Sunday, February 27, 2011

Are all Dutch tulips the same?

The beauty and uniformity of Dutch tulips?
The Dutch pride themselves on their total embrace of diversity.  Diversity is mentioned in the Dutch constitution and their absolute staunch belief in diversity is (at least to my American transplanted mind) a cornerstone of Dutch society and thinking.  Of course the Dutch, like any other society are made up of individuals so there are many opinions as to what this means.  As an American living in the Netherlands I have always been impressed regarding how race is not an issue here.  As an American, particularly in America it is hard to get away from race, even when you want to.  Bigotry exists everywhere, even in the Netherlands, that is a fact.  After 9+ years of living in the Netherlands though, I think what the difference really is that in the US, at least in some circles, bigotry is a virtue.  It is something to be proud of and it is not necessary to respect someone else's point of view.  A sad fact of American society now is that a different point of view is not to be respected, not to be valued, but to be vilified.  America's stance toward immigrants, in my point of view is absolutely shameful.  At one time, all Americans (except for Native Americans) were immigrants.  It's true that each immigrant group came to the new world and had to struggle for their place in it.  The American shores at one time were stacked against every immigrant group in turn - the Irish, the Italians, the Polish, and so on and so on.  Each group had to fight for their place at the table and that is why I think that many Americans, after getting their place, often, and maybe without meaning to turn their hearts cold to others just trying to find a seat at the table too.

Dutch society also has mixed feelings about immigration and what large numbers of at least certain immigrant groups are doing to the fabric of Dutch society and what it means for the future.  In Amsterdam, which has become a true melting pot, this talk is in the quietest of whispers.  The Dutch feel very strongly that they need to embrace diversity even though as Amsterdam evolves, the city itself becomes "less Dutch" due to the disproportionate number of immigrants here, many of which are Turkish or Morroccans and generally speaking the Turks and Morroccans have more children per capita than Dutch people.  Quite a few studies and newspaper articles have said that by 2030 that Dutch people will be a minority in the city of Amsterdam.  This leaves many Dutch people torn, on the one hand between eventually losing their country, possibly at the expense of their love of Diversity and feeling very torn about how to feel about.  A lot of these feelings run under the surface at least in Amsterdam.  In the more outlying areas of the Netherlands, these issues are more out in the open, the rise in popularity of Geert Wilders and his political party the PVV makes a lot of Amsterdammers shudder with what his ultra-nationalist stance (read: Anti-Islamic) will do the foundations of Dutch society.

Still, on the surface at least the Dutch are still embracing diversity  The office where I work actually has a Diversity Policy and believe me we are not at all unique.  And Diversity policies are radically different than US statements of being an EOE (Equal Opportunity Employer).  EOE's basically go something like this: "

"X is an equal opportunity employer and does not discriminate on the basis of race, creed, religion, age, gender or national origin."

I do think that nowadays there is a bit more legalease in EOE but that seems more a ploy to avoid lawsuits than to be more inclusive.

In contrast, diversity policies go something like this:

 "We believe that promoting diversity means creating an inclusive work environment where everyone has the opportunity to succeed without obstacles based on their gender, marital and civil partnership status, race, color, national or ethnic origin, disability, religious belief, sexual orientation, age or any other basis prohibited under applicable law.  We recognize that people from varying backgrounds can bring a full range of worthwhile ideas and innovations to our working practices and business. Encouraging everyone to respect the individuality of their colleagues and to feel comfortable in making their own contribution is a fundamental aspect of our values and critical to our success." 

Both statements say that they are committed to not discriminating, although the Dutch expand the groups to include marital and civil partnership status, disability and sexual orientation.  I also think the Dutch bit values differences on its face more (at least this one which I pulled off the net does) going so far as to say that different backgrounds strengthen success because the range of ideas and points of views is so diverse.

That's a whole different animal.

See the Dutch, despite the rise of Wilders are in love with equality.  Yes, they also have a history as racist, slave owning, colonialist SOBs. Actually they started the whole thing when you think about it.  But they were also among the first to recognize the error of their ways.   Although I sometimes think that there is a kind of silent bigotry which goes on here, as opposed to the more blatant, or back room whispering kind of racism that goes on in the US.

What else do the Dutch love?  Their rules.  And it's not just the bureaucrats either.  The Dutch often complain about the bureaucrats and how awful it is here but a society of rules it is.  Maybe because it is a small country which draws on a Calvinist tradition, the Dutch are in some ways refreshingly no-nonsense.  They mince a lot of words (sometimes I marvel at just how long it takes in the Dutch language to actually say anything) but the Dutch, polite and respectful to a fault don't believe in a lot of flowery talk, they say things as they are.

