No fun being a foreigner
Am I a 'Rotterdammer', a 'Hollander' or a world citizen? Boy, what a ruckus Princess Maxima has created, says Lesley Thomas in her latest column.
I remember that when I first came to this country, I thought the life of a novice expat was comparable to having an identity crisis. But it seems that the Dutch who have not even left their own country are now struggling with identity issues. Maxima's comment that 'the' Hollander does not exist has led to a whirlwind of emotional reactions.
A number are not pleased by Maxima's statement which raises questions about 'the' Dutch identity. These are very serious times with identity as a political agenda item. Minister of Justice Hirsh Ballin's quest against the double nationality (Volkskrant), for instance. The danger of more than a million citizens in the Netherlands (including their own, who have returned to Holland after having lived abroad) having a double nationality in the near future, is obviously a national threat to be dealt with.
Having the Dutch identity means you are loyal, whereas not having it means, well… I will let you fill in the blanks. Whereas in other countries having a double nationality is actually accepted and is a global trend as well.
What happened to those light-hearted days? When the Dutch were not so paranoid about those residents with more than one nationality? What happened to the curiosity and openness towards foreigners? The days in which the Dutch laughed at your silly pronunciation and grammar mistakes? It was all part of the integration game – making mistakes and giggling about them.
When I was still struggling with the Dutch language years ago, I informed the host at a family gathering that I was leaving the party earlier because everyone in the room was “smelly”. Having the flu, the smoke from my relative’s cigarettes irritated my throat. I had mistaken the word "ruiken" for "roken". My sister-in-law looked at me with a big question mark on her forehead. Immediately my Dutch husband, then boyfriend, came to the rescue and explained that what I had meant to say was smoke, not smell. Laughter emanated without a schoolteacher’s lecture.
Nowadays that finger starts waving. You might even be asked whether or not you had actually passed the Dutch citizen exam.
I have not left this country since my arrival more than twenty years ago, except to go on vacation, and I am still amazed that I am actually living in the same country. Former Dutch Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers, when returning to the Netherlands after a number of years abroad, was shocked by the "rigid" culture which had evolved in the Netherlands over the years. A "de-verdonking" of the Dutch culture was urgently needed, according to Lubbers (Volkskrant).
I often wonder whether Dutch society will remain in this rut and whether the good times will ever come again. What do the Dutch need to lift their spirits and to put an end to these sombre years? I can hardly imagine that making foreigners give up their double nationality will do the trick.
16 October 2007
Lesley Thomas, writer and editor, is a regular contributor to Expatica.
[Copyright Expatica 2007]
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