I'd stood on both sides of a cultural shock
Having lived for the Netherlands most of my life, I did not expect to experience culture shock after moving back. That is, until the Dodenherdenkingsborrel 2023, or in other words, last Thursday. After a reasonable amount of free beers I decided to walk back to Amsterdam Central, which usually takes me about 15 to 20 minutes. And trying to decide whether I should make the lazy choice and take the metro conveniently situated on the Rokin I reminded myself that I was about halfway there and that I should just keep the pace. Just past Dam Square and a couple of shops and then I'm there.
Only the crowd became denser and denser. And as I walked on, people's whispers around me turned into mildly irritated remarks as finally, I am stopped dead by a barricade. Great - so my decision to take the active route has turned into jolly me accidentally attending a national gathering of utmost reverence. Now I understand why people were irritated with me; I'd have been as well had I come early to such a pompous event to stand at the front rows as the royal procession walks by. But I did not want to be here. And so after having figured that waiting this one out would take at least another hour or so, I turned around, tail tucked between my legs and eventually backing up into an old lady who immediately replied "Dat méén je niet!?" when I told her I don't mean disrespect, I just want to get to Amsterdam Central station. She re-routed me in good faith and I catch my train, leaving mere minutes before eight.
So the train takes off and I recount the crazy journey there, thinking by myself those miffed people could have cut me some slack there. After all, I know what Dodenherdenkingsdag is but I never knew about this fancy affair in Amsterdam. And so, as the train slows down for a standstill at 20.00, I put my bag down and start praying for those who gave their lives in war. The second World War, as I've grown up to associate with this day, but also other wars and other martyrs that gave their lives for peace. Only as I was praying, all I can hear are TikTok videos - and each time I think this guy must surely realize that (A) the rest of the train is in complete silence, (B) the train is standing dead still and (C), his friend is frantically trying to get his attention without trying to break the silence himself. The two minutes passed in strangled awkwardness as I tried to finish my prayer with dignity, and this lady sitting across me goes off at this guy. First in Dutch, then in English, and then in Spanish - I'm sure she was just switching languages until she'd found a language he'd surely understood he was being chewed out in. The guy still tries to argue that if you want silence, you should sit in first class, but she was having none of it. Today this man would be thoroughly educated in the ways of the Dutch, and honestly: good for her.
But I realized something profound: in the space of about half an hour, I'd stood on both sides of a cultural shock, neither of which I'd ever thought I'd live to experience. And I realized even having grown up here, there is so much to learn every day - don't stress about not knowing everything, people will quickly help you right, either feeling sorry for you in complete disbelief, or in utter disgust chewing you out, but after a couple of years or so you will be up to date with this beautiful country and its beautiful cultural experiences.
- Gideon Potgieter, Software Engineer