Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Replacing Allochtoon

Replacing Allochtoon

This week, the Amsterdam city council announced it will no longer be using the term allochtoon. Instead, they’ll be using terms that are largely unpronounceable, which will probably result in everyone still saying allochtoon.

Allochtoon. It’s a word that Dutch people made up. Why? Because – if you don’t say it right – they know you’re not from around here. Then they make you take an inburgeringscursus. You have to learn the language, assimilate, and marry a Dutch person. Then after you have kids… they’ll still be allochtoon. But THEIR kids… will still be allochtoon. But after the 4th generation, well, maybe they can be Dutch.

As an American, I’m technically allochtoon. So are my kids. Then again, we’re not really allochtoon. Because we’re ‘Western.’ Even though I’m writing this in English. In fact, my 3rd generation Moroccan neighbor speaks better Dutch than I do. But she gets called allochtoon & I don’t. What are they really getting at?

For a country based on tolerance and individual freedoms, it’s odd the way the Dutch love pointing out people who are different. Even if you happen to be eating in public, some Dutch person will always point at you and say ‘Eet smakkelijk’ – with a tone that is less ‘bon apetit’ and more ‘YOU’RE EATING IN PUBLIC!’

My kids go to Dutch schools. We quickly learned the difference between black schools and white schools. Black schools are the ones with the allochtoon kids. Surely Amsterdam will change this outdated terminology as well? Don’t hold your breath.

In Dutch schools, when someone has a birthday, they will sing any number of songs, including a lovely one to the tune of ‘Happy Birthday’ called ‘Hanky Panky Shanghai.’ The teachers will make slanty-eyed faces and make the children join in. Dutch kids’ books describe Cowboys & Indians, having no problem depicting the Indians as bloodthirsty savages. And don’t get me started on Zwarte Piet. Every year, the Dutch put on blackface and act like clowns. ‘It’s harmless’ they argue. Why? ‘It’s for the children.’ It sure is. They teach ‘em young.

Will the Dutch be able to grow out of the allochtoon phase? They’ve tried to replace allochtoon before. Last time they tried ‘Nieuwe Nederlander.’ It didn’t catch on. Why? Too many syllables!

This time it’s ‘Amsterdammer-of-foreign-origin.’ Hopeless!

Why not call people what they call themselves? Dutch Moroccans are Mocros. Dutch
Turks are Turks. And the French can be ‘Allo Allo.’

Or maybe the should just be honest about their phobias and call us all ‘Xeno.’  It’s a win/win situation, since the Dutch love Xenos (because it’s cheap).

Monday, February 11, 2013

Dutch Corporate Culture: 'A Camel is a Horse Designed by a Committee'

Dutch Corporate Culture – ‘A Camel is a Horse Designed by a Committee’
8 Feb

Sometimes you work on a project that goes SO wrong you tell yourself ‘Well, it will make a good story…’ This is one of those projects.

They say 'a camel is a horse, designed by a committee.' Nowhere is this phrase more true than in Dutch office culture. Famous for being non-hierarchical, Dutch office culture puts an emphasis on consensus. Everyone should agree on everything. Yet – far from being agreeable – most Dutch meetings I’ve attended feature the most negative, contrary, cynical conversations I’ve ever had. ‘Yes, BUT…’ is the favorite phrase. And how do you know the meeting is done? ‘Iedereen moet zijn plasje over hebben.’ Literally: everyone has to take turns pissing on your idea. Then you’re done.  

I heard from a Dutch talent agency that there might be a job for me. The job was from an event organizer, working with an internal event organizer at a big company doing a product launch. For the product launch, they wanted someone to do tailored standup. I can do that.
They may also wanted live roleplay. I can do that too. The briefing was filled with contradictory information from the internal and external organizers. Yes tailored standup. Also yes roleplay. 30 minutes max. But also minimum 45 minutes.

Then came the conference call. There was 1 Claus from the client company. 1 Ingrid from the internal organizer (I guess?), 1 Ingrid from the external organizer (I guess?), and 1 woman named Babette whose function I still don’t know. I said ‘I’ve read your briefing, and I’m still unclear what you want. Why don’t we start from the beginning?’ Bad move. There was no 1 person taking charge of the conversation. Again, I heard conflicting requests. AND I couldn’t hear very well, due to distortion on the conference call, whenever 2 people spoke at once. The ironic part: The product launch was for a telecom company.

