When I ask most of my friends how far back they can date their ancestry, they usually can’t make it past great grandparents and if you were to ask me ten years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to either. My great grandmother would visit every year from The Netherlands and my grandmother’s brother often from Switzerland. I knew that my mother was from The Netherlands as well, but other than that, I didn’t know much more. That is, until I traveled to Western Europe. I discovered that I had a very large family and even a family castle, Werdmuller Von Elgg, that dates my ancestry back centuries!
As soon as I walked out of the airport in Switzerland and looked around a strange yet familiar feeling came over me. I had never been to Europe before and with amazement I looked at my mother and said, “Everyone here looks like they have and agenda, why did you ever leave?”. I felt instantly more comfortable there, than I ever had in the United States and now I understand why; even though I wasn’t raised there, every single generation before me was.
What I found most interesting is the common set of perceptions that I shared with my European family. For example, right off the bat I identified with the European inherit interest in the quality of life, at all levels of society. There is a predominant humanist belief that people are to be served by progress, and not the reverse (Moran, Moran, & Harris, 2011). Even from a young age I can recall my fiends calling me a “hippie” because I didn’t share the same views. For example, I would have much rather been helping my grandmother on a Friday night rather than going to a movie, I never watched television, and was always a bit reluctant toward progress of technology. I also identify with several of the characteristics outline by Moran, Moran, & Harris (2011) such as a belief that individuals should be at the center of a life, a sense of social responsibility, a mistrust of authority (this rang high truth in the military!), and a desire for security and continuity.
I do believe that people are creatures of habit, but I also think that our culture is engrained in us despite what our environment is trying to teach us to do and how to think. It is a bit eerie to learn that you may have the exact same habits, mannerisms, and hobbies of a cousin half way around the world in which you’ve never known nor met. Even more startling, you may find that your entire family prefers mayonnaise on french fries (which they actually serve in the Netherlands) and you aren’t a weirdo. My advice is that if you haven’t had the pleasure to travel half a world away to meet your ancestors, is that you do so. Who knows, you might even have a family castle too!
Moran, R. T., Harris, P. R., & Moran, S. V. (2011). Managing cultural differences: Global leadership strategies for cross-cultural business success (8th ed.). Oxford: Routledge.