‘At home we talk that horrible Dutch and English hybrid’

Photo: Daniel CohenPhoto: Daniel Cohen

Tracy Metz, 61, is a journalist and author who has lived in the Netherlands for over 36 years and has just been awarded the prestigious Grote Maaskantprijs 2016 for her work on architecture and landscape. She is currently director of the John Adams Institute, lectures on water management all over the world and describes herself as a gelukszoeker.

How did you end up in the Netherlands?
After college in the US I headed to Europe and planned to spend time in Spain and France. The cheapest ticket I could get was to Amsterdam so I ended up working there for a time to earn some money and then going off travelling again. I had a fluid relationship with the city until 1980 when I decided I’d like to settle here. I’d been teaching English to adults and had met the editor of the Parool newspaper. He introduced me to journalism and gave me a six-month internship. I knew immediately that being a journalist was what I wanted to do.

How do you describe yourself – an expat, lovepat, immigrant, international, etc?
I’m a gelukszoeker – an adventurer, a seeker of good fortune. It has become such a politically laden term used by the right to dismiss asylum seekers so I’d like to reclaim it. Everyone is a gelukszoeker, looking for the society they can blossom in. I found it here.

How long do you plan to stay?
I’ll probably be here the rest of my life. I’m assuming I will. My work, my friends, my house, my husband are all here. When I was a Harvard fellow in 2006/07 and spent a year in the States I realised how long I had been away. I felt like an outsider. And coming back here was like coming home.

Do you speak Dutch and how did you learn?
I learned it by speaking and reading children’s books, novels, newspapers and asking millions of questions. And insisting people spoke Dutch to me. The way people switch to English is an obstacle to many expats – and it is convenient sometimes as well. But you have to insist. At home we talk that horrible Dutch and English hybrid.

What’s your favourite Dutch food and why?
Draadjesvlees (very slow cooked beef) is delicious if well done. My husband does all the cooking and if you ask me for my favourite meal, how about some Texels lamb with roast potatoes in goose fat and lots of veggies. All Dutch grown of course.

How Dutch have you become and why?
I guess I have become quite Dutch. I know how things work and how people think. I was born in another country and that will always colour my perspective but the Dutch rituals are all par for the course for me now.

Which three Dutch people (dead or alive) would you most like to meet?
The architect Hendrik Berlage is a very august figure in the world of art and architecture. He was the embodiment of the transition from the Dutch romantic style to modern times.

Willem Drees (Labour party politician and prime minister) came up with the notion of social security – that Dutch feeling of being all in it together and responsible for each other. He laid out the Dutch system of solidarity, so that everyone could have a basic level of financial security.

Cornelis Lely was a master of water issues and extremely influential. Lely designed the Afsluitdijk between Noord-Holland and Friesland. Actually, it’s a dam not a dyke.

What’s your top tourist tip?
The Ceuvel. It’s a disused shipyard in Amsterdam Noord where all sorts of things are  happening. They’ve taken old houseboats and beached them and turned them into work spaces, they’ve built raised walkways, the cafe has been constructed out of discarded stuff. It shows great initiative, is a really exciting place and it is within cycling distance of the centre.

Tell us something surprising you’ve found out about the Netherlands.
What surprises and disappoints me now is when I look at the polls and see how popular Geert Wilders is. It is such a contradiction. The Netherlands is the country of tolerance and acceptance of others but the meaner side of human nature is getting a grip. It is really sad. The people are withdrawing into their shell and that makes me wonder how real that tolerance actually was.

If you had just 24 hours left in the Netherlands, what would you do?
I don’t like to think about that happening.

Tracy Metz is director of the John Adams Institute and initiated and hosts the monthly talk show Stadsleven at the Balie in Amsterdam. She is currently leading the HEYU! Urbans talk show series with leading urban thinkers.