What The Heck Am I Doing Here?

The Bachmann Players. Click to enlarge

Is it okay if I’m a bit personal today?

You’ve probably read my blog before, but if this is your first time, you should know that I’m an expat. I was born, raised, and educated in the Netherlands. After a career in broadcasting, I moved to the United States at the end of 1999. To be honest, I never imagined that I would end up here.

As an anglophile, I could see myself living in the UK, and working for the BBC, which I did for a while. But had you suggested that I would move to the States at the age of 36 and start a new life, I would not have believed you. Now, in 2017, there are still times I can’t believe I live in this town in Pennsylvania called Easton. I have an American wife and an American daughter. I even became an American citizen.

THE HOME OF HISTORY

Easton, by the way, has an interesting history. It was one of the first three cities where the Declaration of Independence was read out loud for the very first time. Every year on Heritage Day, thousands of people flock to Centre Square to witness a reenactment of that declaration. I became part of an acting troupe called The Bachmann Players, dedicated to bringing colonial history back to life, mainly through theatrical productions in the historic Bachmann Publick House.

Easton also has the longest-running, continuously operating outdoor farmers’ market in the nation, now in its 265th season. As one of the announcers, my voice reaches most of downtown every other Saturday, as I continue a tradition that started in 1752. Organic produce, anyone?

Most days, I am very comfortable with my decision to leave Holland behind. I love my community, and they often give me the feeling that it’s mutual. On other days, I’m not so sure I made the right choice because I don’t know if I truly understand my fellow citizens.

WHERE AM I

I’m still trying to figure out the American psyche, if there is one. I live in a divided nation that calls itself a melting pot, but I don’t see a lot of melting going on. Being used to the Dutch multi-party parliamentary system where compromise and cooperation is the name of the game, I’m now absorbed by a world of Republicans and Democrats, where conflict and confrontation are the operative words.

Even though America likes to be known as “The Land of the Free,” and “The Defender of Democracy,” people in my neck of the woods don’t seem to give a damn. On one hand they enjoy parades with veterans, boy scouts, and Sousa marches, and they fly the flag every day of the week. In schools and council meetings, Americans faithfully recite the Pledge of Allegiance. But when it’s time to vote, most of them stay home. Some seem more motivated to get their morning cup of coffee, than make the short trip to the polling station. They’ll never miss a football game, but they think it’s okay to skip election day.

To give you an idea, turnout in my Borough in the 11/7 election was 16.88%. Out of 4,704 eligible voters, only 791 people voted. On social media some people called that “a great result.” I have to admit, it was an improvement over the May primaries where only 10.33% voted. Countywide, fewer than one out of four registered voters turned up. I’d say that’s pretty pathetic.

INSULAR MINDSET

People don’t seem to care about the things they take for granted. I’d love to take them on a no-expenses-paid trip to a number of totalitarian countries, to give them a sense of what life is like in a dictatorship. But according to the State Department, only 36% of Americans own a passport, and that makes things difficult.

This also means that 64% of Americans has never left the country. In 2012, the average American received about 12 days of vacation (but used only 10), so even if they’d feel inclined to travel, they wouldn’t get that far. In contrast, most Europeans receive between 25 and 30 days of vacation a year, and they use every single day. What does this mean? For one, I’m no longer surprised that most Americans aren’t able to find the Netherlands on the map, or any other exotic country for that matter. Just so you know, to certain Americans, Canada can seem pretty exotic.

WELL-ARMED

Another thing I fail to understand, is America’s love affair with guns. They call it the “gun culture,” as if the National Rifle Association is a cultural institution. To handle a weapon in Holland, you’re either part of law enforcement, or you’re in the military (and no one wants to be in the military anymore). In the United States, even the mentally ill can go to Walmart (thank you Donald), and get their hands on a firearm. They even come in pink for the girls.

Then we all act very surprised when a disturbed person shoots 20 children between 6 and 7 years old in Sandy Hook, another idiot kills twelve people in a movie theater in Aurora, yet another murders 58 in Vegas, and a Texas gunman kills 26 people attending a church service. No doubt they’re all part of the “well regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State,” mentioned in the Second Amendment. Please send your thoughts and prayers, people. That will do the trick.

DEVELOPED NATION

Of course I could ramble on about the American healthcare system. It’s the most expensive and least efficient in the world. The American diet and sedentary lifestyle has become one of the leading causes of death. I could talk about the failing education system with overcrowded, underfunded schools, and uninvolved parents, where teachers have to buy supplies for their students. I could mention America’s tendency to treat symptoms but never the cause, as demonstrated by the highest incarceration rate in the world. The U.S. represents about 4.4 percent of the world’s population, but it houses around 22 percent of the world’s prisoners.

I could go on and on and on, and you would be wondering when I’d make the transition to talking about my work as a voice-over. That’s not going to happen today. Today is personal.

“Well, if you don’t like it, why don’t you go home?” some friendly folks on Facebook suggested. “We don’t need you.”

