Asian students who visit the Netherlands always have to get used to the Dutch thinking their last name is their family name. And the problem increases when their last name actually means something in Dutch.
Illustration: Henk van Ruitenbeek
It’s always confusing for students from Asia to register their names in the Dutch registration system. Dutch officials always ask for your first name and your last name or family name. In Indonesia, however, our last name is usually not our family name but an additional personal name which is less important than our first name. So it’s very weird for us when we are called Meneer (Mr.) Last name or Mevrouw (Ms.) Last name. Well, it’s not a big problem since we quickly get used to it, but the situation becomes really strange when your last name is Muis.
I was studying when my phone rang. ‘Hello?’ I answered. Then I heard someone speaking in Dutch. I frowned, then interrupted him: ‘Sorry?’ ‘Ah, sorry, you don’t speak Dutch? I thought you were Dutch because your name is Dutch,’ said the caller. At first I didn’t get what the problem was with my name, until I asked my Dutch friend and heard that my last name means ‘mouse’ in Dutch.
This also made me realize why I often notice people smiling in an unusual way when I show my resident permit or student card. The name stated there is in initials except for the last name. From now on, I will not respond awkwardly to those smiling people who are reading my last name. I will simply smile back and say: ‘Yes, you can call me Ms. Mouse.’
Karinska Eunike Muis, Master’s student of Food Technology, from Indonesia
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