Tuesday, January 31, 2006

End of the love affair

When we first moved to the Netherlands just over 4 years ago I was in high spirits. I looked forward to building a life in Europe. I was disgusted by Bush, and by the way things seemed to be going in the US under his cowboy leadership. In Holland I saw a liberal and tolerant home. I admired the socialist system, the idea of a safety net for people. I had seen enough homeless in San Francisco to know that capitalism left many drowning in its wake. I knew enough people that were denied medical procedures or left with outrageous medical bills because they were under insured to see the benefits in national healthcare for all. I admired a country that allowed everyone to get married regardless of sexual preference, and somehow seemed to lack a religious right getting all up in arms over some so-called “moral deterioration”. I like the way the Dutch seemed to approach problems, not making everything illegal just to fight a loosing battle, but instead trying to control it by regulations (i.e. marijuana & prostitution). The only place that could possibly be more liberal than San Francisco was Amsterdam right?

It was like when you first fall in love with someone and you only see the good things. There may be little things that bug you, like the way he wears the same shirt three days in a row, or how his fridge is always empty except for the six pack of beer. Those are almost non-issues, things you can look past or even try to change. I could look past the dog shit on the sidewalk and the lack of customer service. But like that guy with the empty fridge, once you move in and start to live together more things become obvious. He leaves his drawers and socks on the floor next to the laundry hamper instead of simply lifting the lid and putting them in. He drinks milk out of the carton and places it back in the fridge with only a few drops. His snoring keeps you up at night, and he always forgets to call if he is going to be late. Soon this adds up with those other little things you once found cute, but not anymore. Eventually Mr. Right is forgetting your anniversary and spending a bit to much time at the pub with the boys. Before you know it you see him flirting with your next door neighbor. That is it. The love affair is over and you are packing your bags. Well that is how it was for me. I tried to assimilate, tried to fit in. I took the language courses and the exams. Hell I even got my passport.

But while I was working to become Dutch all those little things started to add up. I stepped on one to many piles of dog shit, got attitude one to many times from the cashier at the grocery store. On top of those little things, a bigger problem became obvious, one I could not ignore however hard I tried. No matter what I did I would always be an outsider here because of my accent and the country of my birth. Every day that went by I was actually feeling less and less welcome in my adopted home.

The tolerant Dutch attitude has been greatly challenged by immigration. Like most of Europe, Holland has been experiencing an anti-immigration backlash, and racial tensions are obvious. The current Dutch government has been trying to “solve” what they see as the integration problem - why immigrants (mostly from Turkey & Morocco) are not assimilating into Dutch culture. Frustrations were only made worse last year when a controversial Dutch filmmaker was brutally killed by an Islamic extremist who held dual Dutch & Moroccan nationality. There was a national outcry and anger over the seen failure to integrate immigrants. Since then there have been numerous suggestions by government officials to try and bring the immigrants into the fold of society. Most of there are ridiculous, focusing on silly things like dual nationality (does holding a Moroccan passport make you more likely to become a terrorist?) or where one learns Dutch. Most recently the focus of this is what language immigrants speak not while in the stores or school but when walking on the street with friends or at home with their children. The Immigration and Integration Minister suggested last week a code of conduct which would emphasize that people speak Dutch on the streets only. She said it made Dutch people feel uncomfortable when they heard other languages being spoken on the streets. Her suggestion actually followed on the heals of the Rotterdam Code, a charter being unveiled in Rotterdam that stresses that people speak Dutch in the streets and in their homes as much as possible.

Basically these proposals say that while I am walking down the street with my husband or my English friends I am not allowed to speak my native language, because people around me, who are not part of my conversation, can not understand me. This says that I should not speak English with my daughter; that she will not benefit from being raised bi-lingual. This is a form of discrimination. It is beyond asking people to learn Dutch; it is dictating what language can be spoken in ones private life. It is making it wrong to speak another language at all.

That these are ridiculous proposals and that they will be impossible to enforce is beside the point. By a politician bringing this forward they are basically telling the public it is alright to feel uncomfortable when someone is speaking another language, it is OK to give people a hard time if they are not following these “rules”. It is OK for people to stare when they hear me speaking English to Mr. P or Pumpkin. It is OK for people to say: “je moet Nederlands spreken, hoor” (You must speak Dutch, OK?) when I am not speaking to them in the first place. A stamp of approval has been given to the public to harass anyone not speaking Dutch. My in-laws should be happy, their feelings have been OK’d by a minister, they can’t be wrong.

I am glad that we have decided to leave. The Netherlands is a wonderful country with a great history, and it will always hold a piece of my heart, but it is headed down the wrong road. My bags will soon be packed, this love affair is at its end.

I just wish I did not have to return to Bush and the Terminator!

posted by Laura @ 8:37 PM   11 comments