RU Abroad with Justin: Spreek je Nederlands?

One of the most odd things about the Dutch is their nationalism. Long story short, one of my Dutch friends and I were having a conversation about recent concerns surrounding islamic extremists. Touchy subject I know, but through this conversation it was brought to my attention that there exists a much different nationalism than what I had previously understood. In my mind, I view the Dutch as very tolerant people. One of the first countries to legalize same sex marriage, yet their national image is fiercely guarded on a single, simple ideal. If you want to live in the Netherlands, you MUST speak Dutch. You don’t need to speak it well, but if you don’t even try they see it as an insult. A blatant rejection of their core values. And seeing as they’re Dutch, they’re not afraid to voice their disapproval.

I have a Dutch last name. And I don’t mean “it could be Dutch”, I mean “It can ONLY be dutch”. It’s the epitome of typical Dutch last names. It’s like the “Smith” of the Netherlands. You say my last name in a crowded room and at least ten people will turn their heads. You get the point. So, I’m in a coffee shop and need to show my ID, at which point the man at the counter reads my last name and jumps into conversation in Dutch. I’m thinking “Hey! Understandable” and explain to him that my grandparents are from Holland, but I was born and raised in Canada. At this point, a Canadian would smile and nod and move on. It took twenty minutes before I was even able to order. I kid you not. I’m not exaggerating. He spent twenty minutes lecturing me because my last name was Dutch, but I don’t speak the language. The lecture he gave was angry and bitter, and way worse than any lecture my father has ever given. Point in case.

Another prime example was during one of my classes. We were discussing government action on the refugee crisis and how the situation should be handled. A Dutch student in the class then proposed forced language and cultural education for any foreigner wishing to live in the country. Granted it’s not a terrible idea, and every country has some degree of this already in placed, but the way that she proposed it was, again, a vicious attempt to enforce assimilation.

I guess being Canadian, I’m used to different values. We try so hard to preserve every culture within our borders and that’s what makes up the Canadian identity, but here its as if they’re trying to take sandpaper and polish every citizen to a near indistinguishable state.

The most ironic part about the entire “learn our language” shenanigans, is that even the Dutch barely speak dutch. Offices work in English, school is taught in English, movies are in English. It’s everywhere, yet they all speak it with resentment. It’s an odd dichotomy.

I guess in the big picture it’s important to guard your mother tongue. It’s one of the most basic defining qualities of a culture. It sets nationalities apart, and basically creates an identity. It’s almost as if the Dutch fiercely guard their language in an attempt to make sure their culture survives the constant bombardment of British and American hegemonies.