The Turk and the Dutchman

Alper BilgiliBy Alper Bilgili, former exchange student at  the VU.

— “Hey, why don’t you share these with us?”
— “Share?”
— “Yeah, we have a weblog and you can publish your thoughts there.”

This dialogue had taken place between Lenie, VU lecturer in anthropology, and me, in Yeniköy, Istanbul. She thinks that my observations regarding the Netherlands are interesting. Thus, anyone who wants to blame someone after reading this post should send an e-mail to her.

Here I will share some stereotypes regarding the Netherlands, the Dutch and Turkish societies. Then I will evaluate them — of course very subjectively.

The Dutch society is crazy. They spend all their time with drugs, sex and football.

Most of the Turkish tourists come to the Netherlands for three or five days. They visit the red light district, coffee houses and some bars in the center. Thus, they have little knowledge about the “normal” life in Amsterdam. The Dutch society is definitely one of the most hardworking societies I have ever seen.

Most of the Dutch people are unfriendly.

Well, this is not right at all. They are more than helpful. Yet, I cannot say that this tendency helps all the time. If you ask a layman for directions, she will never say “I have no idea.” If she has no idea she will find another person on the street and ask him about the address. This will continue until they find someone who can help.

The Turkish population living in Amsterdam has been assimilated by the liberal Dutch society for decades. For that reason they are less conservative than the Turkish population in Turkey.

This is a very common idea among my Dutch friends. It may seem plausible if we ignore the rapid social change that has been taken place in Turkey since the early 1980s. Turkey embraced a liberal economy in 1980 and as Marxists argue, economy is never only economy. Especially the traditional values lost their importance in this period. On the other hand, the Turkish migrants in the Netherlands tried to protect their traditional values as much as possible to survive in this culture as foreigners. This defensive attitude created a more traditional society compared to the Turkish society in the homeland.

Turks constitute a threat for the Dutch society. Geert is right; they do not like the Netherlands.

One may argue that this idea is getting more and more popular among the Dutch layman. Indeed, it is not hard to find a Turk or a Moroccan who blames the Dutch state for its double standards. However, if they compare the Dutch state with the German state they change their identities and started to defend the state that they live in. Some of them even turned into Dutch nationalists in the middle of the discussion. I know, it is very strange, yet I experienced this several times. The Turks who live in Amsterdam form a new category: “Neither Dutch nor Turk” (or “Both Dutch and Turk”).

This last observation may seem to be in contradiction with the previous one. One may argue that a Turk cannot be conservative and friendly towards the Dutch values at the same time. I think this kind of a mentality is a great example of exaggerated simplification. The Dutch society is more than respect to drugs and gay rights. These two societies share many things. They work in the same companies, use the same sidewalks, stay in the same buildings, speak the same language, and ice skate on the same canals. Thus, a Turk can believe in God and work for the success of the country he is living in without feeling any contradiction.

I think this is the right time to finish the essay.

Alper Bilgili was an Exchange Student at the Department of Social Sciences from September 2008 until January 2009.

He is now a PhD candidate at the Department of Sociology of İstanbul University.

If you can read Turkish: Alper published some short stories on his website.

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