Smoke and Mirrors – when expat children visit their home country


My children are brought up in the Middle East but are originally Dutch. Well, according to their passports. At the most unexpected moments, they don’t seem Dutch at all. Their home country is only smoke and mirrors to them.

Viewing boxes

When I walked through a traditional Dutch picturesque village with my kids, they thought they had ended up in the Open Air Museum of Arnhem. My youngest was clattering the mailboxes in the door. The steel elements rang as church bells through the street and I summoned him to stop. ‘Why I am not allowed to?’ he asked amazed. ‘These are viewing boxes!’ I couldn’t blame his innocence, he didn’t know better. In the Middle East, the post isn’t pushed through a door. If it was, it would only end up under the sprinklers in the garden.

smoke and mirrors

Without shame

Then his attention moved away to the large glass windows of the cute fishermen’s cottages. He ran enthusiastically from house to house to admire the displays on the windowsill his nose firmly pressed against the glass. The porcelain figurines, Delft Blue vases, and flowered plants formed a colourful background between simple cotton curtains and smoke permeated net curtains. It all seemed cute to him.

An old lady watching my son from one of the living rooms was trying to get his attention. She waved friendly from her armchair. But my otherwise so friendly child didn’t even blink. Surprised about his non-responsiveness I asked him why. ‘Well, it doesn’t make sense’, he answered wondering why I didn’t understand him, ‘She is only waving at herself.’ It took me some time to understand where he was coming from.

Plate glass

Unlike the ‘see through houses’ in The Netherlands, the villa’s in The Middle East leave no insight at all. They are hidden behind high stone walls and large steel gates. In addition, the windows are made of plate glass. This reflecting mirror prevents looking through them from the outside. But not from the inside to the outside. It is useful for secretly keeping an eye on the children when they are playing in the garden. But it is especially entertaining when the gardener pulls funny faces in the mirroring glass, while the kids imitate him unnoticed.

My son simply assumed that the kind woman of the fisherman’s house was facing the mirror side of the window. Since he could see her, she couldn’t see him. However, that image was quickly and roughly taken out of his head when he was dancing innocently in his bare buttocks on the bench in front of the window of our holiday cottage.  I am sure he will greet the kind lady next time!