Forget about the rules. Be human.

forget about rules, be human in Amsterdam  Amsterdam keeps surprising me. I spent an interesting evening in a famous entrepreneurial location in Amsterdam Centre. When leaving, we had to wait for our coats at the wardrobe downstairs. In this club, coats are personally handed to all visitors. In front of us was a line of ‘foreign’ people. They appeared to be refugees who had been invited this evening by entrepreneurs who were willing to help them integrate and find a job. A great initiative.
The guy in the cloakroom was happy to help us Dutch entrepreneurs to put on our coats. ‘You can’t do that to them you know’, he said. To explain the ‘them’, he pointed to the refugees that stood in front of the location, talking a while in front of the entrance before they left like all people in Amsterdam do. He said some Syrians that were more ‘integrated’ than the newcomers in front of the door, warned him that his help to put on the coats would not be appreciated; ‘please do not try it, you will get trouble’. ‘You know’, he said, ‘they feel they submit to you when you help them with their coat. And you cannot touch the women. It would feel like you own them. So I just give their coats to them and that’s it’. ‘Well, you can help me’, one of the female entrepreneurs said I think to console him and it worked, he smiled and helped her to put on her coat.
Amsterdam is a modern, diverse and tolerant city. However there are moments that I think we are just retarded – this was one of these moments. Almost all my life I have been going out, working, discussing, learning, experiencing with people from the Middle East. How come I never had any problems with coats, handing coats, helping people into coats? Who invented a scheme where refugees ‘feel they submit’ in such cases? Not the refugees themselves, I am sure about that. Also I do not think anybody has bad intentions here. This is what happens when people are confronted with difference: they try to find rules how to behave or not behave. People want to do good and try to be on the safe side. The tragic is that they miss the point: the contact is in personal involvement and not in cultural rules.
The generally present inclination to follow rules is what I call ‘retarded’. I feel embarrassed when I meet with that in an entrepreneurial place in Amsterdam Centre. The good thing is: we talk about it. We talk about almost anything in Amsterdam. No borders to what we want to express. But also, when it comes to diversity: way to go… We need to have more confidence in our personal approach than in the supposed rules of intercultural contact. Forget about the rules. Be human. The refugees will love it…

 

Dheepan: an outstanding movie about refugees

dheepan movie Dheepan is somehow a ‘neutral’ movie about refugees as it concerns refugees from Sri Lanka; I worked with many of them in the ’90ties but today we concentrate on other regions as every reader knows. Technically this choice in the movie creates a healthy distance to emotions in actuality. And practically, it makes no difference. Refugees run for a reason, most often a quite serious one. And yes, they are surrounded by luck-seekers, criminals who have other reasons to flee and economic migrants. Making the difference between one and the other is an ideal but in practice not very easy. However the movie is not about asylum policies and dilemmas, it is about how people flee and become a refugee and how they experience the country in which they arrive.
In this movie, the Sri Lanka refugees find a house and a job in the banlieue of Paris, in one of the worst banlieues – I think the movie maker even wanted to point out that the refugees run from a war to end up in another one. It is as much a complaint against the ‘drugs in banlieue’ situation as about the refugee situation. Specifically, the total lack of law enforcement (no police or authorities at all) surprises the public.
I think the movie is brilliant in the way it depicts the refugees. I recognized every emotion, both in daily life and in the history of violence and resistence that refugees from war and conflict areas bring with them – not as a choice but as a fact. My experience with that is both friendship and work and I found the movie Dheepan shiveringly realistic and very strong in the way of showing the emotional side.
As a former French teacher, I regretted that the refugees end up in England – to their satisfaction – and not somewhere else in France, a country I love. This is, of course, a biased view 🙂 Anyway the movie ends well, which in a world of problems is nice and more encouraging to go and watch the movie than the opposite.
What surprised me is that nowadays every discussion and debate in the Netherlands is about refugees but we were only 8 spectators: 8! in a large cinema. Sometimes I wonder how much indepth knowledge people want about reality – I see loads of over-emotional people and few people able to handle the complexity that comes with refugee issues. Let’s face reality even when it is not simple. Go watch the Dheepan movie, warmly recommended!