My daughter-in-law, Cherrelle, is Dutch. And in the past 3 years since I first met Cheche, I have been fascinated by her and the Dutch culture. She has opened up our eyes to a whole new world and a very different way of living. And we are all the richer for it.
We have learned that Dutch people are very tall. Men tend to be on average 6 feet and women an impressive 5.5 feet. This is a real thing (See picture below). At Shayne and Cherrelle’s wedding celebration in Watamu last December, we had a chance to meet many of Cherrelle’s friends from the Netherlands and noticed that we were looking up to them, literally.
And then there is the obsession to be on time. When Cherrelle would say dinner is at 6 pm, she did not mean 5:58 pm or 6:05 pm. It was 6:00 pm at the table. I spoke to one of Shayne’s friends who dated a Dutch girl. He said that the first time he went to meet her family, he was 12 minutes late and this was not seen kindly by the family who brought it up repeatedly. Another very Dutch characteristic is directness and we see this in Cherrelle, especially as she gets more comfortable with us. She is straightforward in her communication, gets to the point quickly and with her, there is no beating around the bush. It is actually a beautiful quality as we see her navigate conversations with fridge repairmen, Mos’s nanny and vendors.
But the quality that has surprised us most about Cherrelle is how she speaks in expressions – again a very Dutch thing to do. For instance, the Dutch swear with diseases! And the mother of all Dutch swears is cancer. So you know you are really in trouble if a Dutch swears Sterf aan kanker (translation, “Die of cancer”). I spoke to a few of Cherrelle’s friends about this phenomenon and they explained that they swear with dreaded diseases of the past like TB, cholera, smallpox. And the more serious your offence, the more serious the disease.
Over the past couple of months, we have been treated with some odd, non-sensical and equally endearing expressions. Example: Afzal had to miss an event and said in the family WhatsApp chat, “Don’t have too much fun without me”. And Cherrelle would retort, “we are going to put the little flowers outside”, meaning, “we will have a really good time!” The first time I heard a Cheche-ism was when she said, “Goatwool socks”. We all looked at her in bewilderment and she explained that it is a person who believes in “woo woo” stuff.
Or how about when I expressed how I really felt about a particular restaurant. Cherrelle’s contribution, “Now comes the monkey out of the sleeve”, synonymous to someone’s true nature finally revealing itself. In Dutch, there seem to be many references to monkeys (paying someone with monkey money is equivalent to fooling someone with nice words).
Once when Cherrelle woke up not feeling so great, she said, “I stepped out of bed with the wrong leg!”. And to be “hit by a windmill”, means to act crazy. To fall with” the door into the house” means to get straight to the point. And a good compliment is when you are told you have “hair on your teeth” because it means you are strong and assertive. And you definitely don’t want to be known as the person that someone wants to “glue behind the wallpaper”, because it means they find you annoying and don’t want to have anything to do with you. Peanut butter is a standard ingredient on every breakfast table in the Netherlands and so it is fitting that peanut butter would find it’s way into a Dutch saying. “Unfortunately, peanut butter” literally means, “too bad!”. And this one I loved, “now my wooden shoe is breaking”, which was Cherrelle’s way of expressing that she was amazed about a piece of information she had received. Okay, a really wacky expression in Dutch is, “we will make them smell a fart”, which means to surprise or impress someone with your behavior. And a more pleasant expression is to “fall with your nose in the butter”, meaning to be in the right place at the right time.
It has been an incredibly joyful experience as we transverse different cultures to learn about each other’s way of saying and doing things. For instance, at Friday’s night pre-wedding celebrations (“Mendhi Night”), we taught Cherrelle’s Dutch family and friends how to play “Raas”, and it turned into a cultural mish-mash of dancing Fast Raas to a French song.
Cherrelle has opened up a whole new world for us, as I think we have for her. And the richness, the beauty, the unexpected learnings and reflections is a transformative experience.