Growing up Foreign – Thoughts about Language & Culture

My ongoing efforts to streamline and consolidate my various writing and publishing activities have inspired me to to think of 2019 as the Year of Authenticity. It occurs to me that a lot of people who read my work have very little idea of who I really am, except for whatever I share in my bio. That’s about to change.

So, here goes. The first in what I envision to become a series of posts about random thoughts and situations that make me, “me”. As a perpetual foreigner, I think about national identity quite a bit, so this first post is about that.

I’m German. I don’t mean that in the “I did 23 and me, and guess what, it says I’m German!” sort of way. I *actually* am, and have the passport to prove it. But, I’ve never lived in Germany, which is kind of weird, I guess. Still, I’m more German than anything else, so I don’t really have a choice. The “Lorelei” part of my pen name is a nod towards my German heritage.

Born in the Netherlands (colloquially: “Holland”) during the 80s, to a German mother (and a Dutch father, who sadly did not live long enough to see me grow up), I’ve always been aware of my roots. She made sure of that.

I’ve also always been aware of how Germans are viewed by a lot of people in other countries across Europe. The kids who would call me a “Nazi” while growing up made sure of that. And that made me a bit prickly when it comes to how a lot of people deal with “foreigners”.

It’s a weird situation to grow up in. An in-between child. Stuck between the culture, traditions (and language) at home and the wider world we lived in. On the outside, you might think our white, Protestant Christian household, would be much the same as the white, Protestant Christian households of the native Dutch populace. Still, the difference – though subtle – were very obvious to me.

This feeling of “in-betweenness” of course wasn’t helped by the fact that my mom sent me to a private German school for the first few years of my education, because she was considering moving back “home”. We didn’t move though, and I switched to a regular Dutch school at age 11, which brought with it its own host of challenges (as well as more kids calling me a “Nazi”).

When people talk about migrants, multiculturalism and integration, it’s often aimed at people who *look* different. People with a different skin colour and religion compared to what is the norm in any given country. When I pipe up with my own thoughts, it’s often waved away. “No, not you. You’re different.” But I don’t bloody feel different. (I mean, I *do* feel different, which is kind of the point I’m trying to make).

Of course, growing up bilingually had its benefits, so I don’t regret any of it. Generally, growing up in Holland had its benefits too. Had we ended up back in Germany, I probably would have been writing this blog in German, not English. I wouldn’t have been able to express myself quite in the same way. I wouldn’t have had the experiences that formed my persionality and my thoughts as an adult. Life might have turned out very differently indeed.

I don’t want to get into politics, but I do feel people are often quite harsh about “foreigners”, “coming over here” and “wearing their weird clothes” or “speaking their funny language out in public”. The justification is often something like this: When you’re in xyz country, it’s your responsibility to speak in xyz language and do stuff however the locals do. Speak whatever you want at home, behind closed doors, if you must. Etc.

These are all things I’ve heard over and over again, often in the same breath as some statement about how that somehow makes our “multicultural society” better.

I call bullshit.

Sure, I was a weird little kid and I knew it. Initially, I spoke Dutch with a German accent, because that’s what I’d learnt from my mom. That was until I started interacting with more of my peers on the playground and in school, and then the accent went away. I obviously faced some prejudice, because *clearly* the holocaust was entirely my fault, even at age 6. Still, I’m fully aware that whatever shit came my way was nothing compared to what people who *look* different have to go through on a daily basis. White privilege is a thing regardless of nationality.

But just because I *looked* local, didn’t mean I was just going to agree to the cultural homogenisation many people like to advocate for. It didn’t matter to my mom and I that in the Netherlands, Christmas is celebrated on the 25th of December just like in the UK or US. For us, Christmas Eve (the 24th) will always be the bigger holiday. That’s when the gifts are given in my house even to this day.

