Being a foreigner

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Foreigners, BAH!

They never really learn the language, have strange habits, are lazy and take advantage of our social system. They steal our jobs and women, and they work for low wages that normal people cannot compete with. They steal and deal drugs. Or women. Or both. All in all, we don’t like them.

Don’t understand me wrong, I am not a rascist. Our cleaning lady is a foreigner and we really like her. And we always say hello to our foreign neighbors, we even invited them over for coffee once! No, our foreign people are ok. It is all the other foreign people that are the problem. The ones you read about in the papers and see on tv. Most problematic are the ones that you don’t know but who have the guts to walk around in your town with their strange foreign outfits. Obviously they are not integrating at all and therefore must fall in the lazy, drug-dealing, job-stealing foreigner category.

But have you ever been a foreigner yourself? And I don’t mean a holiday to Spain where you could use your 5 words of Spanish and claim you speak the language. I mean starting a new life in a country with a different language and culture. If you would do this you would realize that you don’t speak the language at all. People are not really happy to have you in their peacefull country. And even when you change your appearance to local standards, do language course after language course, and invite your neighbors over for coffee, you will always be the outsider. A lazy job-stealing one to the people you have not yet invited for coffee.

Being tolerant comes from acceptance through actions, not mere words. Especially in times of crisis it is convenient to blame the unknown, the outsiders. But it is in times of crisis when working together for a better future is the only way out of the mess. The nationalistic tendencies that are lingering in Europe (and beyond) are feelings of fear of the unknown. We can see that our long (European) history is abundant with fear of new things, foreign things. We have crossed each others borders time and time again and mingled our cultures and habits. What was once considered purely Italian is now almost daily on everyone’s plate. The Dutch have won a golden medal in snowboarding without even having mountains. What was once typical for one culture can be accepted and integrated by another culture.

Where does my culture stop and does yours begin? When does integrating becomes being accepted? When does the outsider become a local, and what about his children?

How do you feel about tolerance in your country? And how do you think we can promote it? I’d like to hear your input!

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Being a foreigner

  1. Femke

    The key to simulate tolerance is integration. In my opinion it’s a two way street here -tolerance and integration are interlinked. Just ‘liking exotic food’ doesn’t reinforce tolerance. Perceiving immigrants as compatriots requires some effort from immigrants to begin with. Tolerance is hard to enforce if we coexist with people that don’t speak our language and practice completely different habits/religions/values to us. It’s primarily the language and level of education that can be a real dealbreaker and cause friction. When communication is facilitated, that’s when I believe locals and immigrants can interact and how social integration is born. Ofcourse this doesn’t happen overnight but it’s a process that can take up to years or even generations to settle. As a foreigner living in the UK, I don’t feel treated like a foreigner. I speak the language. I know (some)things about their politics, hang out in pubs and have cast my vote during the London Elections. Perhaps we need to separate feeling accepted and factually being accepted in a community? As long as we (the foreigners) make an effort to participate and contribute to the culture, we generate tolerance.

    • Thanks for your comment Femke!
      It is as you say, tolerance has to come from both ways. Obviously you are an example of a “good foreigner”, and good on you!
      I think it starts with language, if you can’t communicate there won’t be integration.
      Enjoy the Olympics, put on something Oranje for me 🙂

  2. Mari V

    Nice text! So simple, but oh so important! I am soo happy (and a bit suprised!) to see you write this! The need for more tolerance was proved dramatically in Norway one year ago, but unfortunatly not too much have changed, and these days hate speech against the romani people are causing a huge debate in Norway (with the only bright side of putting the hate speech against muslims on temporarly hold). There is a problem off course with beggars and theft, and it needs to be resolved, but NO people deserve to be treated like inhumane and like stray dogs, being kicked and spat at, and meet with comments about deportation and genocide…. SO: keep spreading the tolerance!!!! I wish I could give a good answer to your last question though – how? For one thing we need to stress a more dynamic and fluid concept of culture, like you do in your text, in stead of static essentialist ones – and confront every idea that smells of totalitarianism!
    “Anyways” – Hope you are good! Long time no see 😉

    • “Anyways” – Indeed long time ago 🙂
      The discrimination of different cultures/religions/nations over different periods of time is an interesting topic.
      I am going to come back on this, maybe try a discrimination tour. For example, I will discuss the national tendencies that are occuring in specific regions over specific timeframes.
      I think it is also interesting what role the media play in the reporting of the intolerance tendencies. Can I come back to you for information about the trends in Normway at a later time? Thanks for your comment, keep up spreading tolerance!

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