Longer articles about living in the Netherlands, Dutch society, culture and travel plus third party content from our partners


10 things you need to know about Easter in the Netherlands

10 things you need to know about Easter in the Netherlands

Easter (Goede Vrijdag, 1e and 2e Paasdag) takes place next weekend (March 25-28) and this year, coincides with the clocks going forward - so less sleep on Sunday! Easter Monday is a public holiday but Friday is a normal working day, apart from government workers, lucky things. Here is our updated list of Dutch Easter habits. Easter breakfast box If you have children at a Dutch primary school, they, rather you, will probably have to make an Easter breakfast box which they will give to another child in their class. This is a shoe box beautifully decorated with Eastery things and should contain all the ingredients for a delicious breakfast. Some schools have banned jam and sweet things, white bread and even chocolate eggs… which is a little odd. But hey, a cheese sandwich can be festive as well. Brunch An extended breakfast with all the family and friends on Easter Sunday – and possibly Monday if you are greedy. All sorts of rolls, cheese, ham, eggs, eggs and eggs. You may find the butter is in the shape of a little spring lamb (aah). Brunch will also include Paasbrood. We are not sure what the difference is with Kerstbrood apart from the fact it is wrapped in a yellow bow rather than a red one. No Easter brunch is complete without matsos – the Jewish crackers. Decorations The Dutch are very keen on Easter eggs and spring-related decorations, and many homes will put up willow branches hung with tiny wooden eggs and bows. Over the years these have become bigger and more elaborate, the supermarket shelves are groaning under ornaments and soon they will resemble Christmas trees. Egg painting The Dutch also like to paint boiled eggs in pretty patterns. If you want to do this, be sure to buy a proper egg stand at Blokker or Intertoys so you can colour your egg without getting paint all over your fingers and the rest of the eggs in the box. Easter egg painting is number 5 on the Dutch folklore centre’s list of the top 10 Dutch traditions. And according to the Dutch egg marketing board, we are going to eat 35 million eggs next weekend – not counting all the chocolate ones, that is. The Easter Hare Yes, the Dutch do have Easter egg hunts but don’t forget, the Netherlands has a Paashaas – Easter hare – rather than a bunny – well, it does rhyme better. Flower at St Peters in Rome The Dutch flower industry has for 29 years supplied the 42,000 tulips which are sent to Rome to decorate St Peter's for the pope’s Easter day appearance. Every year the pope – wherever he comes from – says in his best Dutch ‘bedankt voor de bloemen’ – the highlight of the Dutch television news coverage. In 2013, however, shock horror, the new pope Francis said it in Italian! Easter attractions There are, of course, Easter markets, special Easter brunches at restaurants and Easter events at amusement parks.  And there is the Paaspop festival which has taken place over the Easter weekend in the Noord-Brabant town of Schijndel since 1985. Paaspop, which attracts some 15,000 people, is seen as the unofficial start of the Dutch festival season. This year's event includes Dutch evergreens Golden Earring, Eurovision hopeful Douwe Bob and the Fun Lovin' Criminals. Many Dutch people also seem to consider visiting an out-of-town retail park selling furniture - a woonboulevard - to be a traditional Easter activity. Easter fires Easter fires are lit in various parts of Europe and probably have pagan origins. In the Netherlands, most are found in Drenthe, Groningen, Overijssel, Twente, Friesland and Gelderland but there are all sorts of regional variations about what is burnt and when. The village of Espelo in Overijssel has the world record for the highest hand-built Easter fire – 27 meters and no cranes allowed. St Matthew Passion This work by Johann Sebastian Bach is always performed at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam on Good Friday (two performances). It is the sort of thing which people say you should have done once in your life. Some people go every year. Vlöggelen Okay, we’d never heard of this before, but it seems that in the Twente village of Ootmarsum, the good folk take part in a complicated ritual which involves much of the population winding through the village hand-in-hand, singing Easter songs. They also raise children up in the air which is said to represent the rising of Jesus from his tomb. We’d have to see this to believe it. This list was first published on website Netherlands by Numbers   More >


Windlicht is a led laser light show on a wind farm (update)

Windlicht is a led laser light show on a wind farm (update)

This weekend's planned showing of a new project by Studio Roosegaarde focussing on the 'beauty of green energy' has been cancelled because the wind is coming from the wrong direction. The project involves beams of green light dancing across a wind farm in Zeeland but the weather has scuppered this weekend's planned laser display. Artist Daan Roosegaarde says has been inspired by the traditional windmills of Kinderdijk. At the same time, the installation is a tribute to modern ways of harvesting wind energy. 'There’s a lot of "I want it, but I don’t want to see it",’ Roosegaarde said in an interview with Wired. 'I think that’s weird. I think they’re beautiful, to be honest.' Keep a watch on the studio's Facebook page for new dates.   More >


How to go Dutch: ‘First, learn how to pronounce inburgering correctly’

How to go Dutch: ‘First, learn how to pronounce inburgering correctly’

Five years ago Molly Quell moved to the Netherlands as the wife of an academic for a short term project.. Now she's single, has fallen in love with the country and finds herself in the unexpected position of having to integrate. We’re far enough into the New Year to have reached the point where people have dropped the pretense of their resolutions and gone back to sleeping in, ignoring their gym membership, boozing it up and spending too much money. I, however, have kept mine. It’s not because I have more willpower or am a more moral person (hell, I’m still in my pajamas and just had four chocolate chip cookies for lunch.) It’s because at the end of this year I have a looming deadline. The dreaded inburgering. This website just finished running a three part feature about the exam and, after reading those horror stories, I thought it would be fun to try it out for myself. Integrate Due to the current terms of my visa, I am not obligated to integrate. But I want to. Having permanent residency makes a number of things easier, including negotiating contracts and finding housing. It also means I don’t have to wait anxiously every year to find out whether or not my visa will be extended. I have two choices: Inburgering or NT2. Supposedly, the integration exam is easier, so I figured I’d take my chances with that. The integration exam has five components: Reading, Writing, Listening, Speaking and (the infamous) Knowledge of Dutch Society. (I arrived in the Netherlands prior to January 1, 2015 when the rules changed. You should check with IND, your lawyer or an astrologer to make sure you’re on the right track.) Four-fifths of the exams is essentially speaking Dutch. And my Dutch language proficiency is limited. I moved to the Netherlands in 2011 with my partner who had taken, what was supposed to be, a year-long post doc position at a university. Shortly after we moved, we enrolled in a course at a local community centre offered by the local government. When the course began a few weeks later, I’d found a position working at a nearby international school. Let me be frank. Working 40 hours per week, with an hour commute each way is challenging. Add to that a three-hour long course twice a week, as well as five hours of homework a week and it is exhausting. Tolerable, but exhausting. No English When you factor in the utter dysfunction of the course itself, co-taught by two instructors who didn’t seem to like each other very much, a lack of syllabus or even class schedule and the refusal of the instructors to speak to us in English (so much so that, on the first night of class, the teacher would not tell me where the bathroom was because I couldn’t ask the question in Dutch), it was terrible. I vowed I would not set foot in another Dutch classroom and, as I was expecting to move back to the US shortly after the course ended anyway. it didn’t seem too unreasonable. Instead my partner was offered another position. We stayed. Then, the relationship ended. And I stayed. Upon deciding that I did want to stay here, I revisited my anti-Dutch language stance. I was no longer in the position of living here because of someone else. I was choosing to live in the Netherlands and, as such, I wanted to learn Dutch. So I found a friendly Belgian to teach me. He is a retired engineer who is spending his golden years travelling the world and tolerating a group of foreigners butchering his language. Unlike my previous experience with learning Dutch, I actually enjoyed the experience. We discussed the news, we read Suske and Wiske, I baked cookies, his wife gave me flowers. Most surprisingly, my Dutch improved. I was starting to understand the conversation among my colleagues at lunch. I could chat a bit with the other dog owners at the park. If this was a fairy tale, the story would end here, with a fancy script reading 'And they all lived happily ever after. The End.' Don’t believe Disney. Life is not a fairy tale. Residency In 2015, my immigration lawyer pointed out that I could, in 2016, apply for permanent residency. No more fees paid to IND. No more anxiously waiting to see if I could stay. No more gathering paperwork in triplicate. All I had to do was pass an exam and I would be home free. Since the lawyers fees and the IND fees alone would finance a nice vacation every year, I was interested. Then a few months ago, my visa renewal was rejected. IND had, again and without notice, changed the paperwork requirements for my residency permit. Ultimately (and after spending a lot of money on my lawyer and my accountant and a lot of hours at IND) it was approved. The day I received the approval letter, I had a Dutch lesson. I walked in and asked my teacher what I had to do to pass the inburgering exam. ‘First, you should probably learn how to pronounce inburgering correctly.’ We found a textbook, I ordered it and a week later, my doorbell rang, during dinner, of course. The DHL guy handed over a package with the course materials which I put down on the stairs before rushing back to save my pasta from boiling over. Five minutes later, I thought I heard suspicious noises coming from the living room. My dog was using the box as a chew toy. CDs I was able to rescue the course materials from the clutches of my dog’s jaws and fortunately they were unscathed. A few days later, I felt like a kid on the first day of school as I took my shiny new textbook and folder of materials to my Dutch lesson. My Dutch instructor went through it approvingly. He emphasised the importance of using the e-learning portion, so that I could listen to the pronunciation as well as practise it myself. The e-learning programme was contained on the eight accompanying CDs. I haven’t had a CD-rom drive since college. I didn’t even know they were made anymore. I even asked the ICT department at work if I could borrow a laptop with a CD-rom drive. The student helper at the desk didn’t know what a CD-rom drive was. I was officially old. But, fortunately, not out of luck. Buried in the fine print, in a brochure, there was mention of the e-learning programme being available online. One quick trip to the website later and I was set up. Purple Easter I’ll spare you the gory details of the first few weeks of the course. There was a lot of counting (but only to twelve) and naming of colours (does anyone else confuse purple and Easter in Dutch?). There are also a lot of lessons about body parts and bleeding. A child bites its lip till it bleeds. Another child cuts its finger on a knife. I’m unclear what message this is sending to foreigners. The weekly lesson allotment from this textbook takes about 1.5 hours to complete. I’m still using another textbook on conversation which my instructor and I had been using before I decided to take on the inburgering exam, which is about another hour of homework. Plus 1.5 hours in lessons per week. Plus, I am also working every day with a language learning app for about 15 minutes. All told, that’s about six hours a week on Dutch. Which may not sound like a lot, but I work around 50 hours a week, plus I volunteer, plus finding time for exercise, household chores and, ya know, the occasional Netflix binge. I’m also in the very privileged position of being able to afford textbooks and private lessons. So if Game of Thrones could push back its start date, I’d really appreciate that. Molly will update on her progress in May  More >