Obviously you have to learn the local language, no matter where you live. You can’t function properly otherwise. But to expect that people communicate 100% of the time in a foreign-to-them language, even when interacting with their own family is utter madness. The idea that they have to cast off their traditions, embrace only the local holidays, ideally convert to a new religion, just to fit in, is insane.

Sure, some people take things too far and favour their own traditions over the local laws. That’s clearly wrong. But I think the way that this topic is dealt with by many people is so black & white that it just pitches the two groups against each other harder.

Think about it. Have you learned a foreign language? It’s hard, isn’t it? Fumbling over your words, messing up the pronunciation, trying your best to speak one broken sentence, but forgetting that one crucial word and thus not being able to get your point across at all. Practice makes perfect, as they say, but it’s still super tiring.

Now imagine you’re with your family, after a day of doing all that. How much of a relief it will be to slip into your native tongue and express yourself freely.

Language is what makes us human. It allows us to communicate and exchange thoughts and ideas. And most importantly: it allows us to express our feelings; our love for one another.. Expression is a bit pointless if nobody acknowledges it. Why anyone would advocate to take the most important form of communication away from people, just because they decided to move to another country is beyond me. It should be up to that person to decide what they’re comfortable with. Is there really a downside if their kids learn the local language in school, and a second or third language at home? I think not.

I still speak to my mom in German, though we try to switch to another, more suitable language in case someone else is present. Since she’s the only one I get to speak German with nowadays, I’m not getting much practice. Still better than my Dutch, because although I can still pass as native during short visits, I’m super rusty and often the right words evade me. It’s because I don’t speak it much anymore, or at all.

My husband and I speak English, and the in-laws speak English and Hindi (which I am somewhat conversational in now as well).

After years and years of speaking English day in and day out, it has become my language of choice. That’s why I write in it. Language skills are fluid. It’s really amazing how preferences can change over the years. Should we ever move to Germany for any length of time, perhaps that’ll become my language of choice again. Who knows?

But the point is, it should be *my* choice what I’m comfortable speaking and writing in. Not anyone else’s. And that goes for every immigrant equally, no matter the colour of their skin, or where they’ve decided to settle down.

Growing up and other embarrassments

For some reason I’ve been looking back on my teenage years lately. My poor mom had her hands full, raising a volatile rebellious version of me by herself and I certainly did not make it easy for her. She never fully knew what I was up to, until years later (over a glass or two of wine) I answered some of her more prying questions. But I suppose the things she did get wind of, were probably stressful enough at the time.

 My top 5 classic Teenage moments:

 1. Sex Ed.

I suppose I was about 13 when our school had a 2 day special Sex education programme. Many topics were discussed in a typical European manner; one where children are encouraged to be open and honest, the aim being to instill tolerance for all things different. After a particularly long discussion in class about what we can and cannot discuss with our parents, I felt liberated. Plus I was already quite rebellious with a “don’t give a fuck what anyone thinks” attitude. Upon coming home, I decided to strike up a conversation.

“Mom, if I was a lesbian, what would you say?”

“What am I supposed to say. You are what you are.”

“Wouldn’t you mind?”

“No. Why are you asking?”

“Oh we had this discussion thing in school. About tolerance and stuff.”


“Mom, what do you think about oral sex?”

*spluttering, coughing noise*

“Err, you’re too young!”

“Yeah ok, but do you think it’s right or wrong?”

*awkward silence*

“Well, would you do it?”

*Mom turns bright red*

“That’s something everyone should decide for themselves.”

I never got my answer….

2. Extra-curricular Activities

I grew up in a small, boring town with about 100,000 inhabitants. As a result the town centre was particularly unexciting and had a poor selection of shops. But when I was 14 or 15, something exciting opened up, just a bit outside the normal shopping zone. Just a bit further from view, but it didn’t go unnoticed. Something with shiny latex outfits in the window, yet minus the seedy neon “Sex shop” sign.

