Lifestyle & Culture

No debate: As expats, we’re happy to trade the America of Trump for a chance to be ‘Dutch’

Dutch journo and Dispatches Europe contributor Jessy de Cooker emailed me this today at 5:30 a.m.: If you’re wondering why I am still awake, it’s because I’ve watched Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton debate just now and wrote something for HP/DeTijd about it … did you watch it?

“Didn’t watch it,” I wrote back. “That’s why I’m here. To get away from those crazy people ….”

Today’s headlines were unimaginable only a few months ago:

20573038010_490c18fa3f_bTrump threatens to jail Clinton if he wins the White House – MarketWatch

Donald Trump’s mission: Make Clinton’s life hell for the next month – CNN

Trump makes ferocious attack on Clintons – BBC

It’s a very tough time to be an American. But it’s a great time to be an American expat, insulated from the bombastic sexual predator who’s running for the highest office in the land and all his acolytes who are suddenly freed from respecting societal norms, much less their fellow Americans.

I mention this because there is still a (remote) chance Donald Trump could become president of the United States of America. In that event, Europe could see an influx of Americans. A very quiet refugee crisis compared to current and past mass immigrations. But think about this … instead of the destination for the huddled masses yearning to be free, America could be sending out its own refugees looking for a place to shelter if only for a few years until this whole nightmare blows over.

The question becomes, “How do the people who’ve always considered themselves the world’s entitled elite go about assimilating?”

This ...

This …

I’ve spent about 30 percent of my life in Europe and the Middle East, and I’m not sure I have an answer to that. Both sides of my family always considered themselves internationalists, and my mother, aunts, uncles and cousins traveled to Europe as a right of passage. But I’m still an American … and all that means.

Currently, we live in a small village in the Netherlands. We fit in because we look Dutch, so we’ve received a warm welcome. But that’s such superficial thinking compared to what we need to do, and that’s nothing short of changing our entire mindset.

Here’s what I mean.

Last week, a Dutch friend who works in economic development sent me a private message saying, “That photo you’re using on Twitter is a problem if you want to fit into Dutch business culture.”

Not this ...

Not this …

“That photo” is of me in Afghanistan circa 2004 with my friends at a remote firebase. It’s a reminder that if I can survive wars, I can survive in business. A totally American mindset. John Wayne meets Steve Jobs.

At first, I got prickly. “Glad business in the Netherlands is so genteel, but in the rest of the world, fortune favors the bold.”

Jesus, the Ugly American … what a Donald Trump thing to say.

Then I thought about it, and I did the right thing. I dumped the photo in favor of Dispatches’s logo and photo of Stockholm. And I wrote my friend saying, “I thought about what you said, and I changed (the photos) to something more Europe, and less (military).”

I guess that’s a start.

How Dutch will we become?

Today, the Netherlands is a culture that gives you freedom to fit in, or remain an outsider. But as Jessy wrote today, that might change if Geert Wilders ascends to power next year.

Which is bizarre because I think this is one of the most successful societies – if not the most successful – at allowing outsiders to assimilate. We’ve had multiple contacts with “Dutch” business executives and officials lately who turned out to be of Turkish origin. We didn’t realize they weren’t Dutch until they told us their names.

When we go to the supermarket in Eindhoven, there are incredibly friendly Muslim girls wearing headscarves at the cash registers.

We see people of Asian and African descent riding bikes and speaking Dutch … and being treated as equal citizens. So race, creed and national origin don’t seem to be the barrier to entry into Dutch society that they would be in America. Of course, I see people who come to the Netherland and who don’t want to assimilate. And I think, “This is an insanely great culture. Who wouldn’t want to be part of this?”

We believe in total assimilation because it’s a privilege to be allowed to live here. We’ll tone down the natural American inclination toward confrontation. We’re transitioning from American foods to Dutch. We’re making Dutch friends so we can better understand how they think and their expectations of us. We follow the rules, which are many compared to the U.S., and we try to quietly and unobtrusively fit in.

And of course, we’ll smile and answer that ubiquitous question from all the Dutch people we meet, “What in the heck is going on in the States!?” As fate would have it, our daughter Lucy, who goes to Tilburg University, is taking a rhetoric class. And every class, they discuss the Donald Trump phenomenon. Because as Jessy noted this morning, “… you end up with everyone here being really interested in those crazy people over there! Wow ….” It must be wildly entertaining for the rest of the world to watch the 2016 presidential election, but for us it’s depressing.

That said, we have one terrific incentive to wake up every morning and be just that much more Dutch!

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Co-CEO of Dispatches Europe. A former military reporter, I'm a serial expat who has lived in France, Turkey, Germany and the Netherlands.

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