October 23, 2010

Nor This, Nor That

You’re an expat?” I was asked the other day in the line-up of the supermarket. No, I’m not an expat. Expats come for a limited amount of time, and then leave again. They work here, but do not speak the language, see the country as a ‘host’ country only and in general do not integrate well.
But I am not an immigrant either. (or emigrant, if you look at it from a Dutch perspective). For immigrants it is usually a one-way ticket only. They will learn the language of their adopted homeland, their children will marry there and their grandchildren will probably not speak the language of their grandparents anymore.
Still life: One of the few 'old' houses left near the Beirut Corniche

I’m nor this, nor that. I’m sort of a hanger-on. I came here to work and got swept off my feet by a gallant gentleman with long velvety eyelashes. You know the kind. So I hung on. I think that about 80% of the Dutch community here in Lebanon must be ‘hangers’. There’s an anthropological term for the likes of us; ‘ trail partners’. Most of us met our partner abroad, where he/she was working or studying at the time, and then moved back with him/her. In a few cases we met them here.

Scientists do all kinds of research on expats, and how they fit in. An awful lot of research is done too on adaptation and the success of emigration, but I wonder if anyone has ever researched the trail partners. I wonder how we – in general and on the long run – deal with life abroad. I know of several Dutch ladies who have lived here for more than 40 years now. Once they get older however, they tend to disappear from the ’Dutch circuit’. They do not show up for Queen’s Day and Sinterklaas anymore. It’s harder to get around on your own, and I guess friends/family are not always ready to chauffeur them around.
Still life; Behind the Mahfar Hobeish (a police staion on Bliss)

We once had a Dutch ambassador here who characterized the Dutch community as “69 unhappily married women and 1 working man.” We thought that was quite funny, although I did not agree with him. I’d say the divorce rate among our community is probably lower than in Holland, yet we have quite a few more problems to face. Granted, unlike our Dutch counterparts, we don’t have to do the cleaning, scrubbing, washing, cooking, baby-sitting and ironing ourselves. And the weather isn’t a cause for depression either.
But there are those days where you really feel like a ‘patatje met’, or a bag of ‘dubbelzout’ or a visit to the Hema  or ‘t Kruidvat. Luckily I know how to make wentelteefjes now .

Where am I getting at? Nothing really. But I just stumbled upon this research on Dutch people and homesickness.  If you want it in English, pull it through Google Translate.
Still life: coming down from the mountains after a weekend, dexcending to the sea and Beirut.

They call it nostalgia rather than homesickness and I think the term is accurate. But it shows that what Dutch expatriates and emigrants miss, is exactly what I miss; family, friends and food (yes, in that order).  And bad weather. Just now and then, of course.
What do we (Dutch) do to deal with this nostalgia? Well, according to this research, we keep certain items in the household that apparently are typical Dutch, and that make us feel better. Which ones? Well, there’s the kaasschaaf  (don’t ask, I don’t even think it exists here) and a separate towel  for drying hands and dishes in the kitchen (I assumed everyone has that, but it seems to be typical Dutch), cloth for drying. I’m guilty on both counts. And we wear orange during soccer matches. Yep, guilty too. 
Still life; Rauche, with the old Dbaibo restaurant (no longer operating)

And with the internet, you can now virtually shop at the Hema  or ‘t Kruidvat . I remember the early days when I was in Lebanon, and the only thing that worked was the telex. And the fax, sometimes. For an international phone call I had to go to the Ministry of Information. Now I can surf my own hometown’s newspaper, call my brother on Skype and see his ugly face (sorry Y), or zoom into my house with Google Earth.

And while reading, I was thinking about this: most of my readers are from the US (or so says Google analytics). My guess is that it’s this huge continent of ‘nor this nor that’ Lebanese whom, in order to ‘remediate’ their nostalgia, surf their hometown, in hope of pictures they recognize, scenes that make them feel like ‘home’, people they remember, or just to get a sniff of the atmosphere.  
Still life; Street signs. The rain pipe obviously came later.

And hey, I feel with you. What I wouldn’t do for a walk from my old house to the supermarket in my village , past the trees (that should be losing their leaves right now), my old elementary school  (specifically the 6th grade class with Mr. Oosthoek), and the bicycle shop, Coffeng, which has been there longer than I have been alive. Nothing is as it used to be, of course, but in summer, I reminisce with old friends  from those days about the old town, and how it used to be.
So is that you, the ‘nor this nor that’, reading this?


callipyge said...

Yes. I live in Texas with my husband. I grew up in France and lived a bit in Lebanon (where my parents are from). I love reading your blog for the gorgeous photos and for your perspective on things. You live in Lebanon but are neither from or not from there and I feel the same way about all the places I've lived.

marijke said...

You're very right again! It's exactly how we feel! And of course, I too have the kaasschaaf and the two towels :) :). I do now wash the dishes with a sponge though, not with the Dutch brush, but I still dry them and put them back in their place, in the Dutch way!

Jimmy said...

Yes. I Grew up in Lebanon and then moved in France for university. Every day I say enough I'm returning back to my home , but then living in Lebanon demands plenty of courage which I do not really have.

Jennifer said...

Is da echt? Stuurt Hema of Kruidvat echt bestellingen naar Lebanon?! Moet onderzoeken... Bedankt voor een goede blog. Zijn net naar Lebanon verhuist. Vroeger in Egypte en Belgie gewoont.

The perpetual expat :)

Anonymous said...

Yes, I live in California. Every picture that you post, ever trip that you take is a whisp of long gone days remembered. Actually, I have not visited every nook and crany of every village, and seeing the pictures introduces them to me. Thank you. Your sense of humor is both refreshing and amusing.

Charlotte said...

I'm Dutch, recently moved to Lebanon and married to a Lebanese. In just a few months of being here, all the little things you mentioned in this post ring 100% true!
Keeping separate towels for dishes and hands really is a Dutch thing then?! I've been baffled by the lack of dish-drying cloths in this country ever since I got here.
Getting a kaasschaaf sounds like an excellent idea, I'll definitely get one next time I'm back in the Netherlands. Sadly the link to the article about Dutch people and homesickness does not work for me, I'd have liked to read it (I've had my fair share this summer, especially during the World Cup, haha).
I must say though, of all the things you mentioned, being swept off my feet by a gallant gentleman is definitely the most true of all :)

Danielle said...

I'm from Miami and moved to Beirut ten months ago. I love reading your blog for your unique take on things, and of course for your fantastic photos!

Jet said...

Hey Siets! Ik voel me ook "nor this, nor that". Het verhaal van de kaasschaaf e.d. is herkenbaar. Ik heb alleen helemaal géén heimwee. Voel me ook niet meer Nederlands. Zelfs als ik m'n nationaliteit zou laten veranderen naar Belgische, dan bén ik nog geen Belgische. Ik blijf, of ik dat nu wil of niet, altijd "die Hollandse".... Dat wringt.