Mark Vitello: 'The Netherlands are more Dutch than they are now'

Mark Vitello: 'The Netherlands are more Dutch than they are now'

English teacher Mark Vitullo moved from the United States to the Netherlands when he was eleven. He studied law in Tilburg and has been a lecturer at Tilburg University since 1990. 'Apart from being a lawyer, I loved everything related to law.

Mark Whitlow Image: Dun Domen

It may be Carnival Monday, but when I meet English teacher Mark Vitillo at the language center in the morning, he's very refreshed. The born American has managed to indulge in no less than two cultural events in recent days: the quintessential Brabant Carnival or the sporting event, the Super Bowl, mixed with a generous dose of American sauce. Vitallo missed both this year, but his instincts lean toward the Super Bowl.

'I thought the carnival was very interesting, but the Super Bowl is something else, that's one thing.' He explains: 'I once taught a business communication course. Among other things, we looked at the commercials aired during Super Bowl intermissions: all equally expensive, cute and big. It worries millions.

A special touch

Mark Vitello (Chicago, 1965) immigrated from the United States to the Netherlands in 1976 at the age of eleven. “After my parents divorced, my mother married a Dutch man who lived temporarily in America. He saw career opportunities in the Netherlands, so we moved here. We went to live in Bedouy, so I had a late introduction to the festival.'

Vitello understands that the importance of the Super Bowl is not always understood in the Netherlands: 'In America, sports and related programs are linked to schools and universities. Top athletes are an important cultural phenomenon there.'

The Netherlands doesn't know this High School Football Or sports scholarships in prestigious universities. 'But,' Vitullo says: 'Here in Tilburg there are also world champions who combine their great sporting careers with a course.' Vitello shrugs questioningly: 'They wander around here without anyone paying much attention to them. The same applies to many former Prime Ministers. For example, Ruud Lubbers, you can talk to him. It's not really possible in America, there's a specialness around these types of people.

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Started with rice table

Going to the Netherlands was a big adventure, says Vitillo. 'I found it exciting and of course I had to learn the language. I deliberately did not enroll in an international school, but in a Dutch school. The first year I did a bridge year, a kind of gap year, in which I learned things about the Netherlands such as Dutch history and geography. Vitello laughs: 'I was never tired. When I came home after a day like that, I couldn't sleep.'

At that time, the differences between the Netherlands and the United States were greater, says Vitillo. It has far less impact on me now than it did 48 years ago. The food was different, what was on TV was different, even going to a Chinese restaurant was different: because when you eat Chinese in America, you eat Cantonese. I was initiated with a rice table,' laughs Vitillo.

'Now there are many American programs on Dutch TV and fast food restaurants like McDonalds are everywhere. You could say the Netherlands was more Dutch 48 years ago than it is now. The Netherlands has changed more than America.'

Happy hour

At nineteen, Vitullo went to study law in Tilburg. “That was exactly forty years ago,” he says with wonder. 'The university was still small. At that time there were seven thousand students, I remember because there was a news about it in the university newspaper. The Faculty of Law has grown tremendously. There were 1,200 law students, of which 600 were first-year students. Vitullo traces this growth to the dawn of the yuppie era, when people began to strive more for money and luxury. 'Where previously courses like sociology were popular, young people are now studying law and economics.'

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'After my first year, I did my propaedutic year and spent two years doing a doctorate in tax law. I spent some time at Ars Aequi (Law Journal, ed.), because I loved everything about law except being a lawyer. Maybe teaching had something for me? Then my parents pointed out a new doctoral program at Nijmegen: American Studies. It's a short course, so I was wondering if I could still sign up. Then it was revealed that I was the third student.' Vitello laughs out loud. 'And I ended up being the first student to graduate from the program.'

Max Havelar

Vitello met his wife Ellie at a dice party in Tilburg. 'I've never been there, but I was thrown out during my third year of study. I thought she was a very nice girl. As we started talking, it became clear that we had the same passion for books. We both loved John Irving. She found out Cider House Rules Crazy and me The World According to Corp.'

He pauses for a moment. 'It reminds me of a high school book list. Everyone, including me, had Max Havelar. The editor shouts: 'Jesus, even the American Max Havelar is on the list!' Has he often felt like 'that American' in the past? 'Of course I was in the minority and everyone thought I was very American. Like: You have him back with his Coca-Cola.'

Letter from President Bush

America has long been viewed with admiration as a superpower, but that ideal image is now showing some cracks. “I think people are realizing that things are not that great in America. You have to pay particular attention to what's going on. No For example, health insurance. American society is one for winners. A nation of freedom and opportunity is more nuanced. But it's the same in the Netherlands.'

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'I'm shocked at how tough and serious politics is now than it was in the past. When I passed, my mother sent a letter to the White House. Moments later, an envelope dropped from the White House. Inside was an autographed photo of George Bush Sr. What I find most amusing about it is that in the photo he is A School tie From Yale, wearing a blue and white tie. So it was carefully considered. I find it humorous and sympathetic. The photo is in my house.'

'Welcome Home Sir'

Something very American is what I experienced when I was out of the US for a while and had to show my passport upon arrival at customs. I have Dutch and American citizenship. The customs officer checks my passport, gives me a slight nod and says: 'Welcome home, sir.' That's important.'

Vitello is amused that he eventually returned to Tilburg Law School. 'I don't teach law, but Legal English Inside Argument. Ik zeg wel eens: If you are patient, you will get what you want, but it may not be what you thought.


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