“You are NOT Robin Pascoe,” are words Robin has heard on more than one occasion. “Oh, but I am,” she answers matter-of-factly, “I’m just not the Robin Pascoe you have heard of.”
Many expats have heard of Robin Pascoe, Expat Expert, author of several books covering topics such as creating a life, raising children, repatriating, and moving your career as an expat spouse. In coming across the name Robin Pascoe, as founder of Dutchnews.nl, they have assumed she is the same person.
But she isn’t.
Our Robin Pascoe grew up in England, Singapore and Scotland and, after having studied Politics and Sociology at Bristol University, but being only 21 not sure what she wanted to do, came to the Netherlands as an au pair. “ I wasn’t ready to continue my studies yet, so I decided to take some time out.” After having been here for a while, just before returning to England, she was offered to come and manage a famous T-shirt store on the Damstraat in Amsterdam. At a loss as to what to do, she called her father – “He’s very sensible” – in Scotland, who immediately recommended that she stay in Amsterdam and run the store for a while. Advice that was gladly taken.
In 1984, Robin decided to return to the UK and focus on journalism. After learning shorthand and typing, applied for, and got, a job with the BBC as a trainee – in the meantime deciding to marry a Dutchman. “Luuc had worked across the street from me in Amsterdam while I was working in the T-shirt store,” she explains, trying to look matter-of-fact, but unable to suppress a glimmer of romantic glee, “and we had been very good friends for years. One day, we were having dinner together and we decided to get married. As simple as that,” she waves a hand in the air, as if it was holding a magic wand and then, subconsciously, takes one hand in the other, “and we hadn’t even held hands…” For a moment, her gaze drifts off. Was it the right decision, I ask? “Absolutely,” she answers, coming back to the present, “he is a kind, funny, beautiful, generous…” seemingly wondering whether to go on, she summarizes: “wonderful man.”
Robin and Luuc had the choice to live in London or live in Amsterdam – “There really wasn’t any contest,” Robin laughs – and once she was offered a job with the magazine Music&Media, she came right over. After having worked full-time for Het Financieele Dagblad, she founded Dutchnews.nl in 2006. “I wanted to create a daily Dutch news service that told everybody who doesn’t read Dutch what the big issues of the day are,” she says. “We offer a big, broad spectrum of the news – not only expat-related issues – covering business news, sports, the jolly stuff, and political news. And we offer this ‘in context’, meaning that we keep in mind that our readers are not Dutch and don’t know many of things. For instance, it’s very easy to presume that people know what, for instance, an ‘ATV-day’ is – but most people don’t. Furthermore, we do a ‘newspaper roundup’; what the newspapers say about particular issues. For instance, we’re looking at the English riots at the moment – which is not something that we’ d normally do, because it’s a foreign story – but it is interesting just to see what the Dutch newspapers are saying in their commentaries and their editorials about it; could it happen here? I detect a little bit of smugness seeping in, perhaps, but generally they say it would be silly to think it couldn’t, but that is isn’t very likely.”
“People often ask me where I’m from and I always answer Amsterdam. Then they look at me closely and say ‘No, where are you really from?’” Robin raises her eyebrows, looking slightly vexed; “Well, I’ve lived here for 25 years – longer than anywhere else – so I can honestly say I’m from here. But, no, indeed I do not have Dutch nationality and my big bugbear is that I’m not allowed to vote in any of the national elections. In England, if you’ve been out of the country for a number of years you are rightly not allowed to vote. But of course I have no vote here, either, because I’m not Dutch – at least not in the nationals, which determine how my taxes are spent. And that is something that I believe should be looked at – at least in a European perspective, to encourage European mobility.” Is Robin suggesting that they could introduce a law saying that anyone who has lived here legally for a certain number of years should be able to vote in national elections? “I think that should be looked at, yes. You can put a qualification on it, in terms of years of residence or maybe in terms of income, if you like. I read that there are something like 400,000 other European nationalities living in the Netherlands. A lot of them are here for a long time and unless they become Dutch, they don’t have a vote. Allowing them to vote would be an excellent way to encourage their involvement and to help them relate to the Dutch people.”