Nijmegen – From Barbarossa to Bob Hope

Nijmegen – From Barbarossa to Bob Hope

For a city as modestly-sized as Nijmegen, it has a significant place in Dutch history. In fact, it is thought to be the oldest city in the Netherlands, and in 2005 celebrated its 2000th anniversary. Stephanie Dijkstra finds out more. When the Romans arrived in the area and set up camp, the camp was quickly accompanied by a new market: Novio Magnum – and with a little bit of imagination, you will realise this is the origin of the name Nij-Megen. It was home to 12,000 Roman soldiers, and was flanked by Oppidum Batavorum, or City of the Batavi, which was inhabited by Roman civil servants, tradesmen and a few Batavi (an ancient Germanic tribe). In 270, after squashing a Batavi uprising, the Romans built a fort which later came into the hands of the Franks and even later became part of the empire of Charlemagne. This fort was destroyed and rebuilt over a period of centuries, until Barbarossa (Red Beard, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Italy, Germany and Burgundy) decided this was where he wanted to build a castle. Today, you can still visit the Barbarossa ruin, located in what is now called Valkhof Park. A visit to Museum het Valkhof in the city centre will allow you to witness some of the archaeological finds made in the city. The museum itself is a delight in many ways: the entire back wall is made of glass, offering a view of the tree-lined pathway behind it and giving you the feeling you are taking a walk through the woods every time you enter the main passageway. And the rooms, with their collections of objects from prehistory, the Romans and the Middle Ages – as well as other exhibitions – are light and far from stuffy. Students Nijmegen is what the Dutch call a ‘student city’; it is home to Nijmegen’s Radboud University, as well as to the HAN hbo college. All in all, almost 39,000 students live in the city, making up 29% of its population. My tour of Nijmegen started at the Valkhof Museum and from there took us through the city centre. It was a sunny Saturday and the  town was full of students, locals, young couples with children and a sprinkling of Germans, as Nijmegen is just a few miles from the German border. First stop was Bairro Alto (which you will recognise by the words Hollandsche Spoorweg written over its window), Nijmegen’s answer to Starbucks. Housed in a former travel bureau and ticket office built for the Dutch railroad company, it is now a cozy place to stop for a cup of coffee or tea, as well as salads and sandwiches. You can even pick up a picnic basket and blanket (which you return when you are done). From there, it is a short walk to the Grote Markt, which you cross to go through an archway leading to a quaint little street that wraps around the Stevenskerk which dates from the 13th century. The church itself is magnificent in resplendent white and gold, with a gleaming stone floor and the tombs of many local dignitaries, including that of Catherine of Bourbon. American bombers Beside the Romans, Nijmegen was also involved in another, more recent, important chapter of this nation's history: World War II. On February 22, 1944 16 American bombers – presumably mistaking Nijmegen for a German town – dropped their bombs, killing 800 people and ruining substantial portions of the inner city, including the tower of the Stevenskerk. Then, just seven months later, in September 1944, Operation Market Garden started; an unsuccessful Allied attempt at securing the bridges across the river Meuse, the lower Rhine and the Waal so they could enter the German lowlands while avoiding its Siegfried defence line. As part of their efforts, the Allies started to liberate Nijmegen, but the Germans defended it tooth and nail. The fighting drove out tens of thousands of local inhabitants and when the Germans left, a few days later, they set fire to what was left of the inner city. Front line But that was not the end because Nijmegen was now on the new front line, and Germany bombed the city time and again, trying to destroy the bridges which were still intact. In short, during the last few months of the war Nijmegen found itself in the middle of a battlefield. By the end of the war, some 2,200 people had been killed and 10,000 wounded; 5,000 homes and 500 shops were destroyed and 12,000 people were left homeless. Nevertheless, during the war, Nijmegen became a popular place for allied soldiers who were on leave. At a certain point it was home to 150,000 allied soldiers – almost twice as many as there were local inhabitants – and was visited by both Bob Hope and Vera Lynn. This created something of a dilemma after the war, when the local inhabitants, well aware of who had dropped the bombs on February 22, were torn between their appreciation of the allied soldiers and the naked fact of the bombing. As a consequence, the bombing was swept under the carpet for decades afterwards; only recently becoming a topic that could be discussed openly. Rebuilding After the war, the city focused on rebuilding and repairing the damaged buildings – unlike Rotterdam, for instance, which only aimed for a return of 10% of its historical appearance. And now, the city is working on another ambitious project. In 1995, after a surge of water, caused by heavy rains in Germany and France, threatened the people of Nijmegen, the city decided something had to change. Instead of merely strengthening its dykes, it moved them 350 metres further back, creating a wider flood plain for the Waal. As they have done throughout history, the Dutch have come up with innovative and impressive plans that will not only ensure a city’s safety, but also its beauty, its atmosphere – and room for growth.  More >


It’s that time of year again – get ready to file your tax return

It's tax return time again. You've got until May 1 to hand in your annual tax return and this year, like every year, a few things have changed. Here's a handy overview of what you need to know. 1 The Dutch tax year The Dutch tax year runs from January 1 to December 31. You have until May 1 to file your tax return, unless you ask for an extension and the tax office is fairly relaxed about providing one. Dial the toll free number 0800-0543 and ask. If you file your taxes through a tax adviser, than the agency can request an extension (usually free of charge) for you. 2 Who has to file an income tax return?If you received an invitation from the Dutch tax office to file your income tax, you are required to comply, even if you had no income. The letters are typically sent in the month of February. If you live in the Netherlands currently or have done for part of the year you may also file a tax return voluntarily. You may, for example, expect a refund or you have received undeclared income. And who knows, perhaps you will be entitled to money back. 3 If you are a new arrival Tax filing for the year you arrived in the Netherlands is different from filings for residents with a complete tax year. You become liable for tax the moment you arrive but you might find the tax office has a different date - such as the date you registered with your local council. The tax office should use the actual date you arrived, so if there is a discrepancy, let them know, via your tax advisor. 4 The 30% ruling If you were recruited from outside the Netherlands and you meet the minimum taxable salary threshold of € 36,889 (2016), you might be eligible for the 30% ruling. This allows employers to pay staff 30% of their salary free of tax. The rules for benefiting from this tax break have become more complicated as of late, and a tax advisor can help you find out if you qualify. For more on this, see blueumbrella.nl/faq. 5 Worldwide income and double tax relief Residents of the Netherlands and non-residential tax payers should report their entire worldwide income in their income tax returns. This worldwide income may include revenue which the Dutch tax office is not entitled to tax because of bilateral tax treaties. To avoid a situation where you have to pay tax twice in both countries over the same source, the Netherlands grants a credit to compensate for the tax owed outside the Netherlands. This is commonly referred to as double tax relief. 6 Company cars If you have a company car and use it privately to drive more than 500 kilometres a year, you will have to pay tax on it. The tax is based on the value of the car when it was new, including taxes, and varies depending on how energy efficient the vehicle is. Find out more 7 Mortgage tax relief and other tax breaks The maximum amount mortgage holders can deduct from tax is gradually being reduced and last year the amount was cut to 51%. This means that if you are a high earner and pay 52% tax on some of your income, the mortgage tax relief break is only 51% - in other works, your mortgage will cost you a little more. You may also be entitled to tax relief on the cost of childcare and on some extra healthcare costs. 8 Remember your Digid From this year the government wants all personal tax returns to be made online or via a special app, and that means you'll need a Digid, the personal identification number used for all contact with government departments. So it is no good trying to complete the form on April 30 and then discovering you don't have the all important number. Be prepared. For more information contact Blue Umbrella at phone +31(0)204687560, e-mail info@blueumbrella.nl or website www.blueumbrella.nl  More >


