Even though many Dutch people speak English well, international residents in Groningen, Friesland and Drenthe want more contact with residents of the North.
By Hans de Preter and Traci White
The Northern Times asked, and you responded. When we posted a pair of articles on Wednesday about how foreign individuals report feeling isolated and sought out your responses, we received dozens of heartfelt replies on our social media accounts.
A common thread was that people reported feeling that even if they try to learn Dutch well and being interested in making Dutch friends, it remains difficult for make social connections with the locals.
For example, Gonzalo Amezquita Cuellar writes, “Making Dutch friends is extremely difficult because they often have social circles since their primary and secondary schools. And when you finally get along with them, the problem is that you will never be invited to gatherings wherever their old friends come. You just remain a friend of the university. ”
Catriona Casali writes, “Personally, I am happy with my expat community, but I still find it strange that there is no more integration. It is depressing to see that sometimes rooms are offered with signs: ‘Dutch Only’ on them.”
Cata Amaro Madariaga makes a very interesting suggestion: “When I was studying in Great Britain, they had developed a program where local people were used to act as mentors. They really ensured a connection with the city and culture. We met at least once a month for a cup of coffee or just to chat. That was a great way to learn about the culture. Perhaps that is an idea for Groningen”, Madariaga suggests.
Although there are comparable initiatives in the city of Groningen – My Local Friend through City Central and the ESN Groningen Buddy system for newly arrived foreign students – many internationals also report feeling as if they will also be seen simply as a foreigner. Kai Klooster wrote, “Even when you speak Dutch, if your behavior is not the same as everyone (meaning every Dutchie is another copy of the averaged Dutchie), then you are out.”
Changing the culture
Some users speculated that certain locals view them with scepticism out of fear that they may be changing the regional culture. Rafaël Valerio Adonai Sarmaat, who describes himself as a half-Dutch northerner, writes that “there’s a feeling amongst majority of the Dutch that their country is small and their cultural identity is fragile. In the northern parts of the Netherlands (Friesland and Groningen) this feeling is somewhat stronger. This is due to Friesland, for example, having it’s very own language and culture even unique to the rest of the Netherlands.”
“One thing I wish Dutch people knew is that I’m not a threat to the cultural identity and I’m not out to ruin the country economically either by stealing Dutch jobs, Stevie Dow writes. “Nobody is arguing we should get rid of herring at the market or take away any of the strange and wonderful things that is the foundation for this country’s uniqueness and replacing it with anything else.”
Dow also made a pitch for the valuable additions that immigrants bring the Dutch society: “We just want to bring the comforts of our roots to our new home, and share them with you. Have you ever had a Syrian dessert? Canadian bacon? Tried to tie a turban? Listened to a traditional Russian folk song? Tried to play a didgeridoo?”