2.64 Meters Below Sea Level

by Fleur van den Berg

My name is Fleur. I am someone who could appear in other people’s eyes to be rude and spoiled, and who lives 2.64m below sea level. Let me explain.

The first thing I learned before walking and talking – my vision wasn’t even fully developed – was how to swim. It is the first thing most children get taught in the Netherlands. Let me explain why: one-third of the Netherlands is below sea level, and at the lowest point it is 6.76m below sea level. I live in a polder which is at the bottom of a lake. It is 2.64m below sea level. For many Dutch families water has been their worst enemy for generations, that is also the reason why being able to swim is so important in our culture. Nowadays, there are many techniques to reduce the danger of water like the Delta works, and dikes. Nonetheless, if you cannot swim you’re still screwed, since dykes could break due to extreme weather, or if the sea level keeps rising because of global warming.

Another thing you should know about my culture is how direct I am. The first time I realised that Dutch people, especially me, are so direct was when I lived in France. Many times I was rude to others without even being aware of it. For instance, when I talked back to my French teacher, after I heard something I did not agree with, my other international classmates looked at me like I had a death wish, or something. I often clashed with my host family in France because I was too direct with my opinions. It is something I am conscious of when I am in an international environment. However, I am still Dutch and it is part of my culture. So when I, or any Dutch person is direct, do not be offended. We just like to be clear, and that can sound a bit harsh.

Lastly, I’d like to address the Dutch weather. Here it is always too cold, or too hot, too much rain, or too dry. For many Dutch people, including me, there is not an in between. We are never really satisfied, honestly, we are just really stubborn. We have the same relationship with water, it is either too much water, or too less. We either love the water, or it is our greatest enemy, there was never really a middle ground in history, and even now. Water has brought us freedom, during the 80 years of war against Spain which started in 1568. We set lands under water, and thereby drove the Spanish away. On the opposite side, water is our greatest enemy. Water has been destroying our homes for centuries, take the water catastrophe in 1953 where 1.836 people drowned, and about 180.000 animals died. Nonetheless, this is also where our un satisfaction helps us, in my opinion it brings us determination to fight against the problems we are facing. We took land back from the sea. We did this by building windmills and water pumping stations, we made from actual sea, land which we call now Flevoland. After that, we build the delta works, to prevent the situation in 1953 from ever happening again. Since then, the rising of the sea level has been our enemy, so please if you read this, my parents really like this house and water brings a lot of damage that the insurance company won’t refund. Thus, yes, it is good to not be satisfied, it brings innovation and determination, it is something I really love about the culture I grew up in.

I am Fleur, I am someone who speaks her mind, someone who is determent and innovative, and for the time being still lives 2.64m below sea level.

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