the blood I lose in translation
My identity lost a lot of blood when I was transplanted to Holland. Three years on, it still looks anemic.
Some days I don’t care that I’m not myself in Dutch yet, and I babble my new language like a precocious 3-year-old. But some days it nips at my ankles like a mean-tempered stray. Then I’m certain that they think I’m stupid, shallow, and stuck-up.
Of course no one would ever tell me that. Instead I get a very different kind of dis which ultimately cuts deeper. “It’s the funniest thing, your Dutch. You’re just like [Argentinian-born] Princess Maxima. So stately,” they sometimes say. Stately? But I’m rowdy! and warm! and funny! and friendly! and dodgy! and —
New languages are especially good at steamrollering over all your rich 3D nuance.
From my two-and-a-half decades of human experience in a variety of cultures, I’ve narrowed it down to this. The most devastating thing in the world is to feel unknown by the people around you.
But I’m making friends. They’re still seedlings, these little baby friendships, and they need propping up and full sunlight and conscientious watering, and my thumb isn’t green because it has an anemic cast to it, remember?
But they’ll grow anyway, and my Dutch will grow anyway. At least from 3-year-old to six. A.A. Milne says so.
When I was Three
I was hardly me.
When I was Four,
I was not much more.
When I was Five,
I was just alive.
But now I am Six,
I’m as clever as clever,
So I think I’ll be six now for ever and ever.