Memoir

Don’t judge a book by its cover.

A Dutch-Canadian asked me once in exasperation “Now what are you exactly?” I made a joke and replied that I am “mixed up”! Which was true since even though I was still adapting to Canadian culture at that point, I was blending or mixing it into my existing experiences.

My parents immigrated from The Netherlands to South Africa when I was only four months old. They spoke Dutch at home and I grew up with Dutch children stories and Dutch nursery rhymes. When I went to nursery school as a four year old, the other children did not understand me and I remember they did not want to play with me. One time I was really interested in how a girl managed to build a sandcastle. I had been standing away from the action and moved closer to see how she did it. I was really impressed. Well, all I got for trying to get into the inner circle was a handful of sand thrown into my eyes! The teacher there had no real understanding of the situation at all and thought I did not know how to socialize and suggested my Mom take me to a child psychologist…

Luckily for me we moved away to a different city and my Mom made friends with a wonderful Afrikaans lady whose children’s ages matched ours perfectly and before long I had a bosom buddy. When I went to the new nursery school six months later there were no issues at all! Our friends moved away when I went to grade school and I ran into trouble again. The boy down the street insisted in taunting me by calling out “Cheese Head, Cheese Head!” on the way home from school. One day when he was doing it during break time at school I had enough and brought down a full Tupperware tumbler onto his head. The lid popped off and the milk was streaming down his hair and all over his clothes. Needless to say I was thinking of myself as the Dutch girl by then. When somebody would point out that I must be South-African since I basically lived there all my life, it would just not feel right.

We immigrated to Canada because of the high crime rate in South Africa and we were ready to live in a peaceful country and create a future for our own kids. We have been living here for almost thirty years now. Recently I did a course that would train me to help other people with basic reading and math skills. During one of the group activities my answer to one of the questions was being disputed by a lady who kept explaining herself louder and slower towards me. Unbelievable! To be honest, I have noticed it occasionnally. My opinion gets ignored based on the fact that I have an accent, so I must not know what I am talking about…

I don’t think there is a straight forward answer to that question anymore.

I grew up as a child of immigrants, so I figured I already know how to be an immigrant. I will know how to adjust since I have been doing it my whole life already. What I did not anticipate was that living in Africa made me more laid back than the average Dutch person and that the South African culture has adopted many English habits as well. I wasn’t easily being catagorized anymore… Bilingualism in South Africa meant that a person is fluent in two languages. Canada is also bilingual, but it means that there are two official languages. The average person here only needs to be able to speak one or the other. Canada prides itself on being multicultural as well. They call it the Canadian mosaic. (They acknowledge that many cultures are present within the borders of Canada.)

I will say I am multicultural since I have now been immersed into three different cultures.

My viewpoint will not always perfectly align with yours. I accept that not everybody has the same background and you cannot judge a book by its cover. I will listen to what you have to say and get to know you for who you are. I see you as a unique person and I would love to receive the same acceptance from you. Since I have been at the receiving end of bullying based on my culture as well my accent, it has made me more aware of people that are trying to overcome obstacles due to their circumstances. I empathize with the unfortunate and try and help where I can.

I think if I had been born and raised in the Netherlands I would have turned out to be a totally different person than I am today.

Afrikaans saying; “Moenie iemand op sy baadjie takseer nie.

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