Nieuws - 26 mei 2011

Think Dutch, think bike


One of my biggest interests when living in a new country has always been how expressions reflect the local culture. In Dutch, familiar proverbs often involve the sea or bikes because of the importance of both to Dutch culture.

One example, 'de beste stuurlui staan aan wal' (the best steersmen are on the shore), means that other people always think they know better. My favourite saying, 'wat heb ik nou aan mijn fiets hangen?!' (what is that hanging on my bicycle?!), is commonly used to express one's astonishment at what is going on. I really like this expression because of the wonderful mental image it brings to mind of something strange hanging on your bicycle, such as a newspaper or a banana peel.
Being half Dutch, I am - as many of us are - multi-cultural. Having a Dutch father, an American mother and spending most of my youth in Rome has left me in a continuous cultural crisis. In an attempt to gain some connection to my 'roots', I did my undergraduate degree in the United States and now my Masters here in the Netherlands. When I lived in the United States, I found that I did not feel very American-and after living in Wageningen for a year, I came to a similar realization, not feeling very Dutch.
One day, on my way up the hill on my bike, I started to hear rustling sounds over the music in my headphones. Upon further inspection I found that there were some leaves caught in the front wheel of my bike, to which I immediately thought: 'Wat heb ik nou aan mijn fiets hangen?!' This was a breakthrough for my goal of experiencing the typical Dutch life - so maybe there is some hope for connecting with my Dutch heritage after all.  
Michael Portegies-Zwart (Dutch/American), MSc student of Urban Environmental Management at Wageningen University.