It’s nearly spring, and Amsterdam is ready to celebrate with 500,000 tulips

It’s nearly spring, and Amsterdam is ready to celebrate with 500,000 tulips

Tulips have long been synonymous with Amsterdam and yet in recent years, despite tourists being able to buy everything from soap to maracas in tulip form, the real things have been largely absent from our streets. Esther O’Toole went to meet Saskia Albrecht, founder of the Tulp Festival Amsterdam, who’s on a one woman mission to put the tulip back in full view. In 2010, Saskia Albrecht was an experienced and reputable landscape gardener, responsible for the Open Garden Days at the Museum van Loon, when she hit on the idea of designing a special event around tulips. With hundreds of varieties, her favourite flower offered endless potential for spectacular springtime displays and, she felt, something quintessentially Dutch to boot. ‘I’ve always been busy with tulips, it seemed natural’, she says. With much planning, the first three-day tulip weekend was put into action at the museum, but it didn’t go exactly to schedule. It was too cold and the tulips didn’t come out on time. The following year, it was too hot and they bloomed early. Though she was able to continue her experiment successfully for a third year the weather remained a risk and the event was ultimately cancelled. For all her best laid plans Albrecht had to admit that ‘nature was just going to do it’s thing’ and she would have to go back to the drawing board. Then she visited Istanbul. Istanbul Whilst there Albrecht heard that a massive tulip festival was taking place, but she could find no sign of it. Eventually, she managed to contact the organisers and was given a tour of the displays of millions of blooming tulips in the parks. More than a bulb for every one of the 14 million inhabitants of the city, a happy coincidence apparently. That was when the idea for the Tulp Festival Amsterdam struck her. Her initial efforts hadn’t failed because they were too ambitious, but because they were too small. Greater scale would allow for better management of the variables and so the dream of a tulip festival, with a bulb for everyone of Amsterdam’s inhabitants, was born. Tulip Mania Tulips were first introduced to the Netherlands in the 1600s when they were brought back from Turkey by Dutch merchants. In 1637 the popularity of the flower amongst Dutch collectors had reached such a height that a single exotic bulb could sell for more than the annual income of a skilled craftsman, an unsustainable price. The economic bubble created by tulip sales burst and the government capped prices, but Holland would be forever synonymous with the flower. Being annuals makes tulips more expensive to plant on mass than their perennial cousins and so, especially in the last years of recession and budget cut backs, they have been replaced in public displays by the cheaper daffodil. Dutch tulip growing has been almost exclusively for export and that’s what Albrecht wants to change. 2016 2016 marks the second year of the festival. Last year they planted over half a million tulips in beds and pots around the city and this year they have done so again, pushing on towards that ultimate goal of a bulb for every inhabitant. The festival runs from 31st March for the whole month of April, giving more than enough time for visitors to catch swathes of tulips in bloom whether the weather is cool or warm. Successful partnerships have been established with Ibulbs, one of the major wholesalers of tulip bulbs, who have provided 30,000 for this year’s festival and head up the ‘Bulbs4kids’ program for primary schools. This means there will be huge displays in the Vondelpark come April, planted by local primary school children, that wouldn’t have been there otherwise. ‘I hope that from next year it won’t just be the Vondelpark, but also parks in north and east Amsterdam too’, Albrecht says. Highlights Planting in large pots has been a secret of success that will be coming back again this year. Potting the flowers allows for far more control over the bloom time. You can keep them inside until the last minute, if need be. It also allows for more flexibility of placement and the ability to ‘plant’ where there are no flower beds: ‘In places where there is nothing else, it’s a great substitute and in this way you can also display far more flowers’, Albrecht noted. Look in the fountain on Museumplein, alongside the roads on Van der Pekstraat in Noord, the wharf outside the Eye film museum and Nemo, the science museum. Some 30,000 bulbs have been planted in beds near the Maritime Museum and 25,000 more at the Rijksmuseum; everywhere there is an effort to make the displays complement the architecture. The site specific planting of Albrecht’s city-wide design is cleverly developed to make the whole city light up with colour, come April, and she has personally overseen it all; running the charity alongside her freelance work. ‘Together we make the city beautiful, I want to inspire people to do that,’ she says. Tulp Festival Amsterdam runs from March 31st to the end of April at locations throughout the city.   More >


Dutch documentary awakens euthanasia debate about wider rules

Dutch documentary awakens euthanasia debate about wider rules

A recent Dutch television documentary on euthanasia in which a 68 year-old woman suffering from semantic dementia was given a lethal injection may well herald a turning point in what many consider to be an increasingly broader - and unacceptable - interpretation of the rules. Hanneke Sanou assesses the reactions. The documentary, broadcast by public broadcaster NTR in Feburary to mark the start of a week of discussions on euthanasia, followed three clients of the Levenseindekliniek, a clinic for people who want to end their lives but whose family doctor is unwilling to cooperate. Some cases include people with mental problems or dementia, and people who consider their lives to be complete. Earlier this month an advisory commission rejected the norm ‘a life completed’ as grounds for euthanasia if the person requesting it does not also suffer from physical problems constituting ‘unbearable and hopeless suffering’, the basis on which Dutch law allows euthanasia to take place. All cases are reviewed by a committee which determines if doctors acted in accordance with due care. Deterioration The story of Hannie Goudriaan, a former health care worker, begins in 2008 when she starts to notice ‘something not right in the head’, as her husband Gerrit Goudriaan puts it. His wife turns out to be in the early stages of semantic dementia, a disease that gradually erases meaning from words and concepts. She tells family doctor Gert Bloemberg that if she deteriorates to the point where she can’t recognise loved ones or is unable to communicate she no longer wants to live, a statement she also puts in writing. Several years later, in 2014, Hannie decides the time has come but her first port of call, the family doctor, now doubts whether she is mentally competent enough to confirm her initial wish. The doctor, overwhelmed by the complexity of the case, decides that there are insufficient grounds. Remco Verwer, the doctor in charge of her case at the Levenseindekliniek, to which the couple then turns, becomes convinced of her wish to die. Hannie, by this time, has lost much of her understanding of words and seems to use the word ‘Huppekee’ (something like ‘there goes’) as a substitute for the act to end her life. Nothing left Meanwhile Hannie is shown fit enough to drive a car and enjoy the occasional outing. According to the review committee’s report, which states that doctors had acted with due care, Hannie then has an unusually lucid moment during a talk with a SCEN doctor ( SCEN stands for Support and Consultation in cases of Euthanasia in the Netherlands) during which she ‘clearly and calmly’ repeats her wish to die because ‘there is nothing left’. The final scenes show Hannie as she is given the injection, murmuring ‘terrible’. Reactions to the programme were immediate, and mixed. In the NRC clinical ethicist Erwin Kompanje professed himself ‘gobsmacked’ and ‘worried’. ‘If she was able to clearly state that she was suffering and wanted to die while the point of the euthanasia was the lack of the ability to communicate, then there is a contradiction there. Especially when you consider that semantic dementia is a progressive illness which can’t suddenly improve.’ (..) The fact that many health professionals had expressed similar doubts ‘could precipitate a discussion about the limits of euthanasia: ending the lives of people who can no longer confirm their wish by people who have no primary involvement, based on subjective interpretation of empty words and earlier living will should not admissible anywhere, including the Netherlands,’ he wrote. Slippery slope Professor of cognitive science Victor Lamme wrote in the Volkskrant that euthanasia in the Netherlands is on a ‘slippery slope’ and that euthanasia is used to ‘solve other problems than putting an end to unbearable suffering.’ According to Lamme Hannie Goudriaan was ‘under pressure’ to keep to her declaration of intention even though ‘a person with dementia becomes a different person’. He also points to the societal pressure on the elderly. ‘Which problem is euthanasia supposed to solve? The elderly cost time, money and effort. Modern society is unwilling to provide all three,’ he wrote. There were many who thought the documentary ‘touching and beautiful’.One Volkskrant reader said she thought she had been watching a 'totally different documentary than many others': 'I saw a loving couple grieving because one of them was deteriorating more and more.' Quick process According to Volkskrant journalist Maud Efting who has written extensively about the subject of euthanasia, the ‘euthanasia process was shown in the documentary as relatively very quick. 'In twenty minutes Hannie Goudriaan came to her end,’ she wrote, implying that this is one of the reasons the film was criticised so vehemently. In her considered piece on the programme she quotes family doctor Gert Bloemberg as saying that Hannie Goudriaan’s suffering was perhaps not shown ‘sufficiently’. Tragically the term ‘Huppekee euthanasie’ will now probably enter the language and this is doubly ironic when you consider that it was the lack of language that was at the heart of it.  More >


