger. Some revolve around neighbourhoods I grew up or lived in, how they have been redeveloped, or the shops that have disappeared on what was my local High Street. Laws and rules have evolved. In short, things have moved on. But I haven't moved on with it - the England I think of is the one from the year 2000, the year I left.

The details of my daily life are now in Dutch. What is reported in the Netherlands on the news does generally have some impact on my life. Legislation changes involving schooling impacts my family. Child benefit payment changes effect my household. I live in Dutch, not English.

However, I am not Dutch. Nor will I ever be. I don't have the cultural background, mentality or history to be Dutch. My cultural background, mentality and history is British through and through. So I fall into a void. Locally, I'm accepted as one of the gang, but I feel sometimes like an impostor, like I stand out, like I'm different. Which I do and I am.

The void I fall into has got smaller over the years. I dangle a little more precariously over the gap these days and most days I could fall either way - or directly in the middle perhaps - an adopted Dutchie with a British flag emblazoned on my chest.

The thing is, I no longer feel lost in that void between the two countries that make me who I am.  I'm like Tom. He may no longer be a driver but he will also never really be 'posh'. His upbringing, his life before marrying into the Crawford family determines who he is, who he will always be: no longer   a chauffeur, but never upper class. He has found a middle path through that connects who he was to who he is now.

I too have found a way through and moulded my past to my present. I may no longer be a fully fledged Brit, but the truth is I will also never be Dutch. And I can live with that - there are much worse things than living life 'stuck in the middle'.


  1. As usual a great post, thought provoking and one that I can totally relate to. Yes, I've been stuck in the middle and I suppose in some ways I still am. Not British but no longer and American living in the States and knowing how to LIVE in the States as a mother, home owner and business woman. I've actually never DONE those things in America! Yet I've done and am doing ALL those things in Britain. And yet I'm NOT British. I do still feel very much and American though. So where does that leave me? Probably where many expats are as well. Enjoying the best of both worlds and showing my children the positives of American culture while bringing them up in their home culture that they feel a natural affinity with. I'm not sure there will ever be a point when I don't feel American. Maybe if I get my British passport this will alter how I feel.

  2. I still feel British, yet not quite British enough to feel at home when I go back - for exactly the reasons you have stated Meg. I have become a mother, set up a business, bought a family home, started two children in school... but all in the Netherlands and never in Britain. I know how to do these things here, but not in the UK! I cannot imagine I would ever give up my British passport.... and even then I would still be British :-)