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Here to Stay

Sunday at 1pm | TV ONE

The Dutch - Ruud Kleinpaste

Ruud Kleinpaste - The Dutch

My dad told me to get out and see the world.

"Leave the Netherlands," he said, "it's too small. Go to Canada, Australia, New Zealand. That's where you should be."

So, with natural history as a hobby and my degree in Forestry and Botany, the answer was easy; New Zealand.

I arrived here in 1978, 26 years old, with a one year old son and a New Zealand-born Dutch wife.

I was a government-assisted immigrant.

It cost $50 for my son and me to come here, and that included airfares and shipping costs!

Did I make the right decision? You bloody bet. Where else in the world is the bush literally on your doorstep?

My first memory of being in New Zealand was driving through the Athenree Forest in the Bay of Plenty. I just had to stop the car and get out, right in the middle of the gorge. I just needed to look at the trees. I had tears in my eyes - seriously. Maybe, being a foreigner, I appreciate it a bit more than the average Kiwi?

But that was thirty years ago. I've now lived in New Zealand longer than I lived in Holland. Yes, I'm still fairly aware that I have a Dutch accent (although Americans think I sound like a Kiwi) and yes I own a pair of clogs (they're so comfortable and the best shoes for gardening!), but I don't think I'm very Dutch.

So was the great thing about presenting Here to Stay was the chance to reconnect with my Dutchness again, and all the Dutch people living in New Zealand. I was really pleased that it was easy to slip back into using the idioms and enjoying the old customs - even if I'm still not that fond of Dutch food!

However, I do appreciate what it was like to have to fit into New Zealand life having come from somewhere else - I mean, I've lived it baby!

I probably had it better than a lot of immigrants because my start was cushioned by my first wife's family. But it wasn't always easy. I didn't care that I couldn't get a good cup of coffee or a glass of wine - although not having good cheese was a bit of a bugger - but getting someone to give me a full-time job was tough. I had a family to support but everyone with a permanent job wanted a home-grown person to fill it. Luckily for me, that was probably as close as I came to experiencing racism.

Dealing with this country's sport fixation was a bit of a challenge though. I played soccer back in the Netherlands, but rugby? Had no idea. Nor about cricket. It took me ten years to even understand the rules. But I'm pleased to say that I've come along nicely - the Here to Stay director asked me to kick a rugby ball between the posts, and I bloody well did it! On my second try! I swear, there's no TV trickery!

Most Dutch immigrants have assimilated well here, and I really enjoyed meeting the people we spoke to in the documentary. One of my highlights was meeting Ans Westra, whose photography I've admired for years. My whole family's really into photography and I remember sitting in my grandfather's darkroom when I was about eight, being so fascinated with what he was doing. So I knew of Ans' work, and then suddenly, there she was. That was amazing.

Kayaking in the Abel Tasman National Park also stands out. It was winter, and bloody cold, but it was still great. I was really delighted because, behind the crew's boat, I thought I saw what I thought was an orca come up out of the water and dive down again. It wasn't until much later I realised I must've seen a big bloody shark!

Some of the filming certainly was tougher - keeping pace with Olympian rower Eric Verdonk was hard enough without having to balance in that tiny boat. Getting body-painted into a Kea was another thing that I found more uncomfortable than I thought it would be.

Funny, I'll give most things a go (except bungy-jumping) but I felt a bit self-conscious about getting body-painted. You might find that strange when I'm confident enough to put 50,000 killer bees on my head? Hell, I can trust those bees!

After three decades in New Zealand, am I still Dutch?

Well, I'm pretty to the point, that's true. I'm hard working and when I'm passionate about something I can't be held back. And yes, I have a Dutch sense of humour; it took me five years to see the funny side of Fawlty Towers.

As for the joke in the documentary about the rabbit, the bakery and the carrot cake? Trust me, the joke is funny - when you hear it in Dutch!