10 great things to do in March

10 great things to do in March

From beautiful kimonos and flying acrobats to leaping horses and films that matter, here's our pick of the best things to do in March. Admire Breitner's kimono girls For the first time, all the paintings of a girl in a kimono by Dutch artist George Hendrik Breitner (1857-1923) are being displayed together. Based on new research, the exhibition displays for the first time the full series of 14 paintings. Most of them feature the young Geesje Kwak, who posed for Breitner between the ages of 16 and 18. The paintings also include a hitherto unknown Girl in a Red Kimono from a private collection. As well as the paintings, the exhibition also includes drawings, sketches and photographs used by the artist in the preparation of his paintings. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam until May 22. www.rijksmuseum.nl Gasp at top show jumping Indoor Brabant is one of the world’s top show jumping events and features show jumping and dressage for horses and ponies for several international prizes, including two World Cup finals. It attracts around 250 horses and their riders, many of whom are in the world top 10, such as Scott Brash, the current number one in show jumping. There is also the chance to see carousel riding, which is team dressage with two columns of riders performing synchronised patterns. Indoor Brabant has grown so fast - visitor numbers have reached 65,000 - that last year the organisers added a second ring. Brabanthallen, Den Bosch, March 10 to 13. www.indoorbrabant.com Dress up as a superhero The Dutch version of the American Comic Con event covers comics, films, games, graphic novels, cosplay, science fiction, fantasy and cartoons. There are meet & greets with actors, artists and cosplayers, the newest films and memorabilia such as the 1969 Dodge Charger from The Dukes of Hazzard, Optimus Prime and the Autobots from the Transformers films and the Batmobile from 1966. Among the stars at the event are the actors John Ratzenberger (The Empire Strikes Back), Billy Dee Williams (Return of the Jedi), Eugene Simon (Game of Thrones) and Doug Jones (Fantastic Four, Hellboy), the cosplayers Mandalorian Mercs Costume Club and the writers and illustrators Brian Froud, Tony Moore and Steve Scott. Jaarbeurs, Utrecht, March 26 and 27. www.dutchcomiccon.com Take in a Broadway show The Tony award-winning Broadway production of the musical Pippin comes to the Netherlands. The story of a young man searching for meaning in his life and his time with a circus was written by Stephen Schwartz (Wicked) in 1972 and directed and choreographed by Bob Fosse. This production is the 2013 revival directed by Diane Paulus (Cirque du Soleil) which won four Tony awards. Theater Carré, Amsterdam, March 9 to April 10. www.carre.nl Pick whose side you're on It rates as one of the most eagerly anticipated films of this year. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a $2 million-plus head-to-head between the two superheroes. It has Ben Affleck's Batman (casting which got the fan boys grumbling) facing off against Henry Cavill's Superman (first seen in Man of Steel) because he fears what will happen if Superman is left unchecked. Meanwhile Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) creates new threat Doomsday, so differences between superheroes must be set aside to save Metropolis from destruction. Director Zack Snyder promises lots of practical special effects rather than just the usual display of CG. Also in the mix is Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) who will get her own film next year. Oh and Jeremy Irons takes over from Michael Caine as Batman's faithful butler. Cinemas around the country, March 24. Find out about human rights The Movies That Matter festival screens around 70 feature films and documentaries dealing with various human rights issues. For instance, A Good American, in which whistleblower William Binney says the NSA could easily have prevented the 2001 World Trade Center attacks. Or 3 and 1/2 minutes, 10 bullets which shows the aftermath of a shooting when four boys were asked to turn down their music. In addition, there is a full programme of debates, Q&A sessions, workshops, talk shows, seminars and masterclasses. Filmhuis and Theater aan het Spui, The Hague, March 18 to 26. www.moviesthatmatter.nl Catch a genius in all his glory The David Bowie exhibition, which moved to the Netherlands from the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, had its closing date extended following the announcement of Bowie's death on January 11. There is just over a month left in which to see the hundreds of objects, including handwritten lyrics, original costumes, photography, set designs, album artwork and rare performance material from the past five decades from the David Bowie Archive. This is a fascinating and comprehensive look at the career of the man who has influenced music, art, design, theatre and contemporary culture for the past five decades, and will no doubt continue to do so for some considerable time. Groninger Museum, Groningen until April 10. www.groningermuseum.nl Wander through some gorgeous antiques The European Fine Art Fair is one of the world’s most prestigious art and antique fairs. It is certainly the largest, and it has the strictest system for ensuring the objects on offer are of the highest quality. It offers Old Master paintings, sculpture and furniture from all periods, modern and contemporary art, classical antiquities and Asian art. Newer sections cover 20th century design and applied arts, drawings and limited edition prints, antiquarian books and manuscripts and even wallpaper. MECC, Maastricht, March 11 to 20. www.tefaf.com Celebrate an opera anniversary To celebrate its 50th anniversary, the Dutch National Opera has inaugurated the Opera Forward Festival to celebrate new work from a new generation of artists. Among the operas being performed are Il matrimonio segreto (the secret marriage) by Domenico Cimarosa which is a coproduction by the National Opera Talent, the Netherlands Touring Opera and Opera Zuid, and the world premier of Michel van der Aa’s chamber opera for soprano and 3D film Blank Out, with Miah Persson and the baritone Roderick Williams and the Netherlands Chamber Choir on film. There is also the first performance in Amsterdam of Only The Sound Remains for which Peter Sellars has combined two pieces by the Finnish Kaija Saariah and taken noh dramas as his inspiration. Muziektheater and other venues, Amsterdam, March 15 to 25. www.operaforwardfestival.nl Wonder at the artistry of acrobats The spectacular and artistic Cirque du Soleil circus company returns to the Netherlands with the show AmaLuna. It’s about a mysterious island ruled by goddesses and what happens when a group of young men wash up on the shore. But it’s really about the high quality of the acrobats, clowns, dancers and singers, and the amazing lighting and costumes. Big top, next to the Arena, Amsterdam, March 17 to May 1. www.cirquedusoleil.com  More >


Master cyber security with a Webster University degree

Barely a week goes by without a new cyber security scare - a corporate website paralysed with a sustained attack by hackers, a phishing expedition that nets millions of euros, or a major government information leak. Good reason then, for Webster University in Leiden to launch a new Master of Science course in cyber security this year. ‘Here at Webster, we look at relevant trends in society and aim to take a leading role in them. Cybercrime is very relevant these days, and it’s a development that needs to be addressed,' says Webster director Jean Paul van Marissing. 'We’ve been one of the biggest providers of educational training to the military since the 1980s, and that expertise, along with our connections at the CIA and NATO, makes it possible for us to set up this programme.' The course will teach students to deal with sensitive areas like fraud, theft, information protection, terrorism, digital forensics, intelligence and counter-intelligence, says academic director doctor Islam Qasem. 'An MS degree in cyber security is one of the most currently "in-demand" qualifications in the world,' he says. 'With the proliferation of internet and smart devices, there is a lot of sensitive information in cyber space that needs to be adequately protected.' Open day You can find out more about the cyber security course on March 19, when Webster is holding an open day for prospective students at its Leiden campus. Webster University is the only certified US university in the Netherlands, offering both bachelor's and master’s courses taught by experts in their field. ‘There is no such thing as a typical Webster student,’ says spokeswoman Joijcelyn Hoost. ‘Our classes are small, you really get to know your teachers and it is a great way to build up an international network.’ Leiden itself is a city with a rich past and a bright future – where you see students, bicycles, canals and charming buildings all in one place. The city has been a centre of historical and commercial importance for centuries, where new ideas and philosophies were explored and education cultivated. This heritage of education is still very much alive today. In the heart of Leiden is Webster University, offering bachelor’s and master’s degree courses in business management, the behavioural and social sciences, international relations, and media and communications to a small, highly motivated and international group of students. And if you are already forging ahead with your career, Webster even has an Amsterdam annex where you can study for an MBA or other master’s programmes part time. Find out more about Webster's degree courses, study options, flexibility and what you can expect from the only accredited American university in the Netherlands on March 19. You will also be able to meet heads of department, students, staff and faculty members. Sign up online  More >


75 years ago Amsterdammers went on strike to support the Jews

75 years ago Amsterdammers went on strike to support the Jews

It is 75 years ago this year that workers in Amsterdam and the surrounding areas went on strike in a protest against what was to be the beginning of the large-scale persecution of Jews in the Netherlands. The 1941 februaristaking, or February strike, is commemorated every year on February 25. What went before On February 11, a member of the WA, a club of bully boys affiliated with the Dutch Nazi party NSB, was killed in a fight with Jewish and non-Jewish Amsterdammers who were standing up for the rights of terrorised Jewish citizens. Tension mounted and when, later that month, the German police raided Jewish ice parlour Koco they were met with a spurt of ammonia gas (used for refrigeration purposes). The German response was swift: on February 22 and 23, 425 Jewish men and boys were rounded up and deported to concentration camps Mauthousen and Buchenwald. Most perished there. The strike The Dutch communist party CPN was illegal at the time and from its ranks would come some of the most dogged resistance fighters. In this instance it issued a now historic pamphlet with the words Staakt!!! Staakt!!! Staakt!!!, an impassioned call for strike action ‘to show solidarity with the Jewish part of our society which has been hit so hard’. It was heeded en masse. Day 1 On February 25 some 300,000 people downed tools in Amsterdam. Trams stood still, docks stood deserted, shops and offices closed and schools were empty of students. Civil servants, too, joined the strike. People took to the streets to demonstrate against the German regime. Day 2 The next day the Zaanstreek, Kennemerland (Haarlem and Velsen), Hilversum, Utrecht and Weesp joined the strike. The 26th was also the day the Germans, who had been taken completely by surprise, retaliated. Clashes on the day left nine dead and 24 severely wounded. The aftermath Never before had there been a strike to protest against the treatment by the Germans against the Jews. Civil servants were fired and Amsterdam mayor Willem de Vlugt was forced to step down. Many were arrested and the city was ordered to pay a 15 million guilder fine. Communists The members of the CPN, already targeted by the Germans, were now even more at risk. At the end of February one of its members, 23 year-old Leendert Schijveschuurder, was arrested when he was putting up posters calling for a strike on March 6. He was sentenced to death and executed the next day, the first Dutch citizen to be shot by a German firing squad. Some time later, three other members of the Communist party were executed, along with 15 members of the Geuzen resistance movement on the Waalsdorpervlakte near Scheveningen in 1941. Many others were also to die in the same place. The song of the 18 dead The 18 executed men were honoured in a poem written by writer and resistance fighter Jan Campert, who died in concentration camp Neuengamme in 1943. This is the first stanza: Een cel is maar twee meter lang en nauw twee meter breed, wel kleiner nog is het stuk grond, dat ik nu nog niet weet, maar waar ik naamloos rusten zal, mijn makkers bovendien, wij waren achttien in getal, geen zal den avond zien. A cell is only two metres long And scarcely two metres wide, Smaller still the plot of land That I know not but where I will rest, namelessly and my comrades too We were eighteen in all None of us will live to see the night. Jonas Daniël Meijerplein The February strike is commemorated every year with a ceremony at the Dokwerker statue on the Jonas Daniël Meyerplein in Amsterdam, in the former Jewish quarter of Amsterdam. The square was renamed Houtmarkt in 1942 in a bid to eradicate Jewish street names. Jonas Daniël Meijer (1780-1834) was the first Jewish lawyer in the Netherlands. The square was the scene of the infamous raid on the Jewish community’s boys and men that preceded the strike.   The Dokwerker The statue of the Dokwerker (the dock worker) with his hands about to turn into fists, was made by sculptor Mari Andriessen. The person who posed for the statue was builder Willem Termetz whom Andriessen knew from their days in the resistance movement. The statue was unveiled by queen Wilhelmina in 1952. This year The theme of this year’s commemoration of the February strike is Verander in de ander, or put yourself in their shoes. Former mayor Job Cohen will open a photo exhibition about the 1941 raid on the Jonas Daniël Meijerplein on February 21 at 5pm. A complete programme of activities surrounding the commemoration can be found here.  More >


