Tuesday, April 3, 2007

12th March, 2007 - Prejudice

Though my daughter and I both speak fluent Dutch, we habitually communicate in English. This gives rise to all kinds of awkward moments, as I’m sure every expat experiences sooner or later. Some people will simply speak Dutch to you and insist that you understand them. Most expats won’t, of course, but even if you do, there doesn’t seem to be an appropriate moment to admit to it. This language barrier question recently came to a head when I’d treated myself to an Independent at Schiphol and, comfortably installed in a train compartment with my paper, a middle-aged Dutch woman sat opposite me. Without a moment’s hesitation she began to tap on the outside page. I responded by lowering the paper and raising my eyebrows. She asked ‘how long you are in Holland’? Truthfully, I told her three years now. ‘You must read Dutch newspapers’ she said. I shrugged my shoulders and told her I didn’t want to. Visibly in a huff, she told me ‘you are the foreigner we don’t want over here’. She collected her belongings and went to sit somewhere else. My jaw dropped. It would never in a million years occur to me or anyone I know to even stop to think about someone’s choice of reading matter. Having spent nearly two decades in a British city with more than half its population speaking one of six Indian languages, it’s only natural that people read in the language they’re most comfortable with. And that they keep up to date with what’s happening ‘at home’. That’s quite apart from the argument that Dutch papers provide very little news, still less of it foreign. When the train arrived at my stop, I made a point of using the exit near where the woman was now sitting. As I passed her seat, I said in Dutch ‘and I’m sure your rudeness is not welcome anywhere else either’. I felt better for having put her in her place but the incident itself left a nasty taste. She might have asked before venting her prejudice.

6 comments:

Deniz said...

I can not tell how relieved I am when I've read this. Hey, right now, Im writing this to you from Tilburg University's library in between my Dutch lesson. (Yep I'm supposed to dictate a NOS Journaal right now)

I could not find your e-mail adres in the blog, but I'd love to send you a mail about how it feels like to learn Dutch, try to communicate native Dutch with obviously foreign accent.

Bre said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bre said...

I am US native and I have lived in the Netherlands just over 1 year now, I have lived in South Africa and the UK for several years consecutively as well. Only in Holland have I experienced many negative situations involving Dutch people who think that because I am American I have something to do with the government of a country that I have not lived in for several years now! Also, because I speak English, it doesn't make me English, I am American, I have had many bad experiences and felt racism from Dutch that treat me differently because I speak English-we can't help you are English...Dutch clients have priority...on the job-lets let the Dutch deal with the Dutch...racism, even the broodje shop round the corner ignores me when I enter and throw my lunch together all sloppy like with an attitude, like get outta here and then all friendly and then carefully and kindly serving the Dutch speaking guests, I just want to say KARMA Broodje Bi#ch! But don’t get me wrong there are great people everywhere in the world, and I know some great Dutch people now too, but it is confusing that such a so called tolerant society is often very narrow minded… thx again

cheesehead said...

The rudeness of the woman in the train beggars belief. Despite what she may have felt privately, that was a staggering display of ignorance, and outright bad manners.

I'm a native of the United States, I've lived here for 6 years, and although I have sporadically encountered what could be interpreted as slight foreigner dislike, at *no* time have I come across anything of the magnitude you described.

My daughter was born here, and we're raising her bilingually - on purpose. (There's a rather lengthy list of carefully thought out reasons behind our decision, too extensive to put in a comment). The bottom line is that we speak English among ourselves, and she speaks Dutch to everyone else outside the home (unless they address her in English, of course!)

The restraint that you displayed is commendable. I usually ignore acts of stupidity and ignorance from others, but I suspect this might have lit off my more volatile side, and I might have been tempted to say something along the lines of;

"stomme viswijf! ik lees wat ik wil, waar ik wil, waneer ik wil, en in welke taal ik wil toch? nou - kop dicht & ROT OP!"

That said, I find Dutch enormously difficult, and somewhat demoralizing at times to learn. Just when I think I've gotten the hang of some construct or other, and use that sentence structure in another context, I discover to my intense annoyance that it's wrong. [sigh] oh well.

Ine said...

It's things like these that make me feel ashamed to be Dutch. I regularly read English mags and books in public transport, but fortunately I've never been treated as you were. The most horrible thing is, I have no trouble believing that this sort of thing happens every day, everywhere. And to think that people praise Paul Verhoeven for having stuck with his native language, and deride Jan de Bont for adopting his new country's language! What hypocrites we are.

mxl said...

I once had the pleasure of borrowing a Herald Tribune from a young Moroccan man while he finished reading it. It helped me endure time during that trip. When this Moroccan had read a Dutch newspaper I would not have talked to him anyway. Yes we said goodbye.