Expat in hometown, Amsterdam
Updated: Jul 9, 2020
Jeryn March was the first person I met after arriving in Amsterdam. Upon hearing this was my first time in the city, he kindly let me know never to go to any of the cheap live porn shows 'cause they're lame and a waste of money. Here we talk about the tensions of being mixed-race and feeling like an expat in his hometown.
I’m from Amsterdam, the Netherlands. My father is from New York City, in the US. My mother is from a tiny place close to Bangkok, Thailand. My family are in Thailand and in the US, mostly coastal states.
Away from computers
My dad was working in London for IBM in the late eighties. He wanted to get out of computers, so he took a trip to Amsterdam. He fell in love with the city and how people live here, this idea of gezellig.
There was a hotel for sale in the middle of the city; my dad thought it was his chance. He bought the hotel and that’s where we still live.
Image credit: TripAdvisor
A trip to Thailand
To celebrate, he went to Thailand. He was waiting to get onto a boat; it was taking forever. Then this guy pulled up to him on a motorcycle and, in a very heavy accent, he said, hey, I know a shortcut, jump on, I’ll take you.
My dad jumped on. The guy took him to a place where he met my mum. They fell in love, moved to Amsterdam and, two years later, they had me.
Trams and ice-skating
Amsterdam is definitely my hometown. I think my earliest memory, outside of the hotel, is of riding a tram for the first time.
That was so awesome. Going inside those old doors that move toward you and then slide open with that clinking sound and then feeling the train move. It was pretty cool.
I also remember ice-skating to school. Whenever it got cold enough for the canals to freeze over, we’d go so fast, under bridges, racing each other. I love winter in Amsterdam.
Amsterdam a humane city
Amsterdam has a charm, a kind of humanity. There are no skyscrapers; all buildings are low so they don’t block the sun. The squares are wide enough to sit and relax. The canals are gorgeous.
I have thought about moving away, just to experience living somewhere else, living by myself, adapting to another place.
But every time I get close to leaving, I’m pulled back in. Living in the Netherlands is just so much better than living elsewhere.
Lost Dutch accent
My Dutch is fluent though I lost my Dutch accent when I went to an international school.
It’s kind of awkward when I tell people that I’ve lived in the Netherlands my whole life and they say, but your accent isn’t Dutch. And I’m like, yeah, I know, what would you like me to do.
Aspects of me
I have aspects of me that are Dutch. I prefer to save my money to spending it. Sometimes I can also be direct, not quite as blunt as the Dutch are, but still. Sometimes I can’t understand a joke; that’s pretty Dutch.
My Asian side sometimes pops up and that can be odd. I don’t wear shoes in the house (it’s gross); this confuses some people. I also feel pretty strongly about respecting your elders and giving yourself to family.
I like this idea.
Dutch vs. Thai tensions
Then there is this thing with Asians that, when you’re out with friends, you’re supposed to offer to pay and then you’re supposed to fight about it and you’re supposed to insist.
This is really difficult because my Dutch side really wants them to pay for me, but my Asian side is like, no, no, at least attempt to show you want to pay.
And I have to go on and insist and sometimes they let me pay and I’m like, crap! But I’ll do it.
Then there are other times when they win and then my Dutch side says, great, but my Asian side frowns on me.
I have an American accent and there is a lot of things that I like that are huge in the US, but don’t take off anywhere else.
I also seem to get along well with Americans. There are more people like me in America.
In Amsterdam, there are a lot of people of mixed culture, but they’re usually different European cultures. The contrast isn’t as great as when you’re a mix of American and Asian.
Where I'm from
People often try to guess where I’m from; depending where they from, they place me anywhere from Japan to Mexico. Sometimes I think it’s great because whatever country I go to, the locals think I’m one of them. I blend in very well.
But I never really belong anywhere. It’s a little like floating in space.
Sometimes I feel like an expat in my hometown. I’ve lived here my whole life, but, with my accent and way of being, no one would mistake me for a Dutchman.
Saved from a bubble
Being mixed allows me to learn a lot about different people and their way of life. In a way, it protects me from living in a bubble, like the white American suburbia, where white people live together completely cut off from the rest of the world.
When Americans come to Europe and I tell them about social welfare, they’re often baffled.
They can’t wrap their head around why having universal healthcare or benefits could be a good thing. They just think people should work for themselves; that they should figure it out, no matter what. It’s as if they just can’t imagine another way.
Working in a hotel, I had to learn how people from different cultures think and feel.
I learnt that Brazilians are always super-friendly, open and kind. Israelis always leave their clothes are all over the floor. Middle-Easternes like being called mister or miss. When working with Russians, you shouldn’t smile too much from the get-go; they’d think you’re up to something.
People never seen again
It’s really good for me to force myself to always talk with people, but at the same time I really don’t want to. I feel I’m investing in people I'll never see again.
For me, socialising and getting up the courage to talk to someone is very difficult. I prefer to do it with people I think I might have in my life for a while.
That may be why I’m not going to move now. Amsterdam is doing well at the moment. It’s safe. I’m used to it. The people I love are here; we look out for each other. I’ll stay.
Jeryn March was born in Amsterdam and currently works at his family's hotel as upcoming manager. He's learning to do Japanese sword arts as a hobby known as shinkendo. He loves food and cooks a variety of different cuisines. His mom is a professional chef - from a line of royal cooks!