When I told my friends back home I would be moving to the Netherlands for my studies, they were supportive and happy for me. Having lived abroad themselves, they gave me tips on how to survive in a foreign land and not to embarrass myself, something I have proven to be good at. Their advice helped for a while. However, some time after my arrival, I was invited to a get-together. Apparently, I was too perky. A Dutch friend became suspicious and asked: ‘Why are you so happy? Are you on drugs?’
I had a difficult time digesting what had just happened. There’s nothing in my background and education that teaches me how to deal with someone who associates happiness with weirdness, to say nothing of this full-throttle directness. Growing up in a village in Indonesia, I was raised to be courteous and friendly to people, even strangers. Pinching babies’ cheeks you see on the street is considered normal and a form of appreciation. In the Netherlands however, this will probably earn you a ticket straight to police office desk. So, at that moment, I did what many Indonesians would do: I smiled, followed by a simple ‘huh?’ The next day, I asked another Dutch friend, who said: ‘Yeah, don’t be too happy, it’s weird!’ I guess it’s not just the liquorice, the mayonnaise and the weather that take some getting used to. It’ll take a while for me to adjust to the stoicism too. So, straight face, your weirdo!
Isti Hanifah, Master’s student of Environmental Policy from Indonesia
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