Due to the lacklustre shopping avenues in our home town, of course us teenage girls would often take a train to a larger city nearby to do our shopping. One where dimly lit “Sex Shops” were nothing unusual. Those were scary looking from the outside though, the windows were darkened so you couldn’t look inside. And until you’d set foot in one you wouldn’t know what was in there.

So I’d never been in one.

This new, bright and airy shop with the kinky clothes was different and not so scary at all. Basically like Ann Summers in the UK, an entirely new concept to me at the time.

After noticing this shop on a previous trip to the town centre. One day I waited until the street was empty and ventured inside. I was a naive teen and a virgin. And I came home with my first little vibrator (the big ones just seemed physically impossible). Once I had paid I excitedly took the opaque plastic bag I was handed with this much coveted possession and left the shop. I was so over the moon that it didn’t bother me much that a builder loitering outside made a particularly rude remark. Not bothering with a comeback, I simply gave him the finger and walked off smiling.

 3. My 12th Birthday.

Not quite teenage, granted. But the story fits in as being fairly embarrassing.
Let me start by saying my mother wasn’t a nudist; far from it. But I wasn’t brought up to be ashamed of nudity either and it wasn’t until I hit puberty that I had any issues changing in front of her, and vice versa. So yes, this may seem shocking to some people but I’ve seen my mother naked. But during the previous few months something else new did happen. Mom had started dating. For the first time since my dad passed when I was just a toddler, it wasn’t just us girls.

On the morning of my 12th Birthday:

“Happy birthday, darling. What would you like for breakfast?”


“What’s wrong, why so grumpy?”

“You woke me, you know.”

*Mom giving me the WTF raised eyebrow look*

“You, and your boyfriend! I woke up and heard something really weird. It was freaking me out. Like sort of howling.”

*Mom turning pink*

“I got up to figure out where the racket was coming from, opened your door…”

*awkward silence*

“How could you! On MY birthday!” 

That morning, after the first time her boyfriend spent the night, I discovered that my mother is a screamer. And my biggest worry was that she had disturbed my sleep on my birthday.

 4. Stern instruction

I was a bit of a late bloomer when it came to boys. Apparently being a Goth was a fairly effective form of contraception in my school. My first boyfriend therefore didn’t go to my school at all. In fact he wasn’t in school anymore. And he wasn’t in the same country either.

I had an internet relationship with a guy 6 years older than me starting at age 15. When I was 16, he finally visited. Bearing in mind that I had just picked him up at the airport by myself, by train, and we’d spent about 1 hour face to face in total, coming home to face my mother was frankly the least of my worries. (Just to clarify; yes she knew and she agreed that he could stay. Us Europeans are cool that way.)

So while she offered him tea, he went to unpack his stuff to take out the various gifts and things he had brought for me. Some of it was clothes, prompting mom and him both to cheer: “Try it on! Try it on!”.

No sooner had I stepped out of the living room and closed the door in order to change in the hallway, I hear mom put on the distinctive voice she uses when she’s trying to be an authority figure.

“Please, whatever you do, use a condom!”

“Err.. Ma’m.. we’re not..”

“Whatever, use a condom. I do not want my daughter pregnant. She’s only 16.”

I nearly died laughing in the hallway.

At that point, we hadn’t even had our first kiss.

 5. Busted

So as you’ve already read above. I had decided at around 15, that I wanted to try out vibrators. I was exploring my body and I really wanted to give myself an orgasm. One vibrator wasn’t quite enough, because it was a fairly simple one. I especially went back to the same shop and had them order one in that was different, waterproof.

I anyway love to take long showers, that day it was even longer. I experimented and did my best with the new toy. I didn’t quite cum but it was interesting. I vowed to try that again until I would succeed.

Later that same evening the conversation went something like this:

“May I make a request.” *grumpy expression*

“What, mom?”

“Don’t leave your… THINGS… in the shower.”


“Your thing. Your fake PENIS.”