Diversity brought by expats

The Netherlands hosts approximately 60.000 expats, also known as “the non-Dutch” and approximately 17.100.000 permanent residents, also known as “the Dutch”. When you Google: “what do expats think of the Netherlands” you get about 25 million results. When you Google: “what do Dutch think of expats” you get 138.000. That brings me to the question: are expats invisible? If 60.000 people generate 25 million hits, and 17 million generate 138.000, it’s safe to say there is something going on here.

The goal of this article is to provide a perspective on the diversity that expats bring in the Netherlands. Diversity basically teaches us how to cope with visible and invisible differences in society. Therefore, diversity affects all individuals, it’s a reality created by people from a broad spectrum of both demographic and philosophical differences. The concept of diversity itself takes place with acceptance and respect, which basically means that unique individual differences are recognized and respected.

So, what does a widely varying group such as expats bring to the Netherlands? When you use Google Scholar to search for a scientific approach to what expats bring to a local society you get some results from Dutch Universities, for example from Utrecht University When you use Google to find out the perspective of expats on the Dutch and the Dutch society, you get plenty of links. Some say Dutch are rude, some say expats love the Netherlands, and others address the difficulty to make friends. Mind you, all of these links are in Dutch, since they relate back to Dutch newspapers. When you search on what the Dutch think of expats, there is not a lot to find, beside some personal blogs with some personal opinions. Therefor the question: “Are expats invisible?”

First, when you search for the meaning of “expat” in Dutch you get referred to the CBS, the Central Bureau of Statistics. Here I found something interesting. According to the CBS, expats are “migrant workers”. In this definition there is no difference between people who work for the United Nations, for example an American lawyer who will work for a special tribunal on a one-year contract, and people who primarily seek a job to make more money for their families in their home countries, for example a Polish construction worker who drives home to Poland in the weekends. This is interesting, because from research on the phenomenon of being at home in the world these two groups of workers do have a completely different experience.

For an extensive research on the concept of “cosmopolitanism” in 2016 and 2017 I asked a group of expats in Den Haag for their opinion on Dutch locals to see how much they make them feel part of the local society. Here are a few snippets of the interviews:

“Dutch people are very closed, decent and reserved. Since I don’t speak the language, it’s difficult to make people at ease. Expats tend to stick together searching for a sense of similarity.”

“There is a difference between being an expat and being an immigrant. Immigrants have a pressure to adapt. As an expat, I arrived here on a one-year contract. So, I expected to stay here for a short period. Most expats don’t put effort into learning about a culture, because of the short contracts. The Dutch society is also closed, so expats tent to stick around each other.”

“Socialising at home was way more than it is here. We have a habit of visiting each other after work and in the weekends. Family, relatives, friends you are always busy. People here are more reserved. In the beginning this was difficult. You need to make plans, you cannot just show up.”

“Dutch people are very humble, no bragging, no standing out. People with money would never show this here.”

“Dutch people are perceived as very polite and open but in the same time Dutch people are very direct, and cold, stingy. I believe a lot of this is based on miscommunication, things getting lost in translation, or misinterpreted.”

“The Dutch to me seem very intent on keeping their identity, their language and their culture and what is important to them. Dutch tolerate expats. They work side by side, not together. If Dutch would be more entrepreneurial they would make a lot out of it. It would be nice though. But it’s more of an ideology, both Dutch and expats should have to want this.”

Back to the initial question, how come not much information is available on the opinion of “the Dutch” when it comes to expats? It’s safe to say Dutch on average are in favour of diversity, take a look at our history or our royal family and the example is set. I mean, our King married a Latina, and everyone adores her for her brains, kindness and for the pizzazz that she brings to the royal family. We know from research on the subject that diverse groups of people tend to communicate more, and socialise more. It does not have to mean more social cohesion, but it does mean a higher state of well-being. The social cohesion between Dutch and expats is minimal, as the snippets of the interviews show on one side, and as the lack of information on the opinion of Dutch on expats shows on the other side. This brings me back to the start of this article, if diversity affects all individuals, and relates back to the basic human need of being recognised and respected, than maybe we currently are all in a bubble. A bubble created by a cosmopolitan orientation when it comes to the expats and a bubble created by a sense of “living side by side but not together” when it comes to the Dutch. To close the gap created by the lack of social cohesion between Dutch and expats, it might not be a bad suggestion to follow up on the the last quote from the interviews: “….. Dutch tolerate expats. They work side by side, not together. If Dutch would be more entrepreneurial they would make a lot out of it. It would be nice though….”