Dutch Heritage | Janneke Jobsis Brown

Dutch Heritage

Dag Nederlander!”

“Hello Dutchie!”

Selamet Siang

Welkom,”

“Welcome”

Selamet datang

You have now been greeted in Dutch, English and Bahasa Indonesian.

compass

Do you know what it is for you (or your family) to leave your home country, to be between shores and oceans?

Nederland The Netherlands was home for my mother, myself, and my younger sister Anna Mechtelina.

Indie, The Dutch East Indies, Indonesia, was home for my father.

For me, finding home became a journey, not a place.

Heimwee, Homesickness

Golden Light, 1964, by Janneke Jobsis-Brown

Family on frozen canal

I remember bedtime with Beppe (grandmother) in the farm house, looking through my attic bedroom op zolder at the end of a long summer day. In northern latitudes, children go to bed while it is yet light. The walls in my room, which once was Mammie’s, were golden pink from the setting sun melting on the wall.

I kneeled on the bed, my face pressed against the chill of the window. One night, across the canal, a long column of children marched and sang. As if they and I were geese flying in formation, I longed to fly with them, to join their bird-cries singing, to find my place and fly.

Liefje go to sleep now.” Beppe came to kiss me goodnight one more time.

“The children, where are they going?” I asked.

“They are on a trek with their teachers. This is part of their school to go on a long walk and go as far as twenty kilometers. For every twenty kilometers they get a prize. Your Mammie used to do it.”

“I will go too when I’m big.”

“Soon you will,” she said, as if I would never go away, as if I would be around year after year to join other children. We read our night time prayer together, framed like a poem on the wall, and I scooted under sheets and a heavy wool blanket. I closed my eyes for fake sleep, because Beppe always turned to me as she closed the door.

Once the door clicked, I rose and balanced on my knees again. By turning my head and resting my forehead against the window I could see the end of the procession of children. The brown path and silver canal blended into two ribbons which merged in the distance. Wide awake, I wished I could ask Beppe about the canal I had never crossed.

I wanted her to tell me that next year, when I was seven, I would venture across the canal. I wondered how to be there. It seemed a big kids’ mystery — going on an excursion, at bedtime on a big-sky golden evening, when little children, like me, were going to bed. I yearned to be there, on their outing. This feeling somehow mixed in perfectly with the desire to remain exactly where I was, under the sheet and weighty blanket.

Within months, before I turned7, we were in America. Within years Beppe and Pake (my Dutch-Frisian grandparents) left the farm, it could no longer be my home.

Family Photo

Epilogue circa 1980’s, For reasons, I will reflect on in blog posts, I have not been able to put my feet on this boerderij farm home-soil of mine again. The same was true of my father, and his home island of Billeton in the Dutch East Indies.

In the 1980’s, in my twenties, I visited the Netherlands, and drove with family on antiek weggetjes (old country roads) right to the farm house we had left behind. That is, almost right to the farm house we had left behind. I was on the reverse, the wrong side of the canal, the place that had drawn my six year old gaze from the attic window. We decided not to drive the kilometers necessary for me to touch Pake en Beppe’s old farm house. Why didn’t I push for one more exploration? I held hands with Pake, Oom Roelof, Mammie, I took a photo. Here’s the whole story — Heimwee, all I wanted was to stand next to that house.

Radio the Netherlands recently featured a series on homesickness/heimwee.

A longing – sometimes melancholic, sometimes painful – for the security of something familiar, a universal longing for something that is not there.

It can happen to anyone. Migrants who leave their home countries. Children who are away from home for the first time. Elderly people for whom changes sometimes go too quickly. (Every land and language has a word for it.) ….Many people who don’t speak any Portuguese at all still know the word ‘saudade’ – the feeling of nostalgic longing for something, or someone, that may never come back.

Check future blog posting to read more Epilogue experiences for myself and my father on touching “home.” If you too have heimwee, saudade, homesickness, please read and respond.


If you are of Dutch heritage, or interested in Dutch heritage, you come from generations of country men and women who once traveled all over the world. The Netherlands (mistakenly called Holland by some*) once had more colonies than Great Britain, and once had the most powerful seafaring armada in the world.

*Holland is just one province in the Netherlands

If you are of Dutch heritage, or interested in Dutch heritage, you come from a country of liberal people who have given sanctuary to everyone: ranging from the pilgrims who were the first (non-native peoples) to settle in America, and to those needing sanctuary today.

If you are of Dutch heritage, or interested in Dutch heritage, you are aware of certain ironies in what the world thinks of us “Dutchies.” Herein, I try to correct some of the Dutchism myths, while still including my own lengthy list at the end of this page about what us Dutch folks think of ourselves.

  • There are “German Dutch” in Pennsylvania, U.S., and so on. Not a popular idea with Dutch folks, especially since in World War I, the Netherlands stayed neutral to avoid being at war with Germany, and in World War II, the Netherlands was occupied by Germany under horrific circumstances. Everyone has made peace now, but “German Dutch” in the U.S.? Not.
  • Dutch people are incredibly clean, sweeping their front door step and so on. The reality is many Dutch people grow up in small homes, in dense population. Therefore the following habits don’t work –  dirt, pack rat habits and mess. So Dutch people like to “throw out the kleine rotsooi (little junk)” and strive for order. My immediate family wishes I would subscribe to this. I am an anomaly, a messy packrat. Maybe I can blame it on the heimwee thing. Yeah, that’s it, the heimwee thing, I have to keep lots of little items around me to remind me of everywhere I’ve been.
  • Dutch people are cheap. Well….Herein, is the truth.
    • Dutchies are careful NOT cheap.
    • Resourceful in how to make do instead of buying new, NOT cheap.
    • Balanced in our approach to spending, NOT cheap.
    • Recycled useful items before it was popular and ecologically correct, NOT cheap.
  • Dutch people are argumentative. What do you mean, we argue? I’ve got a bone to pick with you! Actually I have been an easy going Californian for years, and I grew up at the tail end of the hippie era, so I”ll always do peace-love when I can. Yet, I am reminded when I am in Nederland that education and critical thinking are encouraged. What sounds like arguing is having an opinion, and not shrinking from expressing it. Whether it’s political or not, Dutch opiononatedness is different from the apathy I often encounter in America.
  • Dutch people are stubborn. Well that’s true of everyone in my family except me, ha-ha.
  • An irony – Some of the world’s tallest people (Dutch people) live in homes with the shortest, smallest beds.
  • Another irony – Dutch people are liberal, yet rule oriented. Don’t think you can take advantage of your Dutch friend. Not likely. Don’t assume as I did that you can put your dirty shoes up on the seat next to you, on the train, be communicative, and be polite.

