Thursday, December 2
Back again - now with added Nederlands snark!
Hello again, this time from Amsterdam. I let the original Take It As Red lapse: I'd like to say it was due to work stress in my incredibly important career, or that I'd been called on to lead my cephalopod comrades in the glorious revolution, but actually it was mostly that I couldn't be arsed. Leaving life, work and home and (grown) children behind to move to an odd new country can do that to a person.
I've been here off and on for getting on for 4 years now, but nothing prepared me for the culture shock. Culture shock? What? But we're all Yurpeens now, aren't we? Well, maybe so in principle, but no-one has told the Dutch yet. They talk well about tolerance and love and understanding, but really this is one of the most bigoted, closed-minded and conformist societies I have yet come across. (No wonder the Boers ran away - and then of course, all those sterling Dutch qualities were left to develop and warp to extremes in a hot, harsh landscape, and *then* look what happened, misery for most non-Boers. But I digress)
All the tolerance talk is just that, talk; an intellectual exercise for a rentier/intelligentsia class smug in their material comforts and their little bubble of a Dutch speaking media or political party. Theo Van Gogh was merely one of the most visible pimples on the great Dutch ass of complacency. The trouble is instead of treating it with antibiotics ( stick with the heavy-handed metaphor, it gets worse) someone decided cauterisation was the answer. Well yes, in a way, but it leaves a scar. No matter how noxious the pimple on your butt, if you cut it out you'll still have the butt, but it will hurt to sit on.
Van Gogh's shooting at least has forced some Dutch people into a little societal self-examination, but from the snatches of conversation and TV discussion I can understand , and conversations I have had, nothing has changed except that white Dutch people now seem to feel they have license to be openly hostile to foreigners. I'm English and white and they're hostile to me; I have had "If you don't like it here go back to your own country" said to me - how bad must it be to be visibly Moslem? I don't blame Moroccans or Turks or any other nationality for wanting to stay in their own communities at all, I would too if I could. I have found people here to be bad-mannered, ignorant and openly discourteous most of the time. If someone is polite to you it's an event. if you have a non-Dutch appearance or accent, multiply that ten-fold.
For example, we rent our flat from a socialist organisation, who also have an office in the building. The office is staffed on Mondays by two middle-aged women volunteers. Now, when they come in in the morning, they are essentially coming into my home, as we share an entrance. They see me when they go in, or when I go out. Yet not once has either of them said hello or even nodded. I've even greeted them *in Dutch* and got nothing in reply but a stony glare. It's very depressing because this is not isolated. Your next door neighbour will be all smiles one day and blank you the next. I'm used to a basic level of courtesy: you know, the usual please and thankyou and no pushing in queues. I never expected gushing friendliness, but this is a level of sustained hostility and callousness that I find every hard to explain and to bear.
Dutch men seem to be different, not so harsh or confrontational, but even the 'enlightened' ones can surprise you with the naked bigotry of their comments. One of the party members was here one day to deliver some literature: no-one was in the office and it had been a big job, so I offered him coffee. Over coffee we got to chatting, as one does, and I thought "Oh this is nice, a real conversation, perhaps I've been misjudging the Dutch. What a bad bigoted person I've been. Bad me." But then, (and you knew there would be a then) as we were discussing housing, and the dearth and expense thereof, he told me he was moving house. "Oh, why's that?" asked I. "It's them, you know, them." "Who?" I asked, a veteran of many of these type of converstions and knowing where he was going but wanting to make him say it, "Them. they block up all the ventilation and windows and there's dozens of them living in one flat". "But who?" I persisted. "Them. The Moroccans," he finally admitted. "I can't stand it any more, we're moving. The whole buurt is now Moroccan.".
Now this is supposedly a socialist, in enlightened Holland, bastion of free speech, democracy, tolerance and all that nice stuff and here he is spouting stuff I'd've expected to hear in Birmingham in the nineteen-sixties. No wonder young Moslem people turn to their religion rather than politics: if you can't even trust the socialists to be anti-racist and anti-bigot, where do you turn? I think we all know the answer to that.
I am torn over this: I want to get out on the streets and agitate, but it's not my country and every time I leave the house I'm forcibly reminded of that. So I've taken the Moroccan way out. I have BBC1 and BBC2 on television, Radio 4 on longwave, and as many British papers as I like available online. I can have British food delivered, order books from Amazon, and our language at home is English. I have created my own Little England and I'm becoming a caricature expat, despite the fact this is something I swore before I came here I would never do. I want to accept the Netherlands qua Netherlands, and not to try to force it into the mould of my preconceptions. However there's only so many times you can keep banging your head against a brick wall before you finally realise that the wall doesn't care and that now your head hurts.
Tune into our next exciting episode tomorrow, when I'll detail my fight against the cat ( who is, naturally, Dutch) shitting in my herb garden, and if you're good, I'll tell you the exciting story of the bastard that nearly ran me over in a hailstorm. Who knows, I may even find time for some politics.
11/28/2004 - 12/05/2004