My most difficult experience in the Netherlands. That of having to defend my nationality.
“Oh, so you are Romanian. Should we hide our wallets?” my colleagues innocently asked me one day. “Romania, you said? You so know everything about skimming? ” I heard another day. Excuse me? Are these people really talking to me? About me?! But that was just the beginning of a long line of jokes, funny statements and innuendoes, that I would find myself exposed to from time to time.
No, my colleagues and friends from the Netherlands are not cruel or xenophobe individuals. I have truly met only nice and friendly people here. And the jokes started only when they got to know me better and we were comfortable with each other. The statements just expressed the reality: Romanians have a negative perception in the Netherlands, at best considered cheap work force and at worst, thieves.
Soon after my arrival I’ve learnt there’s a political party that is actively fighting against immigrants, amongst which the Romanians are their “favourite” target. It is only then that I began to realize the extent of the issue.
No, no, no, I am not any of that!
My first reactions went from shock to anger and ended in sadness. Not that I haven’t heard bad things about Romania before. Oh, boy, far from the truth! But it’s like with the “n” word. It’s ok if we say we are crappy, but when others do it, we just go crazy.
In no time I realized that I started to defend everything about myself. I began telling people how my Mom is a doctor with not just one, but two specializations. That my Dad has a PhD in engineering. That all my friends are master graduates, some of them even graduating from 2 universities and being able to speak at least 2-3 foreign languages. I told stories about how Bucharest was called The Little Paris before the 2nd world war and how communism damaged a wonderful country. And of course, I posted on FB, like a frenetic mouse, every registered success of Romania. Thank God for the Math Olympics where we ranked first last year! (We were probably the only one to compete, I mean, who else would study Math these days??)
Why was I close to picking up a stone?
It’s not like I’m not aware that each nationality has a certain stigma attached. Dutch are cheap, Americans are uneducated, Israeli are conniving, Italians are lazy. But somehow, being called a thief seemed the most appalling thing in the universe.
Clearly, the first stone I wanted to pick up was out of anger and spite. Anger towards that category of Romanians who steal and skim. Because they don’t hurt only the people they steal from, but also all the Romanians, by casting this horrible distorted image on them. And unlike the skimming victims, no bank can pay us back…
Then I’m thinking: we weren’t even able to do some serious crimes, for crying out loud, like freaking weapons smuggling! Instead we commit these petty crimes like pick-pocketing, burglary and skimming, that are there in plain view, with immediate and high social impact.
Don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t want us to be a player in one of the big crimes. God no! I just wanted to understand how a girl from a good family of intellectuals, well seen in her home town, with the most decent life and friends, earning an honest living, finds herself in the situation of being associated with scumbags. So I’m thinking about picking up another stone and throwing it towards the people that made me feel small and inferior and made me defend, my parents, my friends, my life. This defensive state of mind makes me feel as if I must justify even the people committing the crimes! Blaming the usual suspects: poverty, lack of education, environment they were brought up into. And this is how I dropped the first stone.
Why were they close to picking up a stone?
At first, it was difficult for me to understand why Romanians were such a threat for the Dutch. According to statistics, Romanians are around 0, 5% of the Dutch population. So what are the infamous reasons for which a bunch of people can scare off an entire country? !
The 1st answer we find in the history of the Netherlands, a country that went through 5 big waves of immigrants in the last half century. And yeah, that can be scary.
- It started after the 2nd world war with the Indonesian wave.
- In the ‘60s and ‘70s there was the South-European wave: Italians, Spanish but also Turks and Moroccans.
- The ‘80s is when the people from Surinam and the Netherlands Antilles arrived
- In the ‘90s, due to political persecution, the Middle East and Asia came in.
- It all culminated with the countries from the East-Europe, after they entered the European Union: Poland, Bulgaria and of course my dearest, Romania.
And if some years ago, Romanians came to the Netherlands to reunite with the loved ones, now the reasons have changed. Now it’s work related. And of course that’s scary for the Dutch. In addition to having to look around every day and recognise less people looking like them, having to hear a lot of funny foreign languages, now their jobs are threatened as well. By cheaper and more hardworking individuals.
There are also the big statistics, that can’t be overlooked. In 2010, the Public Prosecutors estimate that 60% of the skimming was done by Romanian criminals.
And of course there are the big – bang hits, that get a lot of media attention. Like the big art theft from Rotterdam. Just when I thought that my efforts of boosting the image of the Romanians paid off, 6 of my compatriots go and bust the Museum of Art from Rotterdam, steal and destroy priceless paintings of Monet, Matisse and Picasso! That is it!! Even I think now that Romanians are the worst!
Why should we all put down the stones
I was at the hairdresser’s, talking to an Indian girl, when it “hit” me. We are all sinners in labelling others. It’s just so easy! It’s so damn easy to remember the bad characteristics of a nation, because they are so distinct and annoy you so much. Instead, all the good features tend to blend in a big pile of universality, that is almost boring. Who cares that the Dutch are open-minded, the Americans are friendly, the Israeli are so united, the Italians are passionate and the Romanians hospitable?
I also realized it’s going to take some guerrilla actions to change a perception. All of us Romanians living abroad have to do it. Have to prove everyday that we are decent human beings. It won’t be difficult, I promise. We just have to be ourselves. Because the Romanians I know are funny and smart and honest and bright. And they carry no stones..