Aarav and Diya have moved with their daughter into their first house in the Netherlands and Aarav has started a small shop. They get into contact with their new neighbors Kees and Annie.
Diya: The new neighbor Kees has come over to help us carry our belongings into the house and Annie, Kees’ wife, even has brought some soup to eat. That was really nice and that night I told my husband that we were lucky with such friendly neighbors. But the next day Aarav came back angry from the shop. Kees had passed by and told him he should shave his beard! And yesterday Annie said that my dress wasn’t good enough for this neighborhood! When I explained to her that my dress is part of me and of my religion, she didn’t even react. I feel insulted by these people and would rather keep some distance.
Annie: We have new neighbors from India and wanted to help them integrate into the Netherlands. We’ve helped them on the first day of moving in and we had a good atmosphere. However, the man, Aarav, opened a shop and with his black beard he scares customers away. And I’ve tried to tell Diya that if she adjusts her dress somewhat, it will be easier for her to be accepted in the neighborhood. But she thinks her religion is more important so I don’t know how these people will integrate into our society and I’ve let go.
Kees and Annie were trying to help and to explain how things work in the Netherlands. They may have no idea that their statements were insulting for Aarav and Diya. The Dutch have a very direct way of communication; they say things rather bluntly. Often, they try to be helpful but in the process they may step on people’s toes. Aside from this, some people in the Dutch host country still feel that immigrants could adjust more to the way the Dutch people behave and dress.
What are some possible solutions?
For Aarav and Diya there are several ways to react to the statements which were made by Kees and Annie. It is possible to make a little joke (‘I look ugly without a beard’) or to say ‘thank you for your advice’. Sometimes it is good to consider the advice: Kees and Annie are probably trying to explain something which is important to them. Kees and Annie, on their turn, may try to understand that their statements can come across as intruding or insulting, because the things they constructively criticized about Aarav and Diya are important to them, coming from India. If it’s the case they feel that it is impossible to agree on something, then it might be best not to give it too much attention, and focus instead on commonalities. Try to find some other things to talk about. This is true for all parties: it is okay to disagree on certain things.
Aarav and Diya are from a collectivist culture, while Kees and Annie are from an individualistic culture (IDV). This means that Kees and Annie are rather direct, sometimes blunt in their communication. They prefer honesty and clarity above the risk of hurting anyone. Also, some Dutch might feel that their way of living is being threatened by the arrival of refugees and immigrants. This will cause them to speak up and try to encourage newcomers to integrate quickly. Maybe more quickly than Aarav and Diya are prepared for; it takes time to adjust one’s behaviors and values. In collectivist countries the honor of the family may be of high value and if outsiders comment carelessly on this, it comes across as insulting and intruding.