Born in: Kingston S.E., a wee town in South Australia
Passport: Australian, but will be eligible to become a dual Australian-Dutch citizen this year
Countries lived in: Malaysia (Shah Alam): 1997; New Zealand (Christchurch): 2003; England (Plymouth): 2006-2007; Scotland (Edinburgh): 2007-2008; Netherlands (Almere): 2008-present
Cyberspace coordinates: Adventures in Integration (blog)
What made you leave your homeland in the first place?
I grew up in a small town in South Australia called Lucindale (just 300 people). I don’t feel like I was ever a good fit. I have always had a feeling of wanderlust and being able to go on an AFS exchange to Malaysia when I was 17 added more fuel to the fire, rather than sating my taste for experiencing new places. Once I returned home, I never really settled down again. I was constantly planning my next adventure.
Is anyone else in your immediate family a “displaced” person?
One of my Fabulous Aunts is also perfectly displaced. She lives on a yacht with her partner and two cats. They are currently floating around the Colombian coast, preparing for hurricane season before braving the Panama Canal to head back into the Pacific and beyond.
Describe the moment when you felt most displaced over the course of your many displacements.
Perhaps it was sitting in a restaurant in Malaysia with my wonderful Chinese host family. They had taken me out especially to eat shark’s fin soup. Or it could be the time I was the only Australian sitting in a bar in Christchurch watching the Wallabies beat the All Blacks in the semi finals of the 2003 Rugby World Cup. But seriously, it was probably when I found myself in the immigration offices in Amsterdam realizing I was making a potentially permanent commitment by moving to my husband’s homeland — it was time to grow up!
Describe the moment when you felt least displaced.
On my birthday in 2007. I was living in Edinburgh at the time. My Dutch boyfriend, who is now my husband — we met in Australia when he joined one of my tours to Uluru — was visiting from the Netherlands. A group of my friends took us out to celebrate. In that moment I was happy, I was at home. I find I don’t have the sense of “home” when I return to my hometown in Australia any more. I feel at home with people, not places. Having a cup of tea with my best friend, for example. We’ve done that in at least four countries together and it’s always the same.
You may bring one curiosity you’ve collected from each of the countries where you’ve lived into the Displaced Nation. What’s in your suitcase?
From Malaysia: A batik sarong. I’ve been wearing the same one weekly since 1997, and I love it just as much as the day I paid 5RM for it.
From NZ: The jade pendant I got from Hokitika. It feels cool or warm on my skin and is smooth and comforting.
From England: A cream tea with scones and Cornish clotted cream. A cream tea will always make me think of my elderly great aunts at home and of England.
From Scotland: A “hairy coo” fluffy toy. (Actually, I’d prefer to bring a real-life hairy coo, but I imagine you have strict quarantine rules…)
From Netherlands: Rookworst (a type of smoked sausage, similar to bratwurst).
You’re invited to prepare one meal based on your travels for other Displaced Nation members. What’s on your menu?
Being Australian, I will have to say a barbie. We’ll eat steak, snags [sausages], lamb chops and onions. We’ll tip our hats to Malaysia with some satay sticks. We’ll have bread and my grandma’s hot potato salad. There will be noodle salad that my mum made and sliced beetroot on the side, which I’ll drop on my shirt. Of course, because I live in the Netherlands, we’ll have garlic sauce along with our tomato sauce. And because of the UK influence it will probably be raining, but there will be beer. Lots of beer. And it won’t end for two days. I’ll be up early to cook bacon and eggs again the next morning for the people who just won’t leave. (Dad, I’m talking to you!) It will be fun — care to join me?
You may add one word or expression from each of the countries you’ve lived in to The Displaced Nation argot. What words do you loan us?
From Malaysia: Adding a “la” onto words and sentences: “Okay-la.”
From New Zealand: “Chur bro.” Depending on the context, it can mean “thanks,” “nice,” or “cheers, mate.”
From England: “I’m not trying to be funny, but [insert random passive aggressive insult here].”
From Scotland: Any swear word you can imagine.
From Netherlands: Gezellig, the most important word in the Dutch language. There is no real English translation, though “cosy” is sometimes used. It’s a word people use to describe a pleasant situation. Going out with friends is gezellig. Sitting around having a nice dinner with family is gezellig. Anything that gives you a nice warm fuzzy happy feeling inside can be described as gezellig. Wonderful word.
img: Nerissa Muijs at tulip fields outside Lisse, Netherlands.
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Nerissa, you had me at “clotted cream”, of course. And the observation of “I’m not trying to be funny, but…” Guilty of that one! Your BBQ menu, though, is the clincher. How wonderful it all sounds, even with the English rain. Welcome to The Displaced Nation!
Nerissa, I was impressed that during your requisite antipodean pilgrimage to the UK, you didn’t live in London — but in Plymouth — and didn’t work in a pub. What’s more, you gave Scotland a try. Until you reported it, I had no idea that the Scots were so friendly and their cows, so gentle and furry. Holy cow! Now you’ve gone and made me wish I could do my expat experience in the UK all over again…