Thursday, October 16, 2008

Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Free movers seldom put down roots in Amsterdam

Young Europeans who come to Amsterdam to live and work have trouble fitting in. Initially attracted by the Dutch reputation for tolerance and openness, most leave the city after little more than a year. This is because “free movers” feel excluded from Dutch society, claims Adrian Favell who is sociology professor at the University of California.

By Caroline de Gruyter

Dutch culture is extremely domineering, says British sociologist Adrian Favell who recently published a study on young, middle-class and relatively well-educated people who have taken advantage of the elimination of internal borders in Europe to experience living abroad. “Expats in Amsterdam can only feel at home if they are fully integrated into Dutch society,” says Favell.
Favell is not talking about discrimination. “It’s much more subtle than that. Foreigners have difficulty breaking the social codes and can’t find their way through the Dutch bureaucratic maze. One of the people I interviewed pays 2,000 euros a month rent for his apartment whereas his Dutch neighbour one floor down pays just 250-300 euros.

“And why is that? It’s because his Dutch neighbour has been a member of a housing cooperation for years and he hasn’t. Life in Amsterdam is full of such subtle ways to exclude you and it’s one of the reasons expats tend to leave. The Netherlands has one of the smallest percentages of European residents in Europe.”
Favell, a sociology professor at the University of California, focused his study not on the classic expat but the so-called free movers, whose life is not made easier by employers who arrange housing, schools and language courses. Free movers are typically students and freelancers who move around Europe. Favell himself is a typical example: he has lived in eight countries, including the Netherlands. For the moment, home for him and his Danish wife, whom he met in Italy, is in Denmark. He does not know how long they will stay there. Free movers can up sticks any time, he says.

You say Brussels is a good place for free movers but Amsterdam and London fail the test. Why?
“People who come to either Amsterdam or London have very high expectations. They think foreigners can be themselves there. They start out very enthusiastically but after about a year they realise that if they don’t choose to adopt a Dutch or British identity, they will never belong there.
“In Brussels it’s the other way around. Expectations are low so everything is a bonus: houses are cheap and healthcare is excellent. But the most important thing is that free movers can be themselves there, that is, as de-nationalised as they want. Brussels has no national culture. Everybody is an outcast in a way.”

Why do free movers leave their own country?

“They want to learn about other cultures and languages. They study abroad or go on an exchange trip. Then they often fall in love or get a job and they think: I might as well stay. For people from a lower social class, moving to Europe makes it easier to get ahead. There are no tell-tale signs such as names or accents to keep them down.

“Young women and gays from southern Europe come to escape the social pressures at home. Many of the young French men and women in London come from provincial working class backgrounds. Gays see Amsterdam as an escape. But, again, after a while they find they’re in a country which expects them to conform to its national identity and codes.”
What are these Dutch codes?

“Making appointments weeks in advance, for instance. Or being “weird” which Amsterdammers are very proud of, but which nobody else understands and which, again, acts as an exclusion mechanism. And the informality of Dutch company culture and language. That annoyed most of the people I interviewed. They almost all learnt Dutch but Dutch people seldom bother to include outsiders in the conversation. And in London you don’t really belong if you don’t spend every lunch hour with your colleagues in the pub.”

Turkey, Torture and The Pain

Torture as usual -- but a first-time apology

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Some of our policemen are actually sadistic brutes. Time has come to stop their horrific ways of terrorizing the society. I hope Justice Minister’s apology will be a step toward that.

Mustafa AKYOL

When the movie Midnight Express made headlines in 1978, many Turks were quite angry. The film presented Turkey's prisons as slices of hell and many people here denounced it as “anti-Turkish propaganda.”

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