WHY I STAY

Here’s the thing: my little town of Easton (the Borough of Wilson, to be more exact), is my home.

It’s also the home of Porter’s Pub, Black & Blue, and Two Rivers Brewing. You’ll run into Earl Accordionist on your way to Mercantile Home to see Ron and Ken. At The Quadrant they’ll make you an amazing Righteous omelet, and when you’re done, you go up one floor to buy a used book. You can see a Broadway show at the 90-year old State Theatre, and go to an open mic night at Connexions Gallery. It’s a town where Mayor Sal Panto and State Representative Bob Freeman know who you are, and where you can run into Larry Holmes, whose left jab is still the best in boxing history.

Easton is the two-river town where the Lehigh and Delaware rivers come together. It’s where thousands of bacon lovers meet, and where Crayola crayons were created. Easton is the place where New Yorkers go when they’re tired of living in New York, and where you can find one of the best chocolateurs on the planet, a jovial Belgian who goes by the name of JP. In a few weeks, we’ll light the 106 foot (32 m) Peace Candle, said to be the largest non-wax Christmas candle in the country.

So, whenever I get a bit cynical about this new nation of mine; this land of unlimited opportunities, crazy dreams, and stunning natural beauty, I think of where I landed.

I think of my beautiful wife and daughter.

I think of Easton.

I think of the fact that I can do what I love, and I love what I do.

And I’m elated to be alive.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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About the author

Paul Strikwerda

is a Dutch-English voice-over pro, coach, and writer. His blog is one of the most widely read and influential blogs in the industry. Paul is also the author of “Making Money In Your PJs, Freelancing for voice-overs and other solopreneurs.”

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Personal

19 Responses to What The Heck Am I Doing Here?

  1. Earl Ball

    Excellent! Totally agree!

    [Reply]

  2. There Are Those Who Call Me ... Tim

    Well said, Paul, thank you!

    The Netherlands may have lost your daily presence, but America (and Easton) have been fortunate indeed!

    As a former ex-pat myself, I’ve lived, studied and worked for years in non-AmericanEnglish speaking places such as Wales, London and Australia (and NYC LOL). So I very much understand these national and global cultural differences that can too often divide our OneHumanRace. This will sadly continue, until the day might someday dawn when we provincially-minded humans choose to focus on our global common-humanity, rather than continuing over the ages, since we crawled out of the muck, to bicker violently about our vast (and wonderful) differences.

    Like you, I was so happy that Easton found me, in 1976, via serendipity, when I returned (temporarily, so I thought, ha ha) to my homeland USA from Perth, Australia, in 1976, on my way to somewhere else in major jet lag. That surprise 20-minute layover in downtown Easton has suddenly become 41 years!

    You’ve precisely outlined the reasons that make our small city quite unique in today’s increasingly non-live-and-let-live world. For these reasons, Easton is our chosen hometown for my husband Earl Accordionist and me, since the day when we began our life together here 41 years ago.

    We also love that we’re merely 75 scenic minutes to Manhattan, where we also lived and worked for years. Manhattan has become our favorite and frequent daycation island, so conveniently located just off the west coast (of Europe).

    Tim
    cc: Earl David Ball

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Right back at you, Tim. Easton is lucky to have the both of you. I know you played with the idea of leaving our city for a while, and I’m so glad you stayed.

    If I were independently wealthy, I’d start a charity dedicated to giving deserving and interested people eye-opening experiences by sending them on a trip around the world. I’d have them stay with local families, and give them a true taste of what life is like. I’m convinced this would make people more compassionate, understanding, and more open to different perspectives. That is something we desperately need in this country.

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  3. Joe

    I lived for a few years in Beirut, Lebanon and got to experience the perspective so few Americans get of our country and it’s relation to the rest of the world. We do, indeed, have huge and numerous flaws and I spend a lot of time praying we survive our shortcomings. But I discovered in my years abroad what I have to keep reminding myself of now… Flaws included, it still beats the hell out of the alternatives! (Most of the time.) Thank you for readjusting my perspective.

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    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    That’s a valuable perspective, Joe. Sometimes we have to be deprived of something we took for granted in order to truly appreciate it. I’m hoping against hope that more Americans will get an experience that makes them appreciate the tremendous benefits of living in freedom. The desire to determine one’s destiny is at the foundation of this nation. The way to do that is called democracy, but for democracy to work, people need to vote and be engaged. It’s not a spectator sport.

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  4. Mel

    This is brilliant! Having lived in the US I hear where you are coming from – despite all of its flaws, and they are many, you are rooted to a wonderful community with great people. You can be entirely anti-American in terms of politics and choices, yet the American people are some of the nicest, most honest and kindest anywhere. And yet…those guns. That voter turnout! No matter how you look at it, it’s still shocking. Great piece!

