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What is European, maman? What language is it?

11-03-2012 om 12:12 by Sueli Brodin

DSC_2232Maastricht and the Meuse-Rhine Euregion are one of the five Dutch candidates competing for the title of European Capital of Culture in 2018.

Last Wednesday, the first draft of the candidacy bid book and the main theme of the programme were introduced to the wide public during an evening of speeches and cultural performances at the Vrijthof Theatre in Maastricht.

“Revisiting Europe”, that’s what it’s going to be all about: To win the title, Maastricht & Euregio 2018, as the project is called, is going to bet on its unique geographical asset of being a transnational region bringing together three countries, three languages and countless dialects and many different cultures.

Presentation of the bid book for Maastricht & Euregio 2018

We were told that we, the 3.9 million European citizens living across three borders, will become a laboratory to showcase and celebrate the European identity in all its cultural diversity. Because it is precisely this variety of cultures, languages, traditions and landscapes that links us and makes our strength.

I heard a sentence in Dutch that evening that I particularly liked, because of the way it played on the verb leven, or live: “We leven in Europa, maar we gaan Europa beleven.” Literally: “We live in Europe, but we are going to live Europe,” meaning feel and experience it, integrate it in our daily lives and recognise it as a full facet of our identity.

Ramsey Nasr, the Poet Laureate of the Netherlands, highlighted the rich cultural DNA within each European in his powerful poem Huis van Europa

One of the highlights of the event, for me, was when the international students of United World College Maastricht came on stage and shared their dreams for the future with the audience, each in their native language. It was moving to hear all these teenagers from Europe and beyond speak of their hopes for a safe, peaceful and more equal world.

I thought of my own three children, who were born at home in our village near Maastricht, from a Dutch father from Dordrecht and a French/Brazilian/Dutch mother with Japanese origins and wondered how they saw themselves and their lives in this small corner of the world.

The international students of United World College Maastricht shared their dreams for the future

On January 1st 2018, Tim will be 18, Naomi 16 and Sacha 13. I was curious to know how they “lived” their European identity and what they thought of the prospect of Maastricht and its partner cities in the Euregion becoming European Capital of Culture.

Our conversation went like this: (and it somehow reminded me of the children tale of Goldilocks and the three bears.)

What do you feel the most, Dutch, French, Brazilian, Japanese or European?

Tim: I feel Dutch, French, European and a little Japanese and Brazilian.
Naomi: I feel Dutch, French, Japanese, European and a little Brazilian.
Sacha: I feel Dutch, French, Japanese and Brazilian. What is European? What language is it?

Sipping Turkish tea at Mosae Turquoise in Maastricht

What does being European mean to you?

Tim: Being European means that I can freely cross borders in the European Union and that I can pay in euros.
Naomi: It means that I live in Europe.
Sacha: What is Europe? Where is Europe?

What is culture for you?

Tim: Culture is food, customs, clothes, religion.
Naomi: You forgot languages, Tim.
Sacha: I like speaking Dutch and French.

Tim at Maastricht Aachen Airport

Is Maastricht a European city?

Tim: Yes, Maastricht is a European city because the Treaty of Maastricht was signed here and the euro was born here. It is easy to travel to other European countries from Maastricht and I like the river, the hills, the old city and the nature around here.
Naomi: I like shopping in Maastricht.
Sacha: Oh, I love going to the Turkish shop and eating Turkish food!

What does the word "Euregion" mean to you?

Tim: Liège, Aachen, Maastricht, Heerlen, Maastricht-Aachen airport, many countries and languages. The train station in Liège is very cool.
Naomi: I would like to learn all the languages of the Euregion. I like going to Aachen and Liège because you can buy different and bigger things there. In Germany the ice creams and the cakes are bigger than in the Netherlands.
Sacha: I don’t know the word Euregion, why do you ask such difficult questions?

What would you like to be when you grow up?

Tim: Maybe a book illustrator.
Naomi: I would like to be a vet and take care of animals.
Sacha: I would like to stay with you, maman.


Also see:
Europe, this is your wake up call (video clip)
What is the Meuse-Rhine Euregion? (video clip)
Pledge your support for Maastricht & Euregio 2018's candidacy


Sueli Brodin said
21-03-2012 at 15:09

Thank you An!

An Geenen said
16-03-2012 at 14:48

@ Sueli: Very nice blog! very recognizable.
@ Armand: I totally agree!

Sueli Brodin said
12-03-2012 at 14:21

@Alain Brodin: merci papa!

@Arman Maas: I completely agree with you. I feel totally at home in Liège and anywhere else in Wallonia because I speak French and can communicate with everyone. I would love to be able to speak German and have the same experience in Germany too.

Armand Maas said
12-03-2012 at 09:12

Nice blog. We should have free language courses all over Europe for, at least, French, German and English (perhaps also Spanish). A true European should speak all of them. I don't. When I go to Aachen or Liège I feel like a foreigner and not a European.

Alain Brodin said
11-03-2012 at 19:42

Très bon blog! Very good blog! Blog espetacular! Subarashii Burogu!
Otchin xoroshii blog!

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Sueli Brodin has been living in the Maastricht Region since 1994. She is the website editor for the European Journalism Centre (EJC) in Maastricht and produces the EJC's daily Media News digest. She is also a team member of PechaKucha Night Maastricht, an informal English-language initiative where creative people get together and present their ideas in a concise format. 

View Sueli's video portrait on
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