Afterward, I got a call saying I’d lost the job. The talent agency had received an angry email saying the client was shocked at my lack of professionalism and refused to work with me. I asked to see the email. Here’s the summary:

Babette: ‘In the conference call, Mr. Shapiro asked us to start from the beginning. Did he even read the briefing?’
Ingrid 1: ‘Babette said that Greg said he didn’t read the briefing. Extremely unprofessional.’
Ingrid 2: ‘Ingrid said that Babette said that Greg said he didn’t read the briefing. We have chosen not to work with Mr. Shapiro - for obvious reasons.’

So there you have it: a literal game of Chinese Whispers, based on 0% of the facts. Conclusion: I lost a thousand euros.

The ironic part here: Most likely all of these women went to school to study ‘Communication.’
And – as it turns out - what the client really wanted was neither standup nor roleplay, but a video. So they had no idea what they wanted in the first place.

The moral of the story is: when I ask for the email chain saying I lost the job, don’t let me see it. Because I did a ‘Reply All’ telling them they’re idiots. And I’ll do it again.

Friday, February 1, 2013

I Married a Monarchist

I Married a Monarchist
30 January

Monday was a busy day: KLM’s special offer for cheap tickets was about to expire! And my wife got a news update: ‘Queen Beatrix is about to make a big announcement!’ As we speculated what the big speech would be, we finalized our KLM tickets to America. We travel during the ‘May Vacation,’ and it will just fit… the only catch is we’ll miss Queen’s Day. Oh, well. The American in me says ‘No problem! It’s overrated, overcrowded, and I’m over it.’ But…

Queen Beatrix announced that she’d be transferring the crown to Willem Alexander - on Queen’s Day. D’oh! But we’d just booked our tickets to America! This Queen’s Day is going to be like a normal Queen’s Day combined with a Dutch World Cup Final / Gay Pride Day all rolled into one big Orange Spectacle & covered with stroopwafels.

It’s then I realized just how big a Monarchist my Dutch wife really is. She cried during the speech, just like she did during the royal wedding in 2002. I looked on, trying to get in the mood. But the nearest I got was a state of wonder. It’s times like these I realize my Americanness. My wife was crying tears of joy that her beloved Queen had done such an admirable job for so long. But mostly because we’d just booked tickets to America for Queens Day.

America doesn’t have a royal family. True, we adore our Hollywood dynasty, but it’s not the same. The closest we have is the First Family, inconstant and changeable. Truth be told, if you’d offer the Obamas a royal family, they’d probably say yes. Finally, someone to take over all that ribbon cutting! But there’s no figurehead, no parental symbol, no lifelong head of state.

Even as a Dutch transplant, I love the Queen. I love it that she’s technically the Head of State. So – when the Prime Minister resigns – he has to hand in his resignation to the Queen. And – technically – she can say ‘I do not accept,’ as she did in 1999. ‘But I can’t work with these people,’ fumed the PM. The Queen replied ‘Why don’t you try again?’ And it worked.

Queen Beatrix is great for international trade. Even when Geert Wilders was going off on rants about head scarves, Queen Bea visited the United Arab Emirates wearing a head scarf. Around that same time, Muslim women’s football teams were banned from competition because their head scarves were too loose. But now – thanks to a new headscarf design by Dutchwoman Cindy van den Bremen – they can compete again. And now the headscarf is even being sold in Hema. So Geert Wilders can rant about headscarves and oppression all he wants, but if there’s money to be made… Queen Beatrix will be there to uphold those traditional Dutch values.

Will I be such a big fan of King Willem-Alexander? Definitely. As a Dutchman, I have to. But as an allochtoon, I love the fact that his wife allochtoon, too.  

My Chat with Amsterdam Wethouder Cultuur

Last week I was chatting with former Dutch Immigration Minister Gerd Leers. This week I crossed the aisle.

Every year, Dutch newspaper Het Parool hosts the Amsterdammer van het Jaar Award in Stadsschouwburg Amsterdam. They have different areas for the Arts section, the Sports section, and the Politics section, where I join in to do some ‘Year-in-Review’ standup.

