Place yourself at the time when to connect to the internet from home, the phone line was engaged for as long as the connection lasted. Remember the dialing sound of the modem as if it were a broken phone? Are you in that soundcloud? Hang in there, as right here is where this story started, far back in 2001, when a teenage Finnish lady was studying in Italy and a Dutch scientist in his late twenties was exploring his career opportunities in Amsterdam.
Five years after they have exchanged their first “hello”, they met “for real”. No word exchanged at the arrivals gate of the Helsinki international airport, a straightforward kiss was the beginning of what turned out to be a family of five.
First things first, how did you meet? One asks the other. Finally Emile answers
“We first met on the internet, on mIRC, a long time ago. 2001, I think?” “Yes, November” specifies Tarja, “we still had to use modem to connect!”. And “we met for real, in 2006”, sentences him, “in October 2006” completes her and carries on, clarifying that “during the first time there was nothing romantic going on as we both had relationships with other people at the time”.
I interrupt her, as her husband is clearly playing the doubtful face. I do not know whether to take him for real or he is pulling her leg once more, it seems to me as a recurrent way of showing his love for his Finnish lady.
“After a fight with my flatmate in 2006 we realized it was the first time we were both single at the same time since we’ve known each other, so I asked him if I could go visit in Amsterdam and he said yes, but Emile wanted to go Finland first, and so he first came to see me.”
Jonatan, Felix and Viola, note that you are the result of a flatmates quarrel. How beautiful!
The Dutch scientists keeps on pulling faces, which forces me to ask: “Now, what is your story, Emile?” “Yeah, I think it was more or less like that”.
To which Tarja kiddingly answers: “it’s a new story for him as well, he has forgotten everything!”
“I did not know all the details about the fight with your roommate. I went first to Finland, that’s the only thing I remember.”
Whichever way it was, complicity between them is tangible.
“He came to Finland on the 17th or 18th of October”, “yeah, I went in October, you came in November”. “He was for a week in Finland and in November I spent two weeks in Amsterdam with him and this is the time he said to me: STAY. I went back to Finland in November just to get rid of my apartment, school, sell my stuff and the 10th of January I moved to Amsterdam”. It is impressive how well she remembers every single date.
After three kids being born in town, a wedding at the City Hall, exactly four years after first kissing at the arrivals gate of Helsinki, there is no doubt that Delft is their city, at least, for the time being. They are proud of the set where they play their daily life. “I keep on falling in love with the city, it does not cease to impress me how beautiful it is” says Tarja, whom, after 9 years is still amazed about the beauty our former fellow citizens created centuries back, whilst Emile jokingly expresses his disagreement with the modern architecture.
Who knows if within 400 years a new couple will settle in Delft and will praise the station building and the new Zuidpoort?
I am curious by nature and can not imagine how was the transition of the online communication to the offline. “He was a bit different. His sense of humour is very weird and at the beginning I did not know what to believe.”
Emile: “Hey, everything I said was true!”
Tarja:“Yeah, you have two very famous sentences: “All I say is true” and “do not believe anything I say”.
Emile: “That’s what being a scientist is, because at the end, everybody is going to proof that I’m wrong.”
Tarja: “I still have trouble”
Naming one kid is not easy, imagine three!
“I gave many options but Emile did not like them and he was giving me old fashioned names I was not happy with, so we ended up with Viola, Felix and Jonatan which are pronounced very similarly in each country and are not too common.” To what Emile adds: “I wanted to name them Pim, Pam and Pom, but she ruled them out”.
I have always wondered if my kid will say he is Dutch, Catalan, or what? The Van Veldhoven’s have it clear, “they say both. Viola is very diplomatic. She always says Finnish and Dutch, but Finnish first. A few years back she wanted to swim for the Olympic Dutch team, although she is very appreciative of her exotic part.”
In a household with more than one language, it is common that the kids speak to each parent in their mother tongue, and they are no exception.
“I speak to the kids in Dutch, they answer in Dutch. Only Jonatan mixes up Finnish too. They play in the local language. So here in Dutch, and there in Finnish and they sleep on the plane.” Tarja agrees and adds: “Viola after school sometimes speaks to me in Dutch and I repeat in Finnish.”
Raising bilingual children sure has challenges. Emile can not keep up with the fact that his children are ahead of him with their Finnish skills, even the youngest. Tarja is proud of her private speaking coach, Viola, who helps her pronounce some tricky Dutch words.
The sense of humour in the family is evident. They miss no opportunity to tease each other . When I ask them to name a favourite thing to do as a family, Tarja asks Emile if he wants to answer “for one time”, “no! I am the silent partner”. She gives up, and takes the lead: “we love to have day trips on the bike and fall in love with the country over and over again. What about you, Emile?” “The same.”
