VALERIE & DAVE - Amsterdam, The Netherlands
A French and South African family raising third culture kids in Amsterdam, cherry-picking the best of all worlds to recompose their own parenting point of view and family traditions.
Tell us about you and your family
D: Valerie is a French national and I come from South Africa. We call Amsterdam home, as the city where we have decided to settle, and where our two young children were born. I own a small tech company and Valerie is a data and insight specialist.
Can you share with me more about your upbringing and childhood, what are some of the steps that have lead you to where you are today ?
V I grew up in a standard suburb of Paris, in a house with a garden and pets. During school holidays, my parents would take us to travel all over France. It was a very normal childhood. I moved to Paris city centre after studying business and getting my first job. Prior to that, I had been with my high school boyfriend for seven years and felt very settled. Everything was planned, we had bought a small suburban flat, had decided when we would start a family . I eventually realised I was too young to live in such a box and I decided to make a life for myself. My years in Paris in my early twenties represented total freedom in contrast, which was both exhilarating and very lonely. I jumped at an opportunity of a six-month work placement in London… and never came back.
When I moved to London, I found a flat share in Kensington with three guys, and Dave moved in shortly after I did. He was the very first South African I had ever met in my life ! We eventually got together and took our first trip together to Peru and Bolivia. The following year, we decided to drop everything - jobs, flat and all - to backpack around Asia. I loved being on the go and never having the same day twice. We had planned to get back to London, but I got a job offer in Amsterdam on my return, so we moved there directly.
D: I grew up in Johannesburg in a very stable middle-class environment, with a lots of close friends within walking distance. It was extremely comfortable and yet, I wanted to have adventures, inspired by books I read and movies I watched. So I packed up and I went to university in Cape Town, then onto London, via a short detour to Colorado USA for a ski season. When I first arrived in London, I lived in a shabby hostel sort of place and eventually worked my way up through the London housing echelons, as I graduated from selling advertising for obscure publications to a proper job in digital marketing. This culminated in a flat share in Kensington, where I met Valerie. When we moved to Amsterdam for her job about five years ago, I started my own tech company.
Any pivotal moment when you realised you had to escape suburbia ? You seemed so happy and settled there in many ways.
D: It is something I haven’t really thought about. I guess I had a romanticised view of European and American city life, probably from watching TV. My parents did not travel much, but I had this hunger to see the world and live a full life. Food is a huge part of my life [Dave will not say it, but he is an outstanding chef!], and travelling is also a way to broaden my culinary horizons and deeply experience cultures through food.
It is rather common for young middle class South Africans to go and explore the world, though. At one point, I had more South African friends living with me in London than back home. We would randomly bump into each other in and around London Wimbledon station, which is crazy considering the sheer size of that city. However, I have decided to settle in this fabled European city life and not return to leave in South Africa- at least, not for now.
And you Valerie, are you also the odd one out in your family with regards to travelling ?
V: I grew very claustrophobic in Paris after a while and needed a change of scenery, which Its why I sought out a work opportunity abroad. I felt like I was locked inside and living in a series of enclosed spaces. From my shoebox of an apartment (16 square metres), to the subway carriage, to my office cubicle, to a nightclub. I never saw the sky, my horizon had entirely shrunk. Parisian social circles felt equally boxed-in. I needed a breath of fresh air, and that’s exactly what London felt like. The city was airy and spacious, as well as much more forgiving and cosmopolitan. After the greyness and judgement of Paris, the change was also metaphorical, allowing me to leave old baggage behind. That first move abroad triggered a chain reaction, and I have not stopped travelling ever since.
V: In hindsight, the seed was sown with my very first trip volunteering for a development mission to Burkina Faso in Africa, when I was still in high school. I wasn’t so sure about it, but my good friend really wanted to go. I will always remember my parents’ reaction, which really surprised me, since we had never travelled outside of France. They encouraged me to go and seize this opportunity to live ‘’outside my life’’. My dad is from Vietnam and my mum is French and were an unconventional couple in the 1960s, so of course they would encourage me - but that’s not what you see as a child, they are just your ‘boring, old’ parents. It seems an odd view to have formed, when my dad was the only Asian in the small town we lived in and my parents had not bothered to marry until a good few years living together. I guess they downplayed their singularity to help us fit in.
What type of parent are you in comparison ?
V: I guess we are so aware of having lived very different childhoods, that we know we have to reinvent our own model for our children. That’s a real freedom, as it forces us to negotiate our everyday life very consciously. We do have our differences though. French culture tends to be very analytical and self-reflective when it comes to behaviours. Dave in contrast will be looking at behaviour at face value. An upset child is more likely to be hungry than to express a deep childhood trauma, and that’s a refreshing view for me! The awareness of our differences is magnified by the fact we live in a third culture : in addition to navigating both our ‘indigenous’ cultures, we also aim to integrate our family into the local Dutch habits and customs. The very different style of Dutch parenting holds a mirror to our face and forces us to find a middle ground for all.
D: Valerie also believes dessert is an integral part of a meal, when I think it should only be a treat if a child finishes his main course ! Joking aside, as the kids get older, I foresee we will have to explain why and how we cherry pick elements from all three cultures -French, South African, Dutch - to make up your own.
Where to next ? Could you ever imaging leaving Amsterdam ?
D; We just bought our place here in Amsterdam. We now feel open to moving again, as we know we have somewhere to move back to, where our children can fit in. So moving to South African for a few years is definitely an option mid term. The Netherlands is our current home, but in many ways, we are still outsiders here, it feels more like a continuous short-term plan. I find it difficult to predict or project which country we will grow old into. With a magic wand, we would move to Norway, Tokyo, New York, Australia … but in truth, we are not looking actively for an opportunity to move.
V: I can’t imagine us packing up the family and moving away, but rather we will travel more and more as the kids got older, and hopefully for extended periods of time.