One of the bigger events in Amsterdam politics last year was the departure of city Finance Alderman Lodewijk Asscher and his replacement by Pieter Hilhorst. Not known for his financial background, Hilhorst is in fact a columnist for De Volkskrant and a relative newcomer to politics. And now there’s talk of the Dutch Finance Minister (Dijsselbloem) being promoted to a top EU post, even though he’s only been on the job for 2 months – and not very good ones. ‘If the Dutch Finance Minister can be promoted for no reason, then who’ll be the new Dutch Finance Minister - Pieter Hilhorst?’ That’s the joke I made in front of Pieter Hilhorst, and I stand by it. See, Christian Democrats? I also make fun of the Labor party.

The other interesting chat I had was with Carolien Gehrels, the Amsterdam Alderwoman for Commerce and Culture (also Labor party). Until recently, she’s been the target for all the criticism surrounding the delayed opening of the Stedelijk modern art museum. Now that the Stedelijk is open, she’s the target of all the compliments about the new museum. But now there’s the New York Times, trashing her all over again. And trashing Dutch restaurants. BUT then turning around and putting Amsterdam in the Top 10 Places You Must Visit in 2013. Amsterdam is Nr. 6 (between Bhutan & Houston, Texas) (not a joke).

We’re not sure why the NYT is suddenly showing such an interest in Amsterdam. But we are sure that whoever is writing for them is blowing so hot & cold, it must feel like menopause.

I finished my chat with Carolien Gehrels by again asking her for a subsidy. She said no. 

My Chat with the Dutch Immigration Minister

11 Jan 2013

Happy 2013! My new year started out in Limburg.

I was invited to be a guest speaker at the Society of Old Dutch Men. That wasn’t the official name, but that’s how it felt. At the main table was a former member of the Dutch cabinet from the Christian Democrats (CDA). Then there was the former Immigration Minister Gerd Leers (CDA), who was in the same cabinet as Geert Wilders. (Other than his politics, his eyebrows are amazing.)
His eyebrows were only to be outdone by the famous former Dutch Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers (also CDA). The place was crawling with Christian Democrats!

Here’s the thing: my job as a speaker is largely to poke fun at Dutch politics. Usually, the politicians are not THE ENTIRE AUDIENCE. I got to the point where I talk about Zwarte Piet. Normally, there are a couple internationals in the audience, to laugh along when I point out how bizarre it seems. Not so today. This group reacted with 'Blackface? Perfectly normal.' I also made reference to immigration policy, pointing out that the real Sint Nicolaas is from Turkey. ‘So the biggest Dutch holiday is actually being run by the Turks.’ ...Anyone? Hello?

Just when I thought I’d be invited to leave the building, I was approached by a man in black with a big, silver cross. He introduced himself as the Bishop of Maastricht, and he said he loved my speech… Before I knew it, he’d introduced me to Gerd Leers. And there I was, face to face with ‘Mr. Immigration.’ Would he be offended by my speech? Would I somehow end up being deported?

We ended up talking about the big news from last month: the amnesty granted to child asylum-seekers and their families. Mr. Leers said he was glad to see the issue resolved. He had a nice quote: ‘Make no mistake: If I could, I would grant amnesty to most asylum seekers. But it's complicated.' 

Leers told about Germany's policy to pay cash for Bosnians & Kosovars to return home. They policy was such a success that Kosovars were entering Germany just to get the cash to go back home! 'Scandalous,' said Minister Leers. But I could only think 'What would you do?' If your house had been bombed (by NATO), why not try to get Germany to pay to fix your house?

Minister Leers continued: 'I'd like to grant amnesty to everyone. But at some point you must realize you are giving a huge gift to the human traffickers.’ And so I got schooled. Apparently, human trafficking is a huge industry, shuttling the poorest people to the West with false promises, in appalling conditions. 

'They should all save up for a ticket on KLM and arrive like civilized people,' I responded.  
But until that happens, let’s all take a moment for Human Trafficking Awareness Day. Gerd Leers: 'When is that?' I told him: this Friday. Now you got schooled.