Second Iamexpat fair takes place in Amsterdam

Second Iamexpat fair takes place in Amsterdam

The IamExpat Fair 2016 will take place on Saturday, March 5 at Amsterdam’s Westergasfabriek. The fair is the spring meeting place for expats and local businesses and is designed to support internationals in the Netherlands, providing them with everything they need in one location, on one day! The first edition took place last year. With more than 3,000 check-ins, 75 exhibitors, 20 free workshops and registrations from120 different nationalities, the IamExpat Fair 2015 was met with great enthusiasm by both expats and local businesses. Running from 10am to 5pm on March 5, in the Zuiveringshal West at Westergasfabriek, this free event will host stands from dozens of companies and organisations working in housing, careers, education, expat services, health and leisure and family needs. Free workshops and presentations will also be happening throughout the day at Het Ketelhuis and the North Sea Jazz Club. Visitors to the IamExpat Fair can: - Get assistance to find a rental property or understand Dutch mortgages - Meet with recruiters and companies that are hiring - Attend workshops about living and working in the Netherlands - Learn about advancing their career through professional development - Benefit from many special offers - Find local health and lifestyle organisations - Connect with like-minded locals and expats from around the world Whether you’re a new arrival or a long-term resident in the Netherlands there’s a lot to explore and understand: from finding a house, a new job or a great school for your kids, to choosing a trustworthy accountant, legal advisor or MBA programme, and much more. Don’t miss the expat event of 2016. Book your free ticket now  More >


Soul searching: Volkskrant columnist Nadia Ezzeroili says she is not Dutch

Soul searching: Volkskrant columnist Nadia Ezzeroili says she is not Dutch

It isn’t often that a newspaper column causes such a stir. But Volkskrant journalist Nadia Ezzeroili’s column entitled ‘Ik ben geen Nederlander’ (I am not Dutch) seems to have struck a chord with many. Ezzeroili, who is of Moroccan descent, directly addressed the Netherlands, the country of her birth, and told it that the relationship between them is at an end and that a separation, or even a divorce, is on the cards. ‘The words "I am Dutch" stick in my craw,’ Ezzeroili wrote. Her disenchantment with the Dutch lies in the fundamental Dutch refusal to accept her as one of their own, she maintains, and increasingly she labels herself Moroccan, ‘not from Moroccan chauvinism but to harness myself against your distrust and casual rejection’. Ezzeroili recounts how she’s stopped going to the hip bars and cafés frequented by the white chattering classes and is turning to waterpipe cafés. She is angry, she says. For all her education, her job and all the middle class trappings she’s acquired, true acceptance still eludes her, and for many who don’t have her level of education things are worse still. Judas kisses And it is not the supposedly Wilders-voting ‘Tokkies’ that make her feel unwelcome but rather the elite who dole out ‘Judas kisses to [MP] Khadija Arib in front of the cameras and mock her accent behind the scenes’. At a party she feels unable to comfort a young man of mixed Pakistani-Surinam descent who feels increasingly lonely the more successful he becomes. What she can’t bear to tell him is that ‘The Dutch dream is a deception. It’s a deception because it comes with a condition: that your background becomes unnoticeable to others.’ On a trip to Morocco, a country where she ‘would be much worse off as a woman’, she is welcomed: she has ‘come home’, an old man tells her. The Dutch show no such loyalty towards her unless she can elicit their approval by telling them ‘stories about my skating talents, my preference for stamppot over lamb chops and the fanatical attempts of my mother to learn Dutch’. Narcissistic navel-gazer The column, aimed at the white, middle class readers of the Volkskrant, generated a lot of response, some soul-searching and some online abuse. Ezzeroili was described as a narcissistic navel-gazer and a victim with no backbone. But others said she was spot-on about the way people with different backgrounds are treated in this country. Columnist Ebru Amar let rip in her own column on tpo.nl. ‘A mocro’s choice is simple: do I remain a victim or am I just as good as any Dutch person?’ she wrote in her usual abrasive style before slating Ezzeroili for choosing to be ‘a professional Moroccan. I can’t really interpret her whining in the Volkskrant in any other way’, Amar wrote. She also has a go at the paper: ‘Being pathetic, pointing the finger and whining about feeling excluded because of the colour of your skin are bound to make you a hit with the Dutch media. Add the curly hair, the smooth face of the post-adolescent, the discontented hipster gaze and you know: there’s a new kid in town and her name is Nadia Ezzeroili. Embraced by the respectable media who crow: WE’VE GOT HER!’ You are Dutch In a VN piece entitled Nadia Ezzeroili, you ARE Dutch,  journalist Henk van Renssen urged Ezzeroili to stay and not give xenophobes the satisfaction of seeing her leave. He did, however, express surprise at her description of a ‘warm and honest white working class and a cool, fearful and hypocritical (seemingly tolerant but hiding their racism) middle class. The Netherlands is split between people who reject the multicultural society and those who embrace it and try to find solutions if there are problems. 'That split runs through all classes’, Renssen wrote. Political scientist Meindert Fennema, also on tpo.nl, said Ezzeroili is right: background does matter and pursuing the dream comes with a price. He compared the columnist to successful writer and journalist Anil Ramdas who ‘desperately tried to ingratiate himself with the elite by slating the Tokkies' - the Dutch equivalant of trailer trash. Not so Ezzeroili who squarely blames the elite. Fennema concluded that ‘For Ramdas, the price for his successful adaptation was too high. He left for India as a correspondent, wrote the beautiful novel Badal, and shortly after returning ended his life.'  More >


The visions of Hieronymus Bosch are centre stage in landmark exhibition

The visions of Hieronymus Bosch are centre stage in landmark exhibition

Welcome to the weird and wonderful world of Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516) whose bizarre creatures struck awe and admiration into the hearts of his contemporaries and continue to do so today. Here are ten facts about this extraordinary painter whose work will be on show in a landmark exhibition at the Noordbrabants Museum from February 13 to May 8. 1 What is his real name? Jheronimus/ Hieronymus/Joen/Jeroen van Aken, as he is variously called, hailed from the city of Den Bosch in the province of Noord-Brabant. In 1488 Jeroen van Aken began signing his work using the name of his native city and became Jheronimus Bosch. It is said that this was actually a clever marketing ploy: Bosch wanted his patrons to know where to find him (and presumably not go looking for him in Aken (Aachen), Germany, where the family originally came from). Bosch did indeed live in Den Bosch all his life and died there in 1516. The 500th anniversary of his death is the reason the Noordbrabants Museum is mounting this unique exhibition. 2 Bosch was in demand in his lifetime Born into a family of painters, Bosch was unlikely to turn to another profession. Fortunately he was extremely talented, and very successful during his lifetime. His outlandish iconography, so different from what was on offer from his contemporaries, far from repelling his wealthy clientele actually drew their admiration and Bosch paintings were in great demand. Aristocratic patrons included Philip the Handsome, Duke of Burgundy and Brabant and Henry III of Nassau. 3 Where did the images come from? So how can someone who stepped outside his house to walk the short distance to his studio every day come up with such hallucinatory images? Man-machines and monsters engage in such bewildering activities that ‘a lively imagination’ just doesn’t seem to cover it. And yet that is all we are left with, although some hold that Bosch’s visions sprang from eating mouldy rye bread. Bosch’s depiction of cities on fire is said to spring from his witnessing a great fire in Den Bosch in 1463 – 4,000 houses were burned to the ground - as a child but even that is unproven. In fact, very little is known of his life at all. 4 Was Bosch a heretic? What is certain is that subsequent arbiters of taste did not quite know what to make of Bosch and his images. In 17th century Spain he was branded a heretic for his ‘devilry’ while the psychoanalytic movement of the 1930s had him down as a loony obsessed with guilt and sin (Bosch was a Roman Catholic). Others thought he must have been a member of the Brethren of Free Spirit, a sect trying to create a new garden of Eden mainly by means of unbridled sex. Later Salvador Dali and his fellow surrealists hailed him as a kindred spirit. 5 Symbolism Much in the paintings continues to defy interpretation but here’s what Stanley Meisler of the Smithsonian says about some of the symbols in Bosch’s work: ‘Although scholars don’t always agree on interpretations, this sampler suggests possible meanings for some symbols found in the paintings: pig: false priest; gluttony, fruit: carnal pleasure, rat: lies against the church; filth; sex, fish: false prophets; lewdness, closed book: futility of knowledge in dealing with human stupidity; flames: ergotism; fires of hell, flying monsters: hallucination of ergotism sufferers; devil’s envoys, keys: knowledge, lute and harp: instruments for praise of god and pursuit of love; breasts: fertility, mussel shell: infidelity, black birds: unbelievers; death or rotting flesh, knives: punishment of evil, rabbits: multiplication of the race, egg: sexual creation, key symbol of alchemy, ice skater: folly, funnel: deceit and intemperance; false alchemist or false doctor, strawberry: fleeting joys of life, love, owl: great learning, ears: gossip, spheres: alchemical apparatus.’ 6 How many Bosch works are there? How many works Bosch painted is unknown. A number of them perished; 24 have now been attributed to him with any certainty. Copies abounded, made to look conveniently older and authentic by exposing them to smoke, according to disgruntled art collector Felipe de Guevara who owned no fewer than 6 ‘El Boscos’.   7 Analysis and restoration The Bosch Research and Conservation Project  has been busily analysing and restoring Bosch’s work for the last five years. This has led to new insights and a ‘new’ painting was added to the oeuvre, no doubt to the delight of present owner - the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas, Missouri. This tiny rendering of the Temptation of St Anthony was previously attributed to one of his apprentices. 8 Persuasion Intrepid museum boss Charles de Mooij has managed to persuade museums all over the world to part with 20 of Bosch’s 25 surviving paintings, using participation in the prestigious project as his lure. Not included is his famous Garden of Earthly Delights (painted between 1480 and 1505) which was considered too fragile to travel. The Prado was kind enough to send the Haywain (1516), however, which is leaving Madrid for the first time in 450 years!. 9 Marketing Like many other painters Bosch has spawned a sea of tat, but tat, it seems, mainly targeting the young: Garden of Earthly Delight Doc Martens, leggings and skateboards, for instance. For the present craze for colouring books there is even a Garden of Earthly Delight colouring book for hours of colouring fun. 10 His Year 2016 is Hieronymus Bosch year. Apart from the exhibition, Den Bosch will be the scene of artistic interpretations of the painter’s work in theatre, dance and film.    More >


