You cannot see yourself

My world is larger than the tight borders of my country — but for long I thought I had an open and unbiased view across them, proudly seeing myself as a world citizen. Yet now I see that term for what it really is: impossible — and I see that the lens I thought to be clear is muddy nonetheless.

Leila would remark on how strange Dutch family customs are, how we unpack gifts and act surprised even when we already knew what we’re getting. How we never tell our true feelings or never ask about what we really wish to know. How we’ll never admit we’d rather be somewhere else, how difficult leaving a party is, how we pride ourselves for being direct and open, while we’ll never admit to our deepest part we’re actually not.

This is not something you’ll read in blog articles about ‘Funny things Dutch people do’. This is different from eating raw herring or cycling without helmet, eating chocolate on bread. Those things lay on the surface, while these behaviors lay deep within, difficult to realize, instinctively difficult to change — just as I can’t bring myself to yell “Fúwùyuán” (“Waiter!”) in a restaurant in China.

We question all our beliefs, except the ones we hold on to so dearly. You cannot see yourself for who you really are — and also now I’m probably wrong. What surprised me most from living 18 months in China is how living in a foreign culture hasn’t made me feel more of a world citizen: it has only made me feel more Dutch, for the smalltown boy that I actually am.