Is there a reason why Robin hasn’t become Dutch? “Yes, I don’t see why I should. The whole thing of nationality should become less important. I love living here and it’s my home and I agree with masses and masses of what’s happening here. I relate to the Dutch people, I feel involved in the politics, but I’m not Dutch and you don’t become Dutch just by getting a Dutch passport.” Yet, despite having lived in Amsterdam for 25 years and her involvement in Dutch society, there are still things that amaze Robin: “I truly don’t understand that there is a political party in Parliament that feels women should not have the right to vote and that Dutch people seem to think that’s okay, that it’s simply part of the system. I think it’s absurd that some of my tax money goes towards funding a party that doesn’t think I should have a vote at all, that shops should be closed on Sunday, that is opposed to vaccination of your children, and that thinks that girls should not be allowed to wear trousers. I find it impossible to understand that people here accept that. We talk about it on our site and we are often asked why, but I think it’s important to state because people don’t realize it. You know, a bit of myth-busting, if you like. Holland portrays itself as this great, freethinking place. I think if you live here, you know it’s not quite like that.”
Robin and her husband, Luuc, love to go out and discover the country. “There are so many undiscovered things here that the Dutch don’t promote that are just fantastic. Have you ever been to see the mummies in Wieuwerd, in Friesland? It has a little church on a terp [a hill that houses were built on, to protect them against water surges], and in the vault downstairs there are all these desiccated bodies of some weird religious sect from 400 years ago. There’s something about the way the wind moves through and the dryness in the church that has created these fantastic mummies – and it’s in the middle of nowhere. People just don’t know about it. And then there is the wonderful planetarium in Franeker that this mad chap built in his sitting room, driving his wife completely insane. The sitting room is a tiny little room and the whole ceiling just has these planets moving around – the attic having been taken over by this massive mechanism. Absolutely unbelievable. And it’s praise is unsung. Or you can go down south, to Veere in Zeeland, which has a long history with the Scots – including exclusive rights to importing Scottish wool. It’s just beautiful, with the biggest church in this tiny little village. The houses have blue shutters – instead of red and green ones – because of the Scottish flag, and in the graveyard you see Scottish names on the gravestones. Tourists don’t go there and foreigners who live here don’t go there either – and it’s just the best place. I love it because it’s so unexpected. And the history of these places; I love the history. Last year, I went to a six-week Dutch history course that was offered at my son’s high school. It was fascinating to learn, for instance, what the ancient Romans had to say about the Dutch and the fact that they built the country below sea level – people found that odd already 2,000 years ago, and my mum says it still!”
“I am very happy,” Robin concludes, “and a very lucky person to be living in this country. And I am an optimist; it’s all going to be fine here. Mr. Wilders [Geert Wilders, of the rightist Party for Freedom] will disappear at some point and it’s worth remembering that 85% of the Dutch did not vote for him. And Holland is still Holland; a clean, civilized country that does not leave you destitute.” Coming back to the topic of nationality and integration, Robin observes: “People talk about Dutch values, but what do they mean with the word ‘integrated’? I’ve never understood. Does it mean I’m supposed to eat boerenkool? What do they mean with ‘integration’? Everybody wants their kids to do well. Everybody wants to be comfortable and happy and their family to be healthy. We all have these common values, bottom line. So, which values should be imposed on others as part of integration? If we have a political party with two people in parliament who think that homosexuality is a sickness and that women shouldn’t have the right to vote – are those the values we are talking about? And what values are those exactly? The universal Dutch values are the same as in every other country in the world. To live happily, and in harmony and healthily. To be comfortable. And I think we manage that here very well.” She pauses, as a thought occurs to her: “In fact, Unicef’s 2006 report confirms it: Dutch children are the happiest in the world…”
To find out what’s going on in the Netherlands, visit www.dutchnews.nl.