Je maintiendrai
January 31, 2006 3:18 PM   Subscribe

Meet Rita Verdonk, shit-stirrer extraordinaire. The Dutch Immigration and Integration minister wants everybody to start speaking only Dutch in public from now on. Pity she fails at that herself, needing to resort to a foreign language to describe her constituents' feelings on the matter. After that, she flies to a refugee camp in Kenya to tell the people there that they should f*** off to their own countries. Well, maybe they'll be safer there than in Holland under the oversight of Ms. Verdonk. Or maybe not... Pity that her media forays appear to prevent Iron Rita from putting her own department in order...
posted by Skeptic (29 comments total)
posted by rxrfrx at 3:30 PM on January 31, 2006

Excellent post. I was going to make a post about this myself, but then Verdonk announced she would not pursue the Dutch-only rule. Doesn't make her less vile a person though.

Just today there was this heartbreaking piece on TV about a class full of kids trying to "lobby" with Parliament to stop their classmate, a young Afgani refugee who had been living in Holland for 6 years, from being extradited to Afghanistan, while even the military haven't made up their minds about whether it's safe for *them* to go.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 3:31 PM on January 31, 2006

Well at the risk of spending the night on the couch, seems like something needs to be done.
posted by undule at 3:32 PM on January 31, 2006

goodnewsfortheinsane: Has she said that she won't pursue it? What I've understood is that she just recognizes that she can't really forbid people from speaking foreign languages in public spaces, but that she really means it as a guideline. Which sounds a tad strange in a country where most TV shows and movies are in English (with Dutch subtitles). And even stranger just after she congratulated the Chinese community for their good integration...despite the bilingual street signs in my neighbourhood.
posted by Skeptic at 3:45 PM on January 31, 2006

Is that Amsterdam Chinatown or The Hague Chinatown, Skeptic?

And I'll try and find an English-language source to back up my claim.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 3:53 PM on January 31, 2006

The Hague. I guess you can have a look for yourself: Wagenstraat, Gedempte Burgwal and St. Jacobstraat have bilingual street signs (which I find very cool, BTW).
posted by Skeptic at 4:02 PM on January 31, 2006

Evidently there are idiots in government everywhere. We in Canada are still waiting until our new crop of idiots is sworn in.
posted by clevershark at 4:08 PM on January 31, 2006

Some more random linkage:

This outlines the Rotterdam code that sparked the outcry (note the non-exclusive language on the, erm, language point, I believe the "only Dutch" thing was purely Verdonk's idea). It has quickly become the subject of ridicule.

And I can't find a backup for my "plan abandonment" remark right now - I saw it on Teletekst the other day though. Relevant however is this open letter in Trouw (in Dutch):
My proposal has met with hefty reactions. It is claimed that I intend to forbid people from using their own language, that I want to rid this country from foreigners and harm our attitude towards international business. This has nothing to do whatsoever with the matter of my proposal.

For example, I have no trouble at all with two friends speaking Surinamese with each other in the street. However, in some situations, with more people present, it is convenient for others to be able to understand what is being said. It is important that people are aware of the fact that they cannot be understood by others and take this into account in the public sphere.
(quick&dirty translation mine)
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 4:09 PM on January 31, 2006

Cool Skeptic, you should add your latitude/longitude to your profile (check my profile as to how). And BTW I live in Transvaal, so while we have no bilingual street signs (I know which ones you mean though), I can see how a law like that would be impossible to maintain in everyday discourse. :)
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 4:12 PM on January 31, 2006

Verdonk's open letter clearly shows the problem with her: she starts from an unimpeachable principle (that it is better for the immigrants themselves, and even more for their children, to learn the language), then drives off into cloud-cuckoo land.
As a matter of courtesy, I prefer to talk to anybody in his or her own language, if possible. For that reason, it would be completely unnatural for me to switch to Dutch when speaking to somebody whose mother language I share, just for the benefit of potential eavesdroppers who may feel "unheimisch" if they can't follow my own private conversation...
Should, on the other hand, pupils be obliged to speak Dutch in school, for instance? Well, in my opinion, in class it should be preferable to keep them quiet, unless addressed by the teacher...
posted by Skeptic at 4:26 PM on January 31, 2006

I've had the idea for many years that a common language was very important to a country.

Language shapes the world we live in... when I learned French, for instance, I found that there were things I could say in English that simply couldn't be directly expressed in French, and vice-versa. (I don't have examples anymore, sadly, as I have lost most of my French.) French and English are closely related, and even so, most translations are inexact. I can only imagine how bad it must be from a language that's further away.

In other words, I more or less believe that a shared language defines a shared culture. My hypothesis is that communities that speak different languages, even living in the same location, will each perceive a very different world.

So for you Dutch people... do you find the multtiple langauges makes political discourse harder? Do you feel that all the different communities there are well-represented in government? Does language really matter, or do the translations work well enough?

