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family expressions

In our family, swearing was the norm, a stark contrast to my two very different ancestral lines. My mother’s side was liberal, while my father’s came from a strict Reformed background. Once, my paternal grandparents visited, and we showed them our drawings. My grandfather exclaimed, “Asjemenou!”—a Dutch expression of surprise akin to “Well, I never!” We all laughed, especially since we’d been warned to mind our language. Words like “jeetje” (a mild “oh my!”) were forbidden, and any casual use of “God” was off-limits.

“Asjemenou” seemed harmless, yet it packed a punch for my conservative grandparents. It made me wonder what they could say. “Potverdriedubbeltjes” perhaps? But no, that’s a minced oath for “God,” and just as taboo as any stronger curse.

Expressive colourful vibrant modern art landscape figurative abstract dynamic artwork made by the writer E. Fraaije
Studio view, oilpainting by Erica Fraaije 2023

My grandfather was a man of few words, which made it easier for him. He had a talent for prayer and scripture reading, his voice a comforting rumble. “Lead us not into evil,” he’d intone, and I’d ponder the nature of temptation. That fear of straying from the path was absent at home, replaced by a sense of freedom.


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