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    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Thank you, Mel! Some of my American friends made me forget all the stereotypes people have about Americans. Some Americans confirmed all those stereotypes. I cannot change other people. I can only change the way I look at them. In that respect, the people I have disagreed with most, have been my greatest teachers. I can’t wait to find out what the next great lesson will be!

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  5. Memo Sauceda

    I’m originally from Mexico, and now a proud US citizen. I came to the US because I was tired of things not working in Mexico the way they worked in the US. And now the US is becoming like the Mexico I left behind. But I’m not leaving. I’m staying. And I’m also elated to be alive.

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    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Some preachers might say that there’s a reason why G-d left his or her work unfinished. It’s up to us to tend to this garden called Earth. Too often it seems that we’re not up to the task because human beings are the greatest threat to the well-being of this planet. But there are always glimmers of hope. Our job is to be one of those glimmers. To me, that’s one of the reasons we’re here in the first place. As they say in the Judaic tradition: To Life!

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  6. Natasha Marchewka

    So insightful and somehow comforting., Paul. Canadian in Califonia…enjoying the opportunities and yet, squirming in discomfort in this country’s culture at times, knowing fully that there are pros and cons to living anywhere…

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Ah… a kindred spirit! As long as the pros outweigh the cons, there’s no reason to leave. After Trump was elected, my friends in Europe asked me a million times if I’d consider going back. My answer has always been that I want to affect change from within. I don’t want to walk away when times get tough. There’s work to be done!

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  7. Sarah

    Lovely, heart-felt sentiments! Becoming/staying insular and not caring about our state, country, or fellow humans enough to vote are sadly part of what I call “fat” countries. But it is wonderful that communities like yours are still celebrating what built them and makes for good neighbors and caring. Blessings!

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    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Thank you, Sarah. I’m still trying to smoke out all the reasons why people feel it’s okay to stay home on election day. Experts say that one of the biggest reasons is that people feel comfortable. They don’t need change. They like things to stay the same. Other people feel defeated, and think their vote doesn’t make a difference anyway. We now have an entire generation that grew up with screens. If we could vote electronically, I’m convinced the younger generation would participate in great numbers. But technology can’t fix everything. Its starts with cultivating a sense of community. That’s why I love my local farmers’ market. It’s way more than a place where people buy produce. It’s where we create community.

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  8. Ted Mcaleer

    As an American expat, we share a very similar view on all of this. Although we differ on the fixes, we agree that stuff needs to be fixed. For the record, if I didn’t live here in this city I love, I’d live in Easton, Pa.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    I wish I had some fixes, Ted, but some of the problems this planet is facing are too complicated for this Dutchman to even comprehend. That’s when I turn to other countries like the Netherlands, to see what they came up with. Most countries in the world don’t have an epidemic of gun violence. They have healthcare for all at a very reasonable cost. Holland is closing prisons. Germany keeps on building wind turbines. We don’t need to reinvent the wheels. And by the way, Easton will welcome you with open arms. But first, kick some ass on the X-Factor!

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  9. Ed Helvey - The Professional Nomad

    Well spoken, Paul. I feel much like you (as a native born American) and raise similar points and questions. It seems people would rather argue about these issues – not discuss or debate them. And, as Helen pointed out, while we may be the “biggest and loudest preacher,” of do as I say not as I do on the world platform, we are certainly not alone. I grew up in northern NJ, but I’ve lived most of my life in small town and rural America, like you in the nice little area you reside. Thanks for being bold enough to point out the obvious that the majority sweeps under the carpet like a dirty little secret.

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    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    No country is perfect. Even my native Netherlands has plenty of flaws. I’m sure that the longer I’m away from Holland, the more I tend to romanticize it. Before I came to the U.S. I was an avid traveler, and I’m lucky to have seen much of this planet. It has helped me deepen my understanding of how interconnected all of us really are. Climate change does not stop at the border. Neither does terrorism. That means that we have to find solutions together. The current climate of isolationism worries me as much as the fact that so many people prefer to stick their heads in the sand, and fiddle with their screens.

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  10. Helen Lloyd

    Despite the common language – the differences are so stark, some positive differences, some less so. And on this side of the pond, there are so many problems across Europe – the UK is in a pretty parlous stage too in my opinion with a crumbling NHS thanks to chronic under funding and under-staffing (especially post Brexit where the European workforce has no guarantees of their rights of residency along with a duplicitous attempt to privatise it piecemeal; a weak and divisive Government – not to mention Brexit – and apathy and anger and fast food and violence (though thankfully, fewer guns) . Call me an old cynic, but I think we must have a self destruct button that gets pressed every few hundred years! Thank you for your insight and optimistic and positive views which make such a refreshing change from the doom and gloom.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Two nations divided by a common language… Instead of a self destruct button, I propose a self instruct button, forcing people to have an informed opinion before they open their mouths or share nonsense on social media. Could we also add a bright BS-signal that lights up every time someone tries to BS us? Both sides of the pond could use these gadgets!

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