Dutch students help refugee artists find an online voice

Dutch students help refugee artists find an online voice

A project by Utrecht art school students has become a platform for artists who have come to the Netherlands as refugees to tell their stories. By Tracy Brown Hamilton Mahmod Kharrat, 22, is a professional photographer who specialised in portrait photography in his native Damascus. He has lived in the Netherlands for four months, and while he has found himself labelled as a ‘refugee,’ he identifies himself first and foremost with his art form. ‘I am a photographer; I always have been,’ he says. ‘It’s my job, and it makes me feel free.’ His haunting black-and-white portraits - mostly taken during his time in Syria - appear on a newly launched website that features the artwork and writing of refugees. Utrecht The Publisher, as the website is called, is the creation of six students at HKU University of the Arts Utrecht. The students - Sacha Schemkes, Sophie Roumans, Sophie Dogterom, Welmoed Terpstra, Mirthe Vos and Jöran Zeeuw - made the decision to create a platform for refugee artists when tasked with completing an interdisciplinary project for a  college assignment. ‘We all felt we wanted to do something with refugees,’ Sacha Schemkes said at a recent site launch presentation at Pakhuis Zwijger in Amsterdam. ‘But we didn’t know precisely what.’ The group was concerned about the portrayal of the refugees in the mainstream press. ‘You heard a lot in the media about the refugees, but they don't have much opportunity to speak for themselves,’ Sophia Roumans says, ‘And that was our goal, to give a voice to the refugees.’ Social media The team began trying to contact refugees in Nijmegen, which has the largest reception centre in the country. Some 3,000 new arrivals reside there. ‘We approached people there, and contacted a Facebook group for refugees to find people who might want to meet with us, to see what could develop,’ Roumans explains. ‘And we met some very inspiring people.’ The students wanted the project to be a true collaboration. ‘We did not want to present it as something that we would do about them; we wanted to have their input into what they wanted to express,’ Schemkes says. ‘Not something the "white Westerner" says is good for them.’ Self-expression What they heard was that the refugees wanted a platform on which they could express themselves directly. Being art students, the developers of the site believe you can sometimes say more with a photo or a film then with an article. ‘The people we’ve met are very creative,’ they say. ‘We are very proud of the work we have received.’ The site is an eclectic mix of styles and art forms, from photography to poetry, all of which sheds light on the people behind the ‘refugee’ tag. Among the contributors is 16-year-old poet Tamara Mehhook, who writes about the pain a boy feels for his country, and the sadness at having to leave it. ‘Oh Syria… my home […] I am proud to be your son.’ You’ll also find recipes accompanied by the gorgeous food photography of Rada Assi, a mother of two teenagers who came to the Netherlands six months ago. Ten attempts Shady Zen Aldeen is a 27-year-old architect who wrote about his journey to the Netherlands, including his harrowing ten attempts to cross by boat from Turkey to Greece. ‘They left us stranded in the sea,’ he writes, surrounded by three-meter waves with no motor. Aldeen says he shared his story to help break the barriers between himself and the Dutch people. ‘It’s important for us to be able to project a positive image,’ he says. ‘So that people can know more about who we are.‘ Although he says most people have been very friendly, he has encountered resistance. ‘When I first arrived four months ago, we went to the centre of Nijmegen to hand out flowers to people, to say thank you,’ he says. ‘Some people refused to talk to us. Some people are afraid. They have a lot of ideas about us, and there is some prejudice.’ Dreams He hopes initiatives like The Publisher will help improve this. ‘I think we have to tell them more about ourselves, about who we are, our dreams,' he says. 'About our plans.’ The students behind the site also intend to continue their work on the initiative, beyond the college assignment. They believe artistic expression is vital for the refugees, both for their well-being and also for their livelihood moving forward. ‘The image people have of refugees is that of people in need. The focus is on how much money they cost, that everyone will need to be given a house,’ Schemkes says. ‘But actually we've met many creative people who say "I don’t need to be given a house, I just want to be able to do my work, earn my own money, and then I can look after myself". But they can’t do that because they don’t have a network, they don’t have the right papers.’ Sponsorship For now, the site can give refugee artists exposure, and hopefully access to the equipment they need - cameras, paints, computers. ‘Right now, we do everything ourselves,’ Schemkes says. ‘But now we want to find more sponsorship. With more money, of course you can do a lot more. So that’s what we’re seeking now.’ Most of the current work on the site has come from the network they have formed in Nijmegen, but now that the site has launched, they hope it will extend to other areas of the Netherlands. And there are ideas for taking the work offline, as well. ‘We would like to have an exhibition of the work, perhaps even a pop-up restaurant,’ Roumans says. ‘We have lots of ideas.’  More >


Nine things you need to know about having a baby in the Netherlands

Nine things you need to know about having a baby in the Netherlands

The Netherlands is notorious for its painkiller-free home births. But there are lots of other essential things you need to know to make sure you have a baby the Dutch way. The Netherlands by Numbers has a useful list. The home birth We’ll get this out of the way first. You can have your baby in a hospital. A generation ago, 60% of the Dutch were born at home but that has now dropped to around 20%. There are all sorts of reasons for this – complicated calculations about perinatal death rates, local hospital closures, changing fashions – but we like to think having the option of pain relief might also play a role. The Dutch think pain is part of the process, which it is, but it is also a part which many of us would like to be able to avoid. The placenta This is one thing nobody tells you about a home birth. What happens to the placenta? If you are a bit of an earth mother you can always eat it, but if you are not, the midwife will present it to you in a plastic bag to put out with the other rubbish. Seriously. The maternity nurse When Dutch women have a baby, a kraamverzorgster comes to their home for a week or so to help with the new-born. This is an amazing institution (paid for by health insurance). Help with breastfeeding, nappies, bathing, pouring cups of coffee for the people who come to coo over little Daan or Sophie, she does it all. The kraamverzorgster may well be the reason new dads in the Netherlands are only allowed a couple of days unpaid leave. Not only has he been usurped by the new baby, but the nurse is doing all the other leaky stuff. Registering your child By law, the arrival of your offspring has to be reported to officialdom within three days. Either a parent or someone else who witnessed the event is supposed to do this. Your baby will then get a birth certificate and its very own BSN – burgerservicenummer – the key to all things official in the Netherlands. If you are not married and you are both foreign it may be complicated to get the dad’s name on the official documents. We have heard too many horror stories and suggest you ask a lawyer. Naming your child Do not think you are free to name your child just any old thing. Oh no. There are rules about this. According to the government’s website, it should not be a swear word, a name which can open the child to ridicule or a combination of lots of names. And the civil servant behind the counter can refuse to accept the name if he thinks it unsuitable. We wonder if civil servants were sleeping when they approved the registration of little Ridley-Scott, Alpacino and Lexus. Your child may take either the mother or father’s surname but not both. Despite this discouragement of doubled-barrelled names, there is a Dutch government minister whose surname is the four-barrelled Schultz van Haegen-Maas Geesteranus. There are also perhaps some surnames to be avoided. Kraambezoek Going on kraambezoek – the Dutch have a word for visiting a new mother and her baby – is an institution. Expect all sorts of people – including your boss – to drop round with a soft toy for the baby, when you would much prefer a bottle of whiskey. If you wish to discourage visitors at certain times, you can include this on the birth announcement card. ‘Charlotte and Emma are resting between 2pm and 4pm’ might not mean you are actually dozing off, but it will give you a couple of hours to catch up on the laundry. New baby traditions Beschuit met muisjes are traditionally handed out at work by new dads. Take a Dutch crispbake, spread it with margarine and pour on the aniseed sprinkles – blue for a boy and pink for a girl.  It is very rude to refuse beschuit met muisjes when offered by the proud parent. The Netherlands by Numbers crew know of one foreign worker who had to empty half a drawer full of pink and blue crumbs when she left her job. You can often spot households where there is a new baby by the wooden stork in the garden or smashed into the window, or the pink and blue bunting. Papadag Papadag is the increasingly popular term to describe the day of the week which some fathers take off from work to look after their offspring – often as part of the paternity leave allowance. According to the national statistics office, around 13% of young fathers take advantage of their legal right to spend one day a week looking after their children. Mothers complain that the washing, ironing and other chores never get done on papadag. Growing up Surveys by the United Nations and others repeatedly show that Dutch children are among the happiest in the world. So you’ve picked the right place to reproduce. And just for good measure, here is our list of things foreign children love about living in the Netherlands as well.   More >