I'm just curious... I've had this idea for a very long time, and I'd like to see if it has any truth to it.
posted by Malor at 4:26 PM on January 31, 2006

Maybe Verdonk should officially establish the number of people that would constitute a crowd, so that people know when to switch from their native language to Dutch!
posted by clevershark at 4:45 PM on January 31, 2006

There's only two things I hate in this world. People who are intolerant of other people's cultures and the Dutch.
posted by Roger Dodger at 4:49 PM on January 31, 2006

Is it the shoes?
posted by Smedleyman at 5:24 PM on January 31, 2006

The Pilgrims of Mayflower fame left Holland for almost the same reason. They didn't like the fact their kids were premitted to speak only Dutch in school.

Oh and this is my first. post. evah.
posted by sideshow at 5:27 PM on January 31, 2006

I don't think Verdonk starts from an unimpeachable principle, rather from a bigoted, shitstirring, proto-fascist principle. The goal of her proposal seems to me to be to validate the xenophobic paranoia of "regular dutch people" - and regular dutch people, to her, are whites, apparently.

Non-white people just aren't equal citizens in today's dutch political climate, especially muslims of course, who have apparently morphed from "regular dutch muslim" into "potential fundamentalist terrorist". For instance one of the reasons for the proposal to criminalize the wearing of a burqa was "public safety", which (I suppose, who knows how the minds work of people who think like this) means that today's dutch lawmakers seriously think that a woman who wears a burqa is likely to carry concealed weapons, which are already very illegal anyway.

We don't have bilingual streetnames here in the Schilderswijk, but the city started to place new signs with a famous work of each painter, which looks rather nice I must say.

/waves at Skeptic & goodnewsfortheinsane
posted by disso at 6:55 PM on January 31, 2006

I love Holland so much. I especially miss Amsterdam...and not for the reasons you think. I want to move there, buy a river house within walking distance of the flower market and spend all my free time at the Reichsmuseum . I want to spend my days devouring course material at The Institute for Logic, Language and Computation. I want to be able to sample the foods of a thousand nations by walking in a different direction each time I set out for sustenance. I want to discover more hidden gardens and forgotten niches.

When there, I try to speak Dutch. Without fail, people will gently guide the conversation back to English. It would appear that I do not, as it turns out, speak Dutch very well. My point being, that perhaps Ms. Verdonk does not realize how annoying it is to hear your language butchered by someone who doesn't speak it well, but would be mandated to do so anyway.
posted by dejah420 at 7:11 PM on January 31, 2006

This was a stupid statement for Verdonk to make.
Even if I disagree with some of the statements she makes I do admire her strength of character.
In a country that was mired in spineless cultural relativism politicians with these traits are sorely needed.

There are some groups that threaten with murder or violence anytime there's something they don't agree with. I would hate it when that would work and homosexuals for instance would not dare show affection in public anymore for fear of reprisal by Moroccan youths.

Yes, I want to be able to look you in the face so wearing niqab or burqa or balaklava should not be allowed in public. Recognisability entails accountability and accountability entails civil discourse.
Or: that's the way we do things here.
Otherwise: for all I know you might be Michael Jackson.
posted by jouke at 9:10 PM on January 31, 2006

Actually, an "only-Dutch" rule might have made me learn the language tolerably well. I was there for a year, in Zuid-Holland, and though my speech is apparently perfect in pitch and delivery, my word choices are odd so they know I'm not a native. So they invariably switched in short order to either English (usually) or German (less usually), which annoyed me, because I wanted them to speak with me in Dutch. It's the only country where I have encountered such a problem.

Then again, as a native speaker of English, Verdonk wasn't exactly talking about me...or about the Germans...or the French...or the Italians...

The Trouw letter was something, though--the idea that people speaking "strange tongues" will naturally plot against the rulers is a very old Colonialist canard.
posted by trigonometry at 11:03 PM on January 31, 2006

Dutch on Dutch:
My partner is Flemish (Dutch-speaking Belgian). His Dutch is official Dutch (Antwerpen), and typically better than many from The Netherlands. (FWI: The official language is jointly agreed between Flanders and The Netherlands). Even so, he often finds people in The Netherlands steering the conversation into English!

The infection first noted in America is spreading. We all have cause for alarm. Right-wing lunacy is dangerous. Many who fail to respond do so out of shock.
posted by Goofyy at 11:37 PM on January 31, 2006

spend all my free time at the Reichsmuseum

I'm afraid you'll have to go to Germany for that one. Het Rijksmuseum is the one you want to be at.
posted by sebas at 12:18 AM on February 1, 2006

I would be interested to know which languages this lady speaks. Her ideas are shallow. Total immersion is excellent, if your main aim is to learn a language. Children in schools are there for a wider purpose. And they soak up languages so I'm sure the majority of children speak Dutch by the time they leave school.
Her problem is with the adults who don't, and she seems to have that old monolingual insecurity that trigonometry points out. I'm still mystified here in the UK, when I answer the phone and I'm chatting in another language, people listening assume I must be saying something about them(?)
Most Dutch people I know speak at least three languages. Interestingly here in the UK with a larger minority population and the recent home grown bombers, they are currently promulgating a Religious Hatred law (which is completely bonkers) and students have won the right not just to wear appropriate religious modest dress, but as much cover as they want basically.
posted by Wilder at 2:48 AM on February 1, 2006

sebas: if you're going to be a pendant, please refrain from ending sentences with prepositions. Mmmkay? Otherwise, clever of you to notice.
posted by Goofyy at 4:36 AM on February 1, 2006

Some background for those unfamiliar with this kind-hearted, talented, level-headed lady.

