Navigating faith, love, and life in the Netherlands

Friday, June 6, 2014

"Buitenlanders" in the Netherlands

*"buitenlanders" is pronounced like "bout-in-lahn-ders."


It's one of the things we are taught (at least in America) NOT to discuss at the dinner table.

A simple discussion becomes heated.

Very quickly.

Today I learned that the same thing goes when you aren't discussing politics in your OWN language.

Compare and Contrast

Our current Dutch unit has to do with politics, particularly of the Netherlands, so that we learn the common terms/phrases.

One thing that I have really appreciated about my Dutch lessons is the ability to get to know people from all different countries.

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Our class represents....
United States

Each of us took a turn today describing what the government was like in our own countries.

How many political parties are there? Who has the power?  How does this affect the common people? What if you want to change something?

For America, people mentioned that having a black president was a sort of "turning point" but I said that's just the beginning - and doesn't trickle down to everyone - white, black, anything - thanks to decades of slavery and issues getting mortgages (Thanks, The Atlantic for this article!).  Also, I'm glad my Eritrean classmate knew the word "mortgage" in English, and supplied me with the Dutch translation "hypotheek."  :)


Honestly, I have felt so un-informed the past few months in my class about politics and world issues as I interact with people from across the globe.

Living in Europe means that another COUNTRY is just as far as another STATE was for me when I lived in the US.  Already, I am learning about the "hot-button" issues in the Netherlands (immigrants, the EU, etc), and America has nearly nothing to do with it.

Brazil is more than just favelas and the World Cup.

Afghanistan is more than a battleground for the Taliban and Bowe Bergdahl.

Somalia is more than just modern-day pirates.

Thailand is more than a tropical holiday paradise.

You get the idea.

As I've been in my class, I've felt like I need to just listen and learn from my classmates.  They are probably three times as knowledgeable about America (thanks to Hollywood) than I am about their countries and cultures.  This of course is made more complicated in the case of Afghanistan and the War on Terrorism.  Listening to them, instead of using Google, gives a real view, a view that is personal, of what life is really like.

"You must acquire the best knowledge first, and without delay; it is the height of madness to learn what you will later have to unlearn." ~Erasmus

Buitenlanders & Binnenlanders

After class, I walked with my classmate Shekiela (spelling? It sounds like "Shakira" but with an L instead of an R) and her son.

She explained her frustration that in her town, the next one over from me, so many people are racist.  For her, there are at least 4 things counting against her: "I'm Muslim.  I cover my head.  My skin is brown.  I'm a foreigner."  People give her (and probably other foreigners) a wide berth in the store.  She even specifically mentioned Christians not wanting to interact.

For all the different cultures in the Netherlands, there seems to be minimal integration on the part of the native Dutch people.  For instance, if they're Christians, then why would they have any reason to interact with Muslims?  Why would they interact with the foreigners who happen to be in a lower socioeconomic class?  This also comes from frustration with the foreigners, but I think there needs to be a double-sided effort.

Generally speaking, the least liked foreigners tend to be Turkish, Romanian, or Moroccan, for a myriad of reasons.  Just Google "Geert Wilders" and you'll find plenty.

There has been talk of a participation contract for foreigners to sign about key values of Dutch society: equality, solidarity and support, and participation in the culture - but what if native Dutch people were also willing and able to interact more with foreigners?

Kerken (Churches) in Nederland

How can the Church (of any denomination) respond to foreigners? These tips can go for anyone, really, not just Christians, but they're basics that get things going in the right direction.

In my experience, I've had it a lot easier that most.  I've picked up the language pretty quickly, my skin is white, my native language is English (which is similar to Dutch but also a common second language here), and I have a native-Dutch husband with local connections.  What about for those that are not like me?

Be patient with the (sometimes terrible) accents, grammar, and vocabulary.

This is something for me to remember as well.  My classmates are learning Dutch, and we are not all going at the same pace.  The important thing is to recognize that we are trying, and that we can communicate what we want/need at a somewhat decent level.

Ask questions about life in their home country.

The news can only give you so much information, and such a limited picture of the country.  In fact, this news may just be sporadic, perhaps about an election, disaster, or famous person.  However, the day to day life is not reflected in these reports!  Perhaps even ask about their common food dishes (I'm not sure what the etiquette is for inviting YOURSELF to someone's house, but you never know!).

Each person represents themselves, not necessarily their culture or country as a whole.

I, for one, do not think I am a typical "loud American."  If I actually am, please let me know!  I am me, albeit American born-and-raised, with "a lotta bit" of Ukrainian flavor.  I find it very hard to describe certain things of American life, because I only spent one year of my adult life there.

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When relating to "buitenlanders" (foreigners), see people as individuals.  Just because they are from ______, does not mean they are _______.  And even if they hold to your stereotypes, it's because of their choices and not always dependent on their culture's influence.  Which brings me to my next point.

Stop stereotyping.

I think we stereotype and pre-judge others because we want to feel more comfortable about the unknown.  If we reduce people from ____ as being a certain way, then we learn how to deal with the culture.  And maybe the (good) stereotype is true for that person.

But rather than make blanket statements, learn about that person in particular.  What are their likes/dislikes?  Why do they cover their head? etc.  What is their name?

See them as Mr./Ms./Mrs. [FirstName LastName], as part of a family, with siblings, children, significant other, parents, etc.  Not as one in a crowd.  See them as a unique creation from God, whom Jesus loves.


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