I can not help to say, “It seems to me that you always agree on everything, right?” “NO!” They giggle at the unison. Predictably, they agree.
A quick Q&A
How did you find out about DelftMaMa?
Emile: I think you saw the leaflet on the library
Tarja: A Finnish friend of mine, whom I met at the playground by accident, years ago told me about the group and invited me to go along. That was when Viola was only 2 years old. For a long time I lost the connection and for some reason, when I was expecting Felix in 2011 I started going again. That second time I got to know enough people to really keep in touch and go more and more, but it was only two years ago, when we moved to the Wippolder, when we started to go on a regular basis.
Before joining Delft MaMa how were you socializing?
Tarja: I knew some Finnish expats in the city, so I would mostly socialize with them, but I was very lonely at the the beginning.
Emile: I am a scientist, I do not have a social life.
5 favourite things about Delft?
Tarja: There is a lot going on, the people are very nice, the international community.
Emile: The cinema, the library, the lichtjesavond.
Tarja: But it’s so commercial at the moment. A few years back it was beautiful.
What are the most valuable things your kids have taught you?
Tarja: You always think you are raising children but as you look back you realize how much your kids have risen you as a human being. I used to be very impatient, but nowadays you can push me quite far before I lose it. He still knows how to do it, says pointing at Emile. So, they taught me quite a lot.
Tarja: To be patient. Furthermore, I still try to remind myself every day just to be more in the moment. Concentrate on your children.
Emile: The most important thing our kids taught me is that the nicest thing is to be together and really wanting to be together. And to be creative. You can make stories out of anything, play with everything.
Tarja: Yeah, but you used to be like that already before the kids. So it’s not that the kids taught you, but they allow you to.
Imagine you are moving abroad, which Dutch tradition would you bring along?
Tarja: I would just leave this tradition happily here. Say “hello” to the people on the street. Be more friendly to one another on a regular basis. Dutch people are quite good at small talk, from my perspective. What about you? What would you bring with you?
Emile: I would just bring tulips.
Tarja: What about ‘frikandel’?
Emile: No, not frikandel, but stroopwafels. Even though I do not eat much ‘stroopwaffels’ here in Holland, but yes, I would, and I should make my own ‘croquette’.
Tarja: I would bring the Dutch spring wherever I went.
Emile: You can not bring it!
Tarja: I know, but it’s just ideal.
What shall the Dutch import from Finland?
Tarja: The longer I live here, the less I miss from homeland. But, I’d say schooling system.
Emile: It is much better (in Finland)!
As a newcomer back in the day yourself, what would you recommend to the new newcomers?
Go out there. Many of us had been the new in town, so there is really no shame for not knowing anyone or looking for friends. Be brave.
Which worth sharing piece of advice you’ve got when you moved here?
Tarja: Not to stress about the language.
Emile: I think personally, especially in this time, they have put a lot of pressure on people to learn Dutch. Whilst people in Holland can speak rather decent English, German and some even French. I think Dutch people sometimes like to show off their foreign language skills, but they are now pushing people into learning Dutch.
Tarja: I quite understand that if you are coming to live here for good you should try to learn the language, but do not stress about it.
Emile: You can survive, as long as you speak English.
As a Dutchman, does it bother you to hear so much English instead of Dutch?
Emile: No, I am not bothered about it.
Do you see it as an asset to have such large international community?
Emile: This is the nature of the Netherlands.
You proudly show tourists around… Delft, Scheveningen and Amsterdam.
Tarja, you will never get used to… The neverending rain. It comes a moment that I get fed up of the rain and the grey that comes with it.
Along the evening I have been exposed to high doses of the so called ‘Dutch humour’, it’s time to have it in words. “Dutch humour is always trying to confront people a bit. And it needs to have something very dry in it. Sometimes overly simplistic. If you look at the Dutch comedians they are very simple people.” Says Emile kiddingly, how else? “Yes, they are just honest, and they talk, and they are comedians” concludes Tarja. Again, they are on the same page.
Quick facts and figures of the Van Veldhoven family
2001 – First virtual exchange online
October 2006 – First face to face meeting
January 2007 – Tarja moves from Finland to Amsterdam
November 2007 – Viola is born in Delft
October 2010 – Emile and Tarja get married at the Gemeente Delft
November 2011 – Felix is born in Delft
April 2013 – Jonathan is born in Delft
Home language: Finnish, Dutch and English
If not in The Netherlands, you would be living in … Iceland, Norway, Sweden, maybe Finland, Scotland, Ireland, Canada or New Zeland.
She speaks Dutch – He understands Finnish
Places they have lived before settling in the Wippolder: Amsterdam, Delfgauw, Delft Center and Den Hoorn
Photo credits of the couple to the Van Veldhoven family
Agnès Batllori Benet
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