I am never more French than when I am an expat. And I have been an expat for over 25 years now.
The last 5 years, I have been living in Amsterdam. The beauty of this city lies in its capacity to transport you gently to another era– with its low grey clouds protectively overshadowing the town and its smoky fog stagnating over the canals; with its XVIIth century red raisin brick houses silently following the contours of the Amstel; with its streets made of natural stone, upon which one can still hear the soft-loud click-clack of horse hooves resonating (although it has since been replaced by the murmur of rusty bicycles). It is truly a poetically magical place. That is, if you travel beyond the ring of snorting and transactional sex tourism.
The world has decided that the Dutch are a rather direct, even slightly rude people. Hmmm… The world is forgetting about the strikeaholics, who are always ready to strike a “Non. Non” to everyone, non to everything. As a bilingual person, it always amuses me to notice how my own ideas, thoughts, and beliefs change slightly – but significantly! – depending on which language I am using to express myself in. I realise that I am more acerbic in French; less inclined to further develop my trail of thought. A simple “non” seems to settle any kind of initial conflict; to stop a boring conversation straight in its tracks. And this magical word also works wonders in English conversation.
Non to the midwife
When I had my first meeting with the Dutch midwife, I noticed how much I was abusing this magical word:
-“V.,would you like to give birth at home?” She kindly asked.
-“Non.” I replied, sincerely disgusted by the question.
-“Would you like to try it naturally? without any epidural?” She continued to ask me.
-“Non,” I said smirking at this practice of ancient times.
-“Would you like to breastfeed?” She said, still in the same gentle tone as the beginning.
-“Non, thank you,” I answered, thinking that was really a question.
Then it was my turn to question her:
-« When will I see a gynecologist ? » I asked.
-« Never. Unless there is a huge problem. » she answered.
-« So does it mean you will check me? » I replied, making my body move in an inappropriate sexual way. I blushed slightly as I realized what I had done.
-« No. unless there is a huge problem. » she once again answered.
-« Oh. And will you at least weigh me? » urging her to do something with me.
-« No. » she laconically replied.
I couldn’t hide my surprise. What was her job then? She guessed what I was thinking and she followed up by saying:
-« I will check your stomach every time we meet. »
-« Oh good. » I said, lacking conviction entirely.
Give birth like the Dutch the natural way
The Dutch way of delivering is all natural. They sincerely believe that there is nothing more natural than giving birth, that it is what the female body has been designed for, so most of the time you shouldn’t need any help.
If so, why do we need stitches after delivering? Is it natural to have a one way road running from the vagina to uterus?!
I started to get really angry at the belief that all natural is better. Could I not simplify their reasoning even more to the extreme and think, how about women who need C-sections? Shouldn’t they be left to die in the name of natural selection?
Non, I was not convinced that the natural way is the best way.
Mouah! But who did I think I was?! Of course, I was about to follow their way, just like an organic sheep fed of pasture kale because “U kunt”.
Non, despite what you might think, this sentence is not a derogatory insult tapped out hastily and sent via Whatsapp. The “u” is actually the polite “you” in Dutch, the equivalent of the French vous, and “kunt” doesn’t mean “C U oNTuesday”, it means “can”. Ah Dutch, what a beautiful language!
As I lived my days of pregnancy in the Netherlands, I came to the realization that you can never underestimate the power of a crazy little thing called: social pressure. Kierkegaard, my favorite philosopher, would explain that my change of attitude was because I was – finally – entering the ethical stage.
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