A The Hague party in the blue! Who'd have thunk? Hi disso!
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 5:26 AM on February 1, 2006

this is rich: ...Last week the Dutch parliament approved plans to have prospective immigrants take obligatory Dutch culture and language tests, priced at 350 euros ($430). But the government is not making any preparatory courses available beyond a film presenting the Netherlands and providing examples of the tests.

Recently Dutch public television broadcast a program in which various groups residing in the Netherlands sat the tests -- among them native-born Dutch nationals, Chinese restaurant owners and so on.

They all failed.

Dutch is incredibly hard to speak properly unless you've been doing it your whole life. And why do stupidity like this when your own school systems mandate the teaching of English for all students? ...For the Dutch, English has become a second language, a compulsory subject for students, and recently introduced to primary schools. ...
posted by amberglow at 8:15 AM on February 1, 2006

<insert language here> is incredibly hard to speak properly unless you've been doing it your whole life.

Okay, pet peeve time...

While many Dutch people are absolutely convinced that Dutch is certainly much harder to learn than most other languages, especially English, this is simply not the case.

Further, some advice and information for the irredeemably Dutch (or at least Amsterdammers)...

If by speaking "properly" one means that the speaker is indistinguishable from a native speaker, very few people speak any second language properly. Even the Dutch, generally the second greatest linguists in Europe, don't speak English properly by this standard. Yes, indeed, while you speak perfectly good English, believe me, we can actually tell you're Dutch.

When a native English speaker starts speaking to you in Dutch, the courteous thing to do would be to respond in the same language until and unless he explicitly asks if you can continue in English. After all, he knows you speak wonderful English. If he wasn't interested in improving his Dutch he'd have started spouting off in English like some damn tourist.

You can't curse properly in English. Stop it. Every time one of your toddlers idly screams "shit!" at the Albert Heijn God kills a kitten.

English is a living language spoken natively by many millions of people, a small number of which take it to a high art. The pithy English phrases that are not-so-slowly creeping into misuse in your own language do no honor to either English or Dutch.

If you ever get into a conversation about the English language with a native speaker and he suggests that sometimes you might want to use word X in situation Y for reason Z don't disagree! Not ever. Don't roll your eyes either.

Finally, if you have to print many copies of something that has English on it, especially if your main audience is native English speakers, for God's sake have a native speaker look it over (not overlook it) first! There are plenty of them around and, believe me, any of them will be more than happy to help lessen the butchery of their language on your widely distributed printed materials.

</chip on shoulder>
posted by rocketpup at 11:52 AM on February 1, 2006

That's roundabout right, rocketpup.
posted by Skeptic at 1:37 PM on February 1, 2006

Well said, rocketpup. Although the pedantic prescriptivist in me (if such a thing exists) would argue that the word "shit" as used in Dutch has come to have a meaning of its own, effectively becoming a different word altogether. Van Dale seems to think so. However, I can see how odd it can sound to the ears of a native speaker of English.

For the rest, valid points though. And in the interest of full disclosure, I can report that as a native speaker of only Dutch, I am no saint in this regard.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 2:51 PM on February 1, 2006

Regarding all the English cuss words that have come into common usage in Dutch, I think it's more a matter of emphasis than anything. They've all become milder in the process and to the English-speaker's ear, the Dutch speaker often busts out with a "shit" or a "fuck", or even a "shit man, what the fuck!" at the oddest moments.

If shit is ever to become a proper Dutch word, though, the Nederlandse Taalunie will have to get hold of it. "Sjit" actually looks a lot nicer than "shit" in my opinion. In fact, I might start using it myself.

Responding to the actual subject of the post, however, being one of the less undesirable kind of foreigners in Verdonk's view I have only had to deal with the chronic delays is residence permit processing mentioned in the last article. Prices for applications have, I think, more than quadrupled since I arrived in the Netherlands and the service has become laughable.

Luckily I've only had delays on my renewals (avg. 4-5 months from application to picking up my pass) which didn't affect me adversely except for making me waste one of my mornings and a page in my passport going to the IND office to get a temporary re-entry visa.

It can be pretty nasty for some people trying to get their first permit, however, for which there are sometimes entirely unreasonable delays of 6 months or more. They are usually not able to work because it can be difficult to find someone at the tax office willing to push the button to grant you a sofi-nummer unless you already have a residence permit card. Same goes for getting a bank account.

Ironically, many people coming over on working holiday arrangements end up being unable to work for half of the duration of their eventually to be granted visas.

All-in-all, her department is quite dysfunctional.
One of my renewals was actually delayed about 6 months because my last name starts with a 'W'. Apparently the people processing the W's were totally swamped, while many of the other letters of the alphabet were doing fine. I did ask if it was possible to redistribute the load so that the pending W's could be processed faster. Unfortunately, that was not possible.
posted by rocketpup at 3:57 PM on February 1, 2006

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