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An Iraqi view on the Netherlands

By Ali Taher, visiting researcher from Iraq at the SCA-department of the VU  To begin with: It gives me a strange feeling when I see how the people in the Netherlands openly express their emotions. As a visitor from Iraq it is really interesting for me to see “lovers” and “couples” walking together in the center of Amsterdam, embracing each other, and nothing preventing them to interchange very hot kisses amidst the noise of a busy market !

Every day walking in the beautiful city streets, I continue thinking about all the differences  between Iraqi and Dutch society.  One of the differences is the kind of everyday embarrassing feeling I have at lunch time. You cannot imagine how shocked I was when I saw one of the girls in VU University choose only one apple as her lunch, although we had been together from early morning… It was unbelievable to see one of the professors who behaved no better than the girl, when he chose some soup with only three pieces of biscuit!  I really don’t know how the people here stay alive when they eat almost nothing! It is embarrassing for me to realize I need to eat three times more than what they eat (at least), to feel saturated! Also the taste of the food here is far removed from the taste in Iraq, which is known for its fatty and salty food.

I also smile when I am observing the high discipline of the people at the station when they are waiting for the tram towards “Dam Square”. I asked myself: who forces them, or makes them use this “chipcard” without any sergeant or other official controlling their every movement? And why is there not any kind of fighting when there is overcrowding at the station?

In the meantime, one day I was so fortunate to see hundreds of people gathering at “Dam square” to protest against nuclear energy. The form of the protest was really interesting for me: a music concert, two short speeches (without screaming and emotion!), and the showing of pictures on a huge screen. All urged to stop using nuclear energy. More than a thousand demonstrators, including old men and women, danced with the songs and were influenced by the pictures. That day I had a very nice story to tell my family whom I meet almost daily on “Messenger” about the way of protest, the issue itself, and the fact that women played a role in the protest too, etc. Indeed, I tried to explain all of that to my mother and my little smart sister Zahra (8 years old) who was staring at the laptop screen and replied with simple words and sentences. During my explanation my father joined us on Messenger, and Zahra started talking:

–      Daddy, do you know? Ali said that the people in the Netherlands do not have any kind of problems, and that is the reason they create their problems, and then they demonstrate against their imagined problems!!

I honestly didn’t use this theoretical level of words! Now I wondered: who is the sociologist in my family??!!

Ali Taher is a PhD-student at the University of Baghdad, currently a visitor at the Faculty of Social Sciences of the VU, thanks to the Academic Freedom Program for post-conflict countries’ scholars. 

One Comment

  1. Thanks for sharing your observations, Ali! It’s good fun ‘reading’ our culture through your eyes.

    And we should have lunch together sometime soon. Seeing me eat might be somewhat of a relieve for you 😉

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