It’s party time south of the rivers: get ready for Carnaval

It’s party time south of the rivers: get ready for Carnaval

Soon the south of the Netherlands will be plunged into the mayhem that is Carnaval, the feast that traditionally preceded the big fast at Lent. Here’s what you need to know should you decide to spend a couple of jolly days onder de grote rivieren (south of the big rivers) or any of the other, mainly Catholic, regions in the Netherlands where Carnaval is king. 1 Carnaval is a moveable feast. This year the festivities will kick off on February 7 and end two days later, on February 9 - the day before Ash Wednesday. Preparations start on the 11th of the 11th, at 11:11 - 11 being the fool’s number in the Netherlands. 2 If you plan to go off and celebrate, there is no use consulting your NS train schedule because the names of many towns change for the period. Den Bosch becomes Oeteldonk; Bergen op Zoom Krabbegat and Tilburg Kruikenstad. The northern cities are making an effort to join in the fun but calling Den Haag Kreesiedentie seems a tad contrived. 3 Amsterdam deserves a separate entry: it will have a Carnaval name for the first time this year. Thanks to a group of Brabanders living in the capital, Amsterdam will go by the name of Gròòtgragtegat, meaning something like a big place full of canals. 4 Every town has a Raad van Elf (the number, not the pixie) and a Prins Carnaval. Eleven men (DN found only one Carnaval organisation that stipulated that both men and women could apply for the job) are given the important job of monitoring the festivities. The prince, often an important or well-known inhabitant of the town- is master of ceremonies. 5 The Dutch carnival optochten, or parades, often take the mick out of of local or national politicians. Politics is spilling over into the festivities in another way this year: in Maastricht, it would be appreciated if you didn’t turn up wearing terrorist garb. Not surprisingly considering the climate, Dutch parades do not feature many scantily clad nubile dancers in glittery costumes as they do in Brazil or the Caribbean. 6 Ok, so carnival is much more than the annual totally-out-of-your-skull-continuous-bender, as envious and non-jolly northeners like to portray it. Nevertheless, a lot of beer is consumed. According to a poll from 2012, on average Limburgers drank almost 36 glasses of beer in 2.6 days (around twice the amount consumed by more abstemious revellers in Flevoland). Of those who came down to celebrate from 'above the rivers', 28% were off work ill on Monday. 7 A charming if incomprehensible carnaval tradition is the beer barrel speaker. Tonproater, sauwelaar, ouwoer or buuttereedner - you will not understand a word as these discourses from the beer barrel are delivered in the local dialect. While the locals are falling about laughing you can slink away to the nearest barrel that actually contains beer. 8 You would think that carnaval with its ancient roots would have pride of place on the Unesco cultural heritage list. But the Brabanders, for one, are not keen. The Brabant Carnaval Federation fears the festivities might attract tourists from abroad. ‘This isn’t Volendam’, its chairman has said. 9 Even the way people say hello changes at carnival. You say alááf and if you’re really brave you’ll accompany the word with the appropriate gesture: you move the fingertips of you right hand to your left temple (with the back of your hand facing your face, otherwise it will look as if you have an itch). Alaaf is said to derive from elf (eleven) or alle ab, which is German for tables and chairs against the wall, we’re having a party! 10 On your wanderings from bar to bar you will often encounter a dweilorkest, or roaming-the-streets-under-the-influence band. These will play carnavalskrakers, silly songs written especially for carnaval, such as this, and other jolly tunes. Alaaf!  More >


10 Great Things To Do In February

10 Great Things To Do In February

From the latest film from the Coen brothers and a major celebration of Karel Appel to all the latest designs and gadgets for your home, here's our pick of the best things to do in February. Celebrate a modern master Karel Appel (1921-2006) is perhaps the most renowned Dutch artist of the latter half of the twentieth century and this major retrospective marks the tenth anniversary of his death. The 67 paintings, 12 sculptures and more than 60 drawings in the exhibition demonstrate that Appel was more than just a member of the Cobra movement. The show also revisits his early interest in Outsider Art, his wide-ranging stylistic experiments, and his highly individual – sometimes almost abstract – interpretation of traditional genres like the nude, the portrait and the urban or rural landscape. The exhibition is part of a wider international reappraisal of Karel Appel’s work during this anniversary year which also includes exhibitions in Paris, London and Washington. Gemeentemuseum, The Hague until May 16. www.gemeentemuseum.nl Improve your home and garden The Huishoudbeurs is the Dutch version of the Ideal Home Exhibition in London. Here you will find everything you could possibly want to improve your home and garden. There are the latest designs and gadgets for every space, from the kitchen to the bathroom and the basement to the attic, including how to make an outdoor room of your garden. In addition, there are tips on fashion and beauty and ideas on how to fill your free time. RAI, Amsterdam, February 20 to 28. www.huishoudbeurs.nl Go mad in Oeteldonk Carnival, the feast that preceeds the famine that is the fast at Lent, is a big deal in the south of the Netherlands where processions and street parties are the order of the day, towns are given special carnival names - Oeteldonk is Den Bosch - and ridiculous costumes are the order of the day. Check out our feature on February 1 for ten things you need to know about carnival. The northern provinces of the country have for years been immune to the charms of carnival but this year the usual half-hearted attempt to enthuse the northerners is given a boost by a number of Brabanders who live in Amsterdam. The capital now has its own carnival name, Gròòtgragtegat. All that's now missing are the processions. Nationwide but mainly in the south, February 7 to 9. Welcome the latest Coen brothers film Yes, that is George Clooney, once again forgetting any thoughts of dignity to appear in a film by the Coen brothers, Joel and Ethan. Hail, Caesar! is the Coens' latest offering and it will open the 66th Berlin International Film Festival on February 11. The film follows one day in the life of a studio fixer (Josh Brolin), who is presented with a host of problems to fix, including the kidnap of one of the studio's stars (Clooney). Also in the cast of this tale set in the Golden Age of Hollywood are Ralph Fiennes, Jonah Hill, Scarlett Johansson, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton and Channing Tatum. Cinemas nationwide, February 18 onwards. Cheer on top tennis players Top international players compete in the ABN Amro World Tennis Tournament. Among those already scheduled to play are Roger Federer, Nick Kyrgios and Alexander Zverev, and Dutch players Robin Haase and Thiemo de Bakker. The tournament also offers special entertainment on Ladies' Day, Kids' Day and Family Day. Ahoy, Rotterdam, February 8 to 14. www.abnamrowtt.nl Listen to gorgeous music The Netherlands Bach Society performs several versions of the Sabat Mater, the hymn to Mary, mother of Jesus, including that by Domenico Scarlatti for ten voices and the famous Miserere by Allegri. The conductor is Jos van Veldhoven. Concertzaal, Tilburg, February 18; Nieuwe Kerk, The Hague, February 19; Grote Kerk, Naarden, February 21 (matinee). www.bachvereniging.nl Treat yourself to an eclair A stroll along the IJ passage at Amsterdam Centraal Station reveals that eclairs are not necessarily just choux pastry filled with cream and topped off with chocolate. The eclairs at the recently opened Le Clair come in tastes ranging from the sweet - such as mango and passion fruit and salted caramel and coffee - to the savoury - including smoked salmon and hot dog. Le Clair, Amsterdam CS, IJ passage Enjoy ultra modern dance Modern dance company Conny Janssen Danst performs two works in one programme. The first is I'm Here (2005) in which ten urban characters are in search of love, warmth and recognition. The photographs and film images which create the background are by Carel van Hees. The second piece is Álbum Familiar (2001), with three women and four men meeting at a portrait gallery. It is danced to new music performed live by Beppe Costa. Posthuistheater, Heerenveen, February 3; De Flint, Amersfoort, February 5; Chassé Theater, Breda, February 13; Schouwburg, Leiden, February 17; Stadsschouwburg, Groningen, February 18; Schouwburg, Amstelveen, February 19; Schouwburg, Rotterdam, February 26 and 27. www.connyjanssendanst.nl Watch Sherlock take on Hamlet Another chance to see Benedict Cumberbatch - BBC tv's Sherlock Holmes - take on the title role in Shakespeare's great tragedy. It was directed by Lyndsey Turner (Posh, Chimerica) for a 12-week run at the Barbican in London last October and streamed into cinemas around the world. This monumental production was the fastest-selling show in London theatre history and gained fine reviews for Cumberbatch's swaggering yet touching performance. Pathé Tuschinski cinema, Amsterdam, February 23. www.pathe.nl Hear how wars could be avoided Joris Voorhoeve, professor of International Organisations at Leiden University and lecturer in Peace, Justice and Security at the Hague University of Applied Sciences, begins a series of lectures in February in which he searches for the best possible answers and practical policies which should help to avoid war or end ongoing wars to prevent further bloodshed. Voorhoeve was Dutch defence minister during the Srebrenica affair of 1995. Lecture titles include: Recent Wars, Civil Wars and Peace Operations (February 25); The Various Causes of Armed Conflicts; their Victims and Damage (March 10); The Possibilities to Intervene and the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ (March 24); The Foreseeable Conflict Trends in the 21st Century (April 7); and Building Structures for Peaceful Settlement of Conflicts (April 21).  Maastricht University, Student Services Centre. www.sg.unimaas.nl  More >