Orange Tulips

If you are of Dutch heritage, or interested in Dutch heritage You are unabashedly a Go Dutch! person. You might actually agree with, my slightly outrageous, opinion as follows:

I think that Dutch people are still so well represented in accomplishments, education, athletic feats, healthy attitudes, debates and offering sanctuary to others, because the whole Dutch legacy ended up concentrated in a small country the size of America’s Rhode Island. Just think — stubborn Dutch character, remarkable Dutch engineering feats, Dutch ingenuity, Dutch love of nature, Dutch healthy eating, Dutch joy in athleticism, Dutch liberal attitude, Dutch practicality, Dutch moral foundation, all concentrated in one small beautiful country.

The Dutch list… If you are Dutch-American, Dutch-Canadian, etc., you relate to the following list. This has been flying around the internet for awhile. I amended or added, so a bunch of items are mine. Be sure to notice how many have to do with food. That’s why I start list with the comparison between Dutch people and hobbits. The lists I worked off are to be found here and here.

You Know You’re Dutch When…

I’ll start with my top two favorites, please contact me with your favorites…

  • Your daily eating habits and schedule is like Hobbits. Remember Tolkien’s characters? Breakfast, second breakfast, elevenses, lunch and so on. Actual Dutch schedule: You drink tea with breakfast, coffee at 10 am, lunch, tea at 3 pm, dinner and coffee again at 8 pm. All tea/coffee with cookies or biscuits of course!
  • You have lace on your windows but not on your underwear.
  • You have to explain what oom and tante means when you’re discussing your relatives with non-Dutch people (uncle and aunt).
  • All your cousins have the same names as your brothers and sisters, because everyone is named after your grandparents Oma and Opa (or if you were from the province of Friesland – Beppe and Pake).
  • Therefore, you have at least 5 relatives with the same name (and somehow you always know which one is being talked about).
  • You have cousins who wear size 14 shoes and are over 6’4″.
  • You have trouble shopping for hats for you, and helmets for your kids. There should be at least two sizes: ‘one size fits all’ and ‘Dutch (extra large)’.
  • You have relatives who love to argue a point, and consider this fun
  • You were green before it was popular. Why recycle when you can just reuse!
  • The temperature is so low in your house that 2 sweaters is a bare minimum if you want to be remotely warm.
  • During the winter it’s warmer outside than it is inside.
  • When you hear all the new ways to save energy you yawn and say, “I’ve been doing that all my life!”
  • You open the freezer and are excited to find a container of ice- cream, only to open it and discover it’s full of homemade soup
  • When looking in the fridge, you never trust that the yogurt or margarine containers contain what the label says.
  • The most frequently heard phrase while growing up was, “Turn off the lights!”
  • The other frequently heard phrase when using washing-up products, etc. was “Not so much, zuinig (careful)!”
  • All the tables in your house or family’s have table cloths on them.
  • You have a pair of klompen (wooden shoes) in your house.
  • You’ve eaten oliebollen or appel ben jees at New Years.
  • You enjoy chocolate sprinkle (hagelslag) sandwiches.
  • You eat stroop waffles cookies
  • You like dubbel zout dropjes (salted licorice), and have occasionally tricked a friend into trying one.
  • You’ve put mayonnaise on your french fries.
  • You have soup and open-faced   sandwiches for Sunday lunch.
  • You get a chocolate letter every year for Christmas.
  • You like croquets
  • All your cookies taste like almonds.
  • You call it MELK not milk.
  • You know that vla is better than regular old pudding.
  • You eat your sandwiches open-faced. “What? You want another slice of bread? I’ll make you another sandwich.”
  • You rarely have both meat and cheese on the same sandwich.
  • You have an afghan knitted by your Oma.
  • Your Oma had a calendar with everyone’s birthdays & anniversaries spelled out in capital letters (bonus points if it hung in the bathroom!)
  • You own a special utensil that is only used for cutting cheese and you know that Gouda is the best cheese ever.
  • You reuse teabags.
  • You have 100 rolls of toilet paper in your house because they were on sale.
  • You put a little water into the jar of tomato sauce and shake it to make sure you got it all out.
  • Everything is Do-It-Yourself – it’s cheaper than hiring someone.
  • You make the bed in your hotel room.
  • You have a spoon collection.
  • You leave a window open year round to get fresh air.
  • You love the color orange.
  • You have a vegetable garden because there’s no way you’re paying that much for veggies at the grocery store.
  • You go to the “Dutch Store” because the smell brings back so many childhood memories.
  • You use washandjes (facecloths that you can put your hand into).
  • And finally, you know you’re Dutch when…You’re laughing along with this list because you can relate to most of it!

Okay, you are impressed, but not of Dutch heritage? No worries, you can be honorary Dutch, watch for blog pages on this in the future!

red and yellow tulips

Enhanced by Zemanta