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👰🏻‍♀️ Letter 120: Meeting family for the first time

6 min

Dutch family, traveling, André Hazens, huisje, boompje, beestje

If you are new here or missed last week's edition, you can catch up on the past letters here. If you are reading this for the first time, I’d love you to sign up below to join the other 395 learn-it-alls who I inspire to be more curious and make meaning of life through stories:

Aloha fellow learn-it-all 👋

Greetings from Middelburg in the southernmost province of the Netherlands 🌺

Wow, it feels like so much has changed since traveling for 26 hours and finally reuniting with my Dutch roots since four years ago. This in fact is the first time I have opened my laptop in ten days. I am happy to finally have time to write to you all about what's been up.

I'm not great at superlatives. They are quite hard for me to pick my favorite or least favorite things – though this family holiday has been the best ever. It's been a blend of new and old: getting to try new things and meet new family members. This coupled with seeing familiar things like the Dutch Mona Lisa of the Netherlands in the Mauritshuis or eating the beer snack bitterballen along with some unfamiliar things like trying Surinamese food or getting lost on a run in the woods in a city like Schevening that I cannot even pronounce. (Fun fact: this is how the Dutch could tell in WWII who were German spies by their incorrect pronunciation).

To say the least, it’s been a shock to hear so many languages during my flight here like Dutch and French. Immediately, I felt like a flopping fish out of the water. Ahh ignorance, my good friend.

I’m about to be swimming in it even more so as I depart on my 5-day road trip across the HUGE country of the Netherlands that surprisingly inhabits 17 million people. It’s been a dream of mine to do this since 2020, so I am excited this has been rescheduled.

Now, let’s dive into letter 120 from a learn-it-all. Enjoy!

🤝 Meeting family for the first time

I wrote in letter 40 around Christmas time in 2020 meeting my cousin Guus Vermet via Zoom. Two years later and I got to finally see his chubby cheeks IRL, dine with him over pancakes and see him scoot around the cemetery that we visited together. It’s not as morbid as it sounds.

To be honest, it was quite awkward. He looked at me like I was an alien because I look like one and certainly sound like one speaking a funky language like English that he’s never heard before. This was up until I saw him in his element playing with goats on a farm and scooping ice cream into his mouth and all over his face.

I’ve met my cousins Bruno and Delphine before, but four years later and they have completely new interests like football and hip hop dance. They also are learning their third and fourth languages. It’s exhausting trying to communicate in a second language, so this is so impressive to me. I felt so silly trying to speak my minimal Dutch language to them and having Bruno correct my pronunciation as I fumble at making the guttural ‘g’ sound that comes so naturally to any Dutch person.

I’ve also met my cousin Marijn before, but he’s since moved from a teeny tiny southern village that didn’t even have a train stop to the northern bigger city of the Hague where the Dutch royal family lives. For a gist of this city through an American’s eye, it felt like Washington D.C. with diplomats and flags everywhere. He is the Dominee, also known as a pastor, at a Dutch Reformed Church Mennonite Church there.

My great-grandfather was also a pastor at super-small villages across Holland during his lifetime. My dad is convinced that is a reason why Vermets generations down the road have had such great fortune with greater opportunities than the sweet potato peasants before him ever had.

Marijn is in the blue Hawaiian shirt next to me.

📖 Reading

You’d think I’ve got a beach read but as you’ve read above, I’ve been socializing up the wazoo. It’s been an overload in the best of ways. It makes me wish I could be like the party animal who wouldn’t get depleted. I’ve been running on caffeine staying up later than ever (until about midnight).

So, in summary, nothing to share here. I’ve been reading the Book of the World as René Descartes would put it.

🎧 Listening

My Om Jan showed me one of his favorite Dutch musicians André Hazes, born in Amsterdam. I don’t know what even half the words mean, but it’s fun to completely branch out into new music.

I found a translation of the song here. His lyrics and voice remind me of Frank Sinatra's “My Way” mentioned in Letter 107. Here is an example from Hazes here:

This life will end some day
Our time is very short, so live, 'cause you are free
But do the right thing and bring others happiness
Then you'll be really happy, too
Because life is really short
And many things will change, as you are growing old
You're playing with your blocks now, but that won't last long
It's a pity, but you won't stay small.

André Hazes (1951-2004) was a 'volkszanger' (singer for the common people) and is considered to be one of the best writers and interpreters of the 'life song' (levenslied): songs about the common people and the problems, misery and hardship of daily life.

I’m excited about what other music I will discover on my road trip across the country of the Netherlands this week.

🔎 Word to define

Een huisje, boompje, beestje: A small house, tree, pet

This is a Dutch phrase that I heard during my Om Jan’s (Uncle ‘Yaan’s) speech to his daughter Joos at her wedding reception. It is a saying that signals going to the next season of life where you own a house, plant a tree, and have a pet. Joos plowed through this season as she has a puppy named after her obsession Harry Potter, two cats, two tortoises, and a backyard in her house with her husband.

This made me think about my own future and what settling down means for me. The results are inconclusive. Still have some journaling to do about this. 🤔

In the meantime, here’s some Golden Retriever energy coming your way from Harry himself:

🌟 Quote to inspire

“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.”

– Gustave Flaubert, a novelist regarded as the prime mover of the realist school of French literature

📷 Photo of the Week

The reason for the season of my family holiday is to celebrate my cousin Joos (pronounced ‘yoas’) who I met 4 years ago for the first time. She married a nice fella named Max. I cried during the ceremony even though I couldn’t understand nearly any of the Dutch.

They’ve created a beautiful life together in the village where they both grew up in. It was such a cozy, gezellig wedding and reception that took place in their family’s backyard. DJ Jan was cranking the dance floor out until midnight. My sore feet didn’t stop me. I met a variety of folks from professional wrestlers to fashion designers and windsurfers. I am so thankful and joyous that I was able to witness such a special moment.

I cannot wait for our adventure together this week.

🙏 Shoutouts

I appreciate you reading this!

If ideas resonated, I’d love you to leave a comment, reply to this email, or send me a message on Twitter @JenVermet. If you forgot who I am, I welcome you to my online home.

Never stop learning 😁

Mahalo 🌺


👣 Footnotes

On culture shock in NYC (and then again later in Brussels, Belgium):

On the most crowded touristic beach I have ever seen:

On my perpetual dehydration:

On the joy I’ve had from learning a language:

When I was ten years old, it was the first time I met a cheese father. We meet again:

On appreciating Dutch artwork, selfies, and storytelling:

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