The Normal King - Singing for the coronation in an International School in the Netherlands

By: Ellen Duckenfield

I am at work. I work in an international primary school in the Netherlands. It’s the end of a busy day. I’m with group 6, the 9/10 year olds. We’ve already been adding decimals, listing homophones and interviewing the tourist board for our travel and tourism project, but now we are learning the song for the new Dutch King. The Queen has announced her retirement and her son, Prince Willem-Alexander is about to be crowned. An international school is like a culture unto itself. We have children from all over the world, packed into a concrete block and fenced off from the host nation. While every one of the students has their home culture, some of them have never even visited the ‘motherland’ and they have created their own version of home, together as a group. They speak English with each other. For some it’s the first language, for others, the second or third. They form a homogenous collection of children who are all so different that they don’t see the differences. In fact being different is the common ground. The English they speak has so many variants that they tolerate accents and mispronunciations like no one else could.

National identity is so often displayed though food. When you have a lunchbox containing a peanut butter sandwich and a bag of chips, but your neighbour has chapattis and spiced potatoes, your background and culture is on show. I know which one I would prefer to eat for lunch, but the kids don’t judge. This is a real tangible way to express their identity and to hang on to their origins. Multiculturalism is normal for the international kids, not a buzz word thrown about by moderate politicians.

The crowning of a new king is a historic event, there have previously been four queens in a row. There hasn’t been a king on the throne since 1890 but to be honest I’m finding it hard to really get excited about the very nondescript Willem-Alexander. I have never been a royalist by any stretch of the imagination. Basically I find it a very outmoded and dare I say fairly irrelevant institution, symbolic but not significant. In my adopted home I am even less interested.

It looks like I’m not the only one. The kids in front of me have a glazed look, reading the words on the paper in front of them. Is this an exercise in integration, I wonder? Is it working? A handful speak Dutch fluently but not all so we give them a quick translation of the words. The basic gist of the song is in the chorus that repeats:

We wish you luck, Prince Willem Alexander.
You’re a King now, but luckily you’re also a normal man.

So there we have it, the crucial word “normal” (gewoon). The no nonsense, don’t show off personality trait that seems to feature highly on the Dutch agenda. Aspire to be normal.

There is a common Dutch saying that goes:

Doe maar gewoon en doe je al gek genoeg
This translates as, “behave normal, that’s crazy enough”

The American teacher in the class barely speaks a word of Dutch so retreats to the edge of the class, so it’s down to me and my Dutch colleague. OK, I think, I’m going to sing this. I pipe up as loud and as tunefully as I can. The song is pretty basic so I’m doing OK, but it’s supposed to be sung by 10-year-olds so it’s a touch too soprano and I don’t want to embarrass myself. My Dutch colleague holds us together.

You’re a King now, but luckily you’re also a normal man.

And again,

You’re a King now, but luckily you’re also a normal man.

The kids are getting into the swing of it now. They’re all making an attempt with the unfamiliar vowel combinations. It’s a great effort and I’m proud of them for trying. Tomorrow they’ll be required to wear the obligatory lurid Dutch orange. How this colour marries with the crucial importance of being normal I’ll never know, but this group of international kids will be doing their best to fit in.

I hope the King appreciates it.

About the author

Expat Blog ListingEllen Duckenfield is a British expat living in Netherlands. Blog description: The daily life writings of an English mum going against the wind in the Netherlands (by Run of the windmill)
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Contest Comments » There are 3 comments

Maggie Melrose wrote 11 years ago:

Conjures up a vivid picture of the scene in an international school and invites us to think about what the pupils make of significant national events in the host country. Well-written and thought-provoking.

Zoe Kinross wrote 11 years ago:

Great blog! I really enjoy your writing, it is informative and funny and luckily not too gewoon!

Dug Orton wrote 11 years ago:

I like it. Lively picture of Dutch life from an international perspective.

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