The Netherlands is a small country but shaped by a lot of things.  Their centuries long struggle against being overtaken by water, their age of exploration, the shipping industry, their neutrality, their liberalism, and yes, legal drugs and prostitution and of course many other things.  Still, it is a small country and the Dutch are (at least to my way of thinking) a regimented people.  They hate the rules on the one hand, but live a relatively disciplined lifestyle.  Most Dutch are quite health conscious and regimented in what they eat and drink and are big on exercise (even if not going to the gym, the bicycle is still the primary mode of transport for most Dutchies).

Being an immigrant myself, I often talk with other immigrants and one thing that many immigrants to NL have in common is that nearly all immigrants say that the Dutch are cold and too regimented.  And it is true.  I see it in all layers of Dutch society.  There is pretty much one way to do things, one way to say things and people are expected to live and react in a certain way to things.  The Dutch at the same time love individualism but have a hard time dealing with it when confronted with it in everyday life.

In Dutch society there is often just one appropriate thing to say or a reaction and now that I have spent nearly a decade here and understand a lot more about the Dutch than I once did, I can, in some typical situations just predict what will be said and what the reactions will be.  For me, I often feel like Dutch society is just a series of cookie cutters all interconnected because everyone is talking, reacting and saying the same things and I must say that this makes me feel that there is a certain ungenuine quality about Dutch society, because nearly everyone follows the same routine,  says the same things.  I think, after living here for nearly 10 years this is not a fair assessment because I do think they are as individual as anyone else, it just perhaps does not come across in what they say. But still, there is definitely a mold here.

Why is it like that here?  I think it has much to do with that this is a small country.  In Israel I saw this a lot as well, although the Israelis as a people are not nearly as polite (that's a huge understatement) as the Dutch but nonetheless I do think the small country phenomenon plays a role.  I do think also this is a society where conformity is a virtue.  The Dutch are quite a reserved people, as I mentioned they are polite and respectful to a fault, but conformity in the manner of what you say, how you say it and how you react is not only expected but I find that many Dutch people have difficulty when those bounds of conformity are stretched or even broken.  The Dutch can be direct in what they say, as I said earlier they don't use a lot of flowery language, they say things like it is.  I often get apologies for this when I am in conversation with a Dutch person as they certainly don't want their directness to offend. By contrast, as an American, maybe we are not told that conformity is specifically a bad thing, but we Americans do have a love of rebels, the USA was born in rebellion, we are taught that we can speak our minds freely and that we have to stand up and fight when presented with any kind of injustice.  It's our frontier mentality, our own inner cowboy guides us.  

It comes down to this for me.  In the Netherlands maintaining the societal mold is a virtue and in American culture breaking the mold is what is virtuous.

Hmmmm, no wonder I don't have a lot of Dutch friends.

I sometimes wonder if Dutch society takes its cues from the tulips, their biggest export?  Is Dutch society is supposed to be some kind of mirror of all those perfect tulips you see growing here?  Row after row of beautiful color, of perfect symmetrical flowers, reaching for the sun, differing in colors of course but in all other instances all the same?

Maya has been within the special educational system now for two and a half years.  I have had both very positive and negative experiences with the system here.  Often people ask me if I think the system is better or worse than the system in the US.  It's hard to answer that because I have not personally experienced the US for myself in this.  I think like anything else there are probably things which are better here and things which are better there.  I will say that in general I think that the access to services is probably easier in the Netherlands.  I have heard absolute horror stories in the US about gaining access to services.  I have one friend who had to pay for her son's therapy out of pocket and sue the school district on the basis that the district was violating her sons Constitutional right to an appropriate education.  We've had nothing like that here.  We've had to follow bureaucratic channels, but the services are there since Maya has the diagnosis and we never (thankfully) ever have had to fret about money.  But I do suspect that while there is more consistency and access to the services here that ultimately the quality of what they offer might be less than what is available in the US.  I hope that is not true and only time will tell how Maya will end up.

I will say though that I have been surprised by the sheer numbers of non Dutch people within the special education system here.  In Maya's school last year, out of 8 kids in her group only 3 were Dutch children (counting Maya as half Dutch), the rest were children of immigrant groups.  This year it is about half/half and in her new school, in the class that Maya will join, out of 10 kids, only 3 are Dutch (counting Maya again as Dutch).

I can't help but wonder what brings this proportion of immigrant children to the special education system?  I've not done any studies but I wonder how this compares to regular schools and if being outside the mold is some kind of criteria for special education?

Do you have to be a tulip?  Or is being a daisy okay too?

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