Thursday, March 28, 2013

Random Supermarket

I really should document the variety of butter sculptures available to the supermarket consumer throughout the year. I was a little disappointed not to see any butter bunnies. What molded butter statue will they have next month?

Every time the store has these things, I start thinking about this trailer, and then it makes me want to go to the Iowa State Fair.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Becoming Dutch, prt. 2

Do you ever have events in your life that you think aren't going to be a big deal before they happen, but in actuality it's a very important moment in your life? That's how I felt about the day I became a Dutch citizen. In the weeks leading up to the ceremony I barely discussed the ceremony with anyone, taking on a happy but relaxed tone about the whole thing. Privately during my quiet moments, I was in turn excited and very nervous about getting up  in front of a large crowd of people. I kept worrying that I would mispronounce the words or that I would trip and fall on the stage with everyone watching or that people would judge me as not being Dutch enough. During this whole process I have contemplated what it means to take on a new nationality. In this globalized world, the role of the nation-state is not what it used to be, and we have culturally assigned a different meaning to citizenship, but I am struggling to put into words what that meaning is exactly. I have especially tried to think about what it means to have dual citizenship.

Before the ceremony began, old films of Amsterdam were projected behind the podium. Very cool.
I've loosely followed parliamentary debates in the Netherlands on the question of dual citizenship. In certain situations (like mine), holding two passports is allowed, but that doesn't mean certain political parties aren't opposed to the practice. Dual citizenship can be a difficult concept to wrap your head around, especially because granting citizenship to an individual requires an oath of loyalty to a nation. There is a worry that loyalty to two countries could possibly create a dilemma for individuals in certain situations. I found this report from the Migration Policy Institute to be quite helpful in explaining the issues some people have with dual nationality. For me, at least, dual citizenship has more to do with my concept of identity than it does with any question of loyalty. It goes without saying that I, of course, feel loyal to the Netherlands; my husband, my daughter and my home are all here. I read Dutch newspapers, shop in Dutch supermarkets, follow Dutch politics and celebrate Dutch holidays with my Dutch family. I look forward to voting and having a say in the place I call home. It has been difficult at times to acclimate to life in a new country, but I can honestly say that I feel settled here. Things that used to irritate me I now pass off as quirky and just part of life. When Niek's friends start waxing nostalgic about their youth, however, I start to feel like an observer looking in on a past I can understand but cannot relate to.

Here I am not stuttering or falling across the stage.
How could I ever not feel like an American when my childhood and a good chunk of my adulthood are rooted in the U.S.? It's part of my identity and not one that I could just forget. My parents and some close friends are American and still live there. In this digital age, I can read American papers every day if I want to, although I am sometimes very thankful to be removed from the 24-hour, American news cycle. I'm actually really grateful that the construct of dual citizenship exists. It affords me the opportunity to create a new identity in a hyper-connected world--at least, the Netherlands and the U.S. feel deeply intertwined within my own identity. I can't help but think how different it is for me than for immigrants from only a century ago. My grandparents used to tell stories about their childhood and their parents' identities as Americans. My great-grandparents immigrated to the U.S., and when their children were born they were brought up to be "American" with very few ties to the old country. Sure, their cuisine was tinted with the flavors of central Europe and their Catholic parish was comprised almost entirely of immigrant families from Yugoslavia. Despite living in a neighborhood full of families just like theirs, my grandparents only ever spoke English in their homes, having been told by their immigrant parents that Americans only spoke English. There is a passage in the novel, Middlesex, describing a ceremony at the Ford Motor Company for new immigrant employees that struck such a chord with me, because it reminded me of my grandparents' stories. All the employees start the pageant in the traditional dress of their homelands before descending into a pot and then remerging as "Americans" all dressed in similar looking suits. Becoming Dutch felt nothing like shedding my past the way it must have been for immigrants only a few generations ago. It no longer feels necessary or even right to renounce my past. I get the sense that their is a collective acceptance for dual nationalities, and I don't feel any friction with this new identity.

Those were my thoughts leading up to the naturalization ceremony. The night before I couldn't sleep from all the excitement, and before leaving for the ceremony I put my hair up four different times before I felt it was right (not apparent in the blurry photo below). In a room with lots of other families about 50 people made an oath to be loyal and true citizens to the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The speech emphasized tolerance and respect for difference: a multi-culti moment that felt a little forced but was a nice sentiment, nonetheless. They didn't call my name until almost the very end. I think they went in random order, so there was really no warning when it would be my turn.

