Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Through the Keyhole - An Expat Brit Lives Here

Photo Credit: Bill Davenport
As a British expat in the Netherlands I stick out like a sore thumb. Just by opening my mouth I am easy to pick out as different from the locals. (See Stuart's fabulous Invading Holland post "Oh, You're English" if you want to know a little bit more about what I mean). But most of the time it doesn't feel like it's entirely a bad thing. Not at all.

What seems like many moons ago I wrote a guest post for Meghan's wonderful Bringing Up Brits site about how my three sons, who are Dutch through and through, stand out a little from other Dutch boys because their mother is British. It got me thinking about how I stand out as British when Dutch people come to our house.

Magazine Rack: At any given time our magazine rack has old copies of some British magazine or other that friends have kindly donated to me, or that have been picked up on our travels. There was a time when it was hard for any Dutch guest to find something they could read but over the years the tables have turned. 

Music: Many of the CDs I own wouldn't have made their way into the average Dutch home. I'm talking about the very British music that never really made a name over here, those bands and singers I mention that make my husband screw his face up in confusion.

Food: My food cupboards and fridge contain jars of Colman's Mustard, boxes of Paxo stuffing, Marmite, Branston pickle, Hayward's pickled onions, mint sauce, Ambrosia pudding rice and custard and Bisto. These are not every day items from the local Dutch supermarket. They are expat shop specials, or brought lovingly over by visitors from England or hoarded in a squirrel like manner whenever I am back in England for transport back to my Dutch kitchen cupboards. 

Recipe books: You can't beat a good apple crumble, Yorkshire puddings or scone recipe so my kitchen shelves are filled with the type of recipe book you won't find in a Dutch bookshop. My shelves were once lined with weaning books and recipe books written by Gina Ford and Annabel Karmel. Most Dutch people looked blankly at me if I mentioned those baby and child (food and nutrition) specialists. Contrary to the rest of the Dutch population, my Jamie Oliver books are in English. I also have lots of curry recipe books. You can take a Brit out of Britain and all that.........

Affilate link: The Magic Faraway Tree Collection by Enid Blyton
Capturing childhood memories!

Books: The books I own are mainly in English. I read to relax, and I relax better in my mother tongue. That's not to say I don't read books in Dutch because I do, but the truth is most of my book collection is in English. and I used to be best friends until they changed their free delivery policy. Now my best friend is The Book Depository. And it's not just my book collection that is in English; my three boys also have an extensive collection of books in English to make sure their English keeps improving, and that they know British nursery rhymes and classic stories. My eldest and I have just read "The Magic Faraway Tree" series together - and it was hands down his favourite book ever - so far. I read the very same series as a child so it was a wonderful experience to read the three Enid Blyton books with my own son. We've just started "The Wishing Chair".

Affiliate Link to

DVDs: Way back when we first moved in together my husband and I amalgamated our DVD collection. We got rid of the duplicates but interestingly enough many of the Dutch DVDs survived the cull because they have Dutch subtitles and British DVDs don't. However, our DVD shelves are still lined with many a notable British film title.

Board Games: Our games collection gives me away too. The British version of word board games is always different to the Dutch version by way of the compilation of letters. For example the Dutch scrabble version contains 2 'J' tiles, whereas the British version contains 1. Playing Scrabble in Dutch with my British version and vice versa adds an extra challenge to the game which isn't wholly necessary. And of course British childhood classics like 'Snakes n Ladders' is unknown in the Netherlands (although I have seen versions of the game popping up quite regularly in recent years).

Bags: Giving a guest a carrier bag from Tesco, Marks & Spencers or John Lewis rather than an Albert Heijn or C1000 plastic bag to take items home in seems almost exotic. There's nothing like a Tesco carrier bag to say, "I'm foreign."

Look around you in your home - what gives you away as an expat to local eyes?

1 comment:

  1. The Albert Heijn or C1000 shopping bags we fill at Walmart always garner a comment. No one recognizes they are Dutch, but that they are huge in comparison to the thin, tiny Walmart bags. Which we of course try not to bring home. Linda@Wetcreek Blog