It's official! I'm Dutch now.
After the ceremony they served Dutch foods like cheese cubes and bitterballen (fried meat balls). I didn't have any of it because I was busy chasing after this one:
She walks now and does not sit still.
My family, bless them, marked the occasion with a few Dutch presents to make my transformation into citizen complete. I now have a sandwich box for my lunch, which came complete with a cheese sandwich and licorice (gross!). Do you see the cookbook with pea soup on the cover? That slim volume is full of Dutch cuisine recipes. I can sum it up for you with just a few ingredients: potatoes, peas, sausage, apples.

I applied for my passport last week, and that's when my new identity finally become something tangible. I looked down on my passport application and saw my nationality listed as Dutch. It feels very real now, and I'm happy about that. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Becoming Dutch

After my very old MacBook up and died more than a month ago, I thought that I would deal with the transition to a computerless existence pretty well. I have an iPad mini and a wireless keyboard, so I thought that I could handle most daily tasks. That was an error in thinking on my part. Living without a computer after hauling around laptops for more than a decade has been really hard. Writing without Word has been, well actually it hasn't been anything, because I can't seem to write without a screen. When I had to write papers in grad school and hit a writing block, I would take a break from my computer and write things out by hand. Now that I have no computer, I can't seem to get any thoughts down on any medium. Niek is at a conference tonight, so I have commandeered his laptop and am finally writing the post I meant to write almost a month ago.

In February, I finally became a Dutch citizen. It feels like it took a long time to get to that point, but in reality, I think the whole process went fairly quickly. I applied for my citizenship back in October, but the preparation for that step started around this time last year. All foreign, non-EU residents are required  to prove that they have integrated into Dutch society after having lived in the Netherlands for a few years. This is required for all residents, not just those planning on becoming citizens. You can do this in one of two ways: pass an integration exam (inburgeringsexamen) or pass a Dutch as a Second Language (nederlands als tweede taal, aka NT2) exam, which is called the staatsexamen. I had very little interest sitting through the class for the integration exam. Furthermore, I had zero interest in creating a portfolio of everyday tasks (ordering bread at the baker, filing a police report, etc.) to prove I could navigate daily life in the Netherlands, which is a required component of the integration exam. Instead, I decided to take the staatsexamen. It seemed the right choice for me. I could put on my CV that my Dutch was at the level of those studying at the university level, and I wouldn't have to sit through any classes. The NT2 program at a university in Amsterdam recommended a self-study book, which I worked my way through all summer long. Studying wasn't unpleasant, but it gave me some awful flashbacks to the days when I was prepping for the GRE. I truly hope this was my last exam, although I'm sure it won't be. I'm sure I'll find something else in the future I will need to study for. That's just my life, I suppose.

After thinking that I failed the speaking section of the exam--the only section I felt I didn't need to study for, so confident I was in my speaking capabilities--I got my results five weeks later informing me that I passed. This fulfilled my integration requirement and my last requirement for the citizenship application. When Niek and I went to file my paperwork to apply for citizenship, we were both struck by how anti-climactic the moment turned out to be. We sat in a tiny cubicle with a civil servant whose first two questions to us were, "Do you know how much it costs to apply?" and "Are you prepared to pay today?" Our answer was yes to both the questions. That satisfied his curiosity as he printed forms for me to sign. He gave me a packet with further information about the process, directed us to the cashier's window and reminded us that my paperwork wouldn't be processed until we paid. Thanks.

A few weeks later, I got a letter from Immigration and Naturalization Services (IND) informing me that they had received my application. Every few weeks I would get a letter letting me know that my application was making its way through the pipeline of bureaucratic red tape. I was on edge almost every day when I heard the mailman delivering letters. Have you ever seen a crazy, thirty-something woman check her mailbox at least six times a day? You should have seen me. You missed out on something truly bizarre. Poor Johanna had no idea why she got carted down to the mailbox so often. When the letter finally arrived at the end of January, I was almost hysterical. There it was, the letter informing me that the queen had taken the advice from the good people at the IND and was granting me Dutch citizenship. I just had to attend the naturalization ceremony in Amsterdam, and then it would be official.

And now I see that I have rambled too long, so I will make my story two parts. Until tomorrow!

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Broken computer

My computer decided it was done living, which has left me feeling a little lost for the past few weeks. While I can surf the internet on my phone, typing with my thumbs is something I'd like to leave to the generations behind me.

I found this yesterday at the supermarket, however, and just wanted to share. It's a coffee pastry with, to my mind at least, the unfortunate name of Bolus. You know, like the ball of chewed food in your mouth right before you swallow. I bought it anyway. It wasn't anything to write home about. When Niek saw it, he told me that you can also use the word bolus to talk about poop. Hmm...Add this one to the list of cultural incommensurability.

Sorry that the picture is upside down. I can't seem to rotate image using the Blogger app.