Dutch start-up develops secure instant messaging for doctors

Dutch start-up develops secure instant messaging for doctors

A Dutch tech start-up is looking to hit it big with a doctors-only communications app which, it says, combines the benefits of Linkedin and Whatsapp in one secure instant messaging tool. MDLinking.com aims to connect millions of healthcare professionals worldwide so they can share information in a private and secure environment, without worrying whether it is being viewed by others or even used for commercial purposes. The idea for a secure communication platform for doctors came from Dutch vascular surgeon Hans Flu, who realised that existing tools had too many constraints and major security issues. Privacy ‘Doctors should be able to use communication platforms such as LinkedIn or Whatsapp in their professional lives, but unfortunately that is not really the case,’ says Flu. ‘These communication tools are not developed for doctors and as such do not offer the specific features that doctors need. The second problem is privacy. Existing communication tools are not secure with regards to patient privacy.’ According to recent research involving over 2,000 doctors and 4,000 nurses in London, almost all doctors and around half of nurses found their smartphone to be ‘very useful’ or ‘useful’ in helping them to perform their clinical duties. In practice, 90% of doctors and 67% of nurses who owned medical apps were using these as part of their clinical practice, the report in the British Medical Journal said. 'These results provide strong evidence that healthcare organisations need to develop policies to support the safe and secure use of digital technologies in the workplace and that strategies are needed to secure further innovations in digital health,' the researchers from Imperial College London concluded. Mission Flu has since quit the medical profession to focus purely on his idea. ‘I have made it my mission to connect healthcare professionals across the planet,’ he says. ‘Doctors learn from doctors. That is how it works. Our tool allows healthcare professionals who have never met to connect and share their knowledge in a totally secure environment.’ At the end of last year it emerged that a number of medical websites in the Netherlands, including some run by some hospitals and doctors, were passing on information about visitors’ online behaviour to commercial companies. 'This scandal shows the importance of privacy issues in healthcare information,’ says Flu. ‘Hospitals, medical societies and doctors should never get mixed up with deals which could compromise patient details for profit. The main goal should be providing evidence-based quality of care, and not damaging the confidence of the patients in the healthcare system.’ The MDLinking app is free for all healthcare professionals to use. The company itself, which is independent and has no exclusive ties to the pharmaceuticals or medical technology industries, is self sufficient for the time being and is looking at possible future revenue models, including paid-for special features, as well as recruitment and publishing. At the same time, the company has already won initial backing from several wealthy private individuals in the Netherlands and abroad. ‘Having been involved in the early days of Booking.com was fantastic, but being involved in the early days of MDLinking.com is much more rewarding,’ says Alec Behrens, one of the co-founders of Booking.com which grew from a tiny Dutch start-up to a global company valued at $60 billion. ‘I have no doubt that MDLinking will save thousands of lives.’ Challenges Flu has put together an advisory board made up of over 100 doctors across the globe and together they developed the concept. The beta version of MDLinking was rolled out last year and healthcare professionals from across Europe, Asia, Africa and the US have already starting using the tool in a test environment. ‘I think there is a great future for a platform like MDLinking,’ says professor Nageshwar Reddy from the Asian Institute of Gastroenterology in Hyderabad, India, who has supported the project from the beginning. Meanwhile, the Amsterdam-based team is continuing to invest time, money and energy in developing the technology and expanding the e-learning library. 'We know we are on the right track, but at the same time we realise we still have a long way to go,' says Flu. ‘Doctors all over the world know they need to connect and share their knowledge. And they need to do it in a secure environment. That is exactly what we are providing them with.'  More >


Taking the integration test: how do you deal with a noisy party next door?

Taking the integration test: how do you deal with a noisy party next door?

In the final part of his series on the formal Dutch integration process, Brandon Hartley visits an examination centre and looks at suggestions from people who have gone through the process on how it could be improved. Part 3: The Future Some who have gone through the inburgering process have welcomed the opportunity to become better acquainted with the Netherlands and to learn its language in a formal setting. For others, it has been an overpriced, ineffective and even humiliating experience. But whatever happens, the process is unlikely to be phased out or substantially reformed in the near future. The arrival of thousands of immigrants from Syria and Iraq has again focused attention on how the Netherlands absorbs its new arrivals. Meanwhile, xenophobic groups across Europe are ramping up efforts to ‘strike back’ with demonstrations. Here in the Netherlands, the government has been struggling to come up with solutions, while Geert Wilders, the controversial leader of the PVV who’s currently awaiting trial on charges of hate speech, continues to rise in popularity. Norms and values No Dutch party queries the need for integration courses and compulsory language lessons. Indeed, the government is pressing ahead with its plans to ask all new arrivals to sign a 'participation declaration', pledging to uphold Dutch norms and values and participate fully in society. ‘The Dutch government and parliament are already discovering that the sky is not the limit in how they can treat non-EU citizen immigrants,’ said Jeremy Bierbach, a lawyer currently working on a court case involving two long-time residents who are refusing to take the integration exam. ‘They are increasingly limited by EU law. In EU law, one of the core principles is called "proportionality". Integration requirements are perfectly OK to achieve certain goals, but they can't go beyond what is absolutely necessary.’ Given recent additions, like the ‘Orientation on the Dutch Labour Market’ section, there’s also the question of what could possibly be added to the already overstuffed exam programme. ‘[The programme] is already pretty damn strict, so I think it's about reached its limit,’ Bierbach said. ‘Besides, it's already clear that by making people answer multiple choice questions about what the proper way to behave is in certain social situations, you're not actually changing their mentality. You're just forcing them to learn to regurgitate what the authors of the test want to hear.’ Taking the test So what about the test itself? It’s a few days before Christmas and there are many unhappy faces inside the inburgering test centre in Rijswijk. A stern-faced clerk quickly rattles off a series of rules to a perplexed test-taker. He’s extraordinarily reluctant to repeat them or slow down. Meanwhile, a computerised coffee machine in the adjacent waiting room conveniently offers instructions in both English and Dutch. A cheerful Christmas tree in the corner can’t brighten the spirits of those waiting to take the ‘Knowledge of Dutch Society’ portion of the exam. Some test-takers are nervously tapping their feet or going over their notes one last time. A middle-aged man stares into space while listening to Dutch lessons on an mp3 player and quietly repeats various phrases under his breath. A jittery young man who has come to take the test with his girlfriend looks like he’s about to vomit. A moderator eventually ushers the test-takers into an examination room lined with kiosks, each one with a pair of headphones and a computer. Mirrored spheres posted on walls around the room obscure security cameras pointed in various directions. After signing a form and showing their identification, each test-taker is led to a kiosk. The computer screens feature a peculiar photo of four people sitting in front of a tulip field. Each one of them has their back turned. Quick fire questions After the moderator goes over the rules, the test begins. The test-takers are given 45 minutes to answer 42 questions. Before each section, they must watch a 30-60 second video scenario followed by further audio instructions. The automated test then quickly 'speaks' each question and all three potential answers. After watching the video and hearing the instructions, test-takers only have a few seconds to click on an answer. If they miss a detail and try to go back, the test’s  interface will start playing multiple bits of audio at once. There are some who can’t keep up with the frantic and unforgiving pace. Then there’s the questions themselves, many of which are entirely subjective and have multiple answers all of which are arguably correct. Party In one scenario, a garbage man gets a mysterious headache during his work day. The test asks if he should go to an emergency room, his doctor or make do with some paracetamol instead. In another, a frustrated apartment dweller frets over how she should deal with a loud party next door. The potential answers: ‘call the police’, ‘ask when the party will be over’ or ‘tell the neighbours to turn their music down’. The test also still contains the oft-discussed ‘what do you do if you see two men kissing?’ question. The potential answers for this one: ‘call the police’, ‘ignore them’ or ‘tell them to go home’. Almost all of the videos feature Middle Eastern or African actors. It’s hard to leave the examination room without feeling like the ‘Knowledge of Dutch Society’ portion of inburgeren is primarily geared towards these particular subsets of the Netherlands’ immigrant population. 'The exams are so racist - I was truly shocked,' says American national Anne.  'Every person who does something crazy is a non-white person with a non-Dutch name - Mohammed beating his son, Abdhi getting very angry at the doctor (to the point of yelling), Aarifah not taking her medication, or, worst of all, a non-white Muslim-looking man saying the Holocaust wasn’t really that terrible. 'Every person who needs to be taught a lesson or have something “explained” to them was a non-white person. Every person in a position of power (like the boss or the doctor) was white.' Moving forward So how can the integration programme be made more relevant to more of the immigrants who are required to go through it? ‘I don’t know what the answer is. Perhaps split it off into two separate groups somehow?' says American national Pamela, who passed the test in 2014 and is now a Dutch citizen. 'Perhaps everyone has to take an entrance exam to gauge how much they know of the language and culture, with additional points if they have a job already. Or let people that actually have jobs and meaningfully contribute to society have a pass until they no longer have a job contract or apply for welfare benefits (bijstand). 'And, of course, if they want to keep the current system, they need to make it more human. Instead of "rules are rules’’ on not being able to pass the speaking test via the computer, give people a reasonably priced option to have a human evaluator. The "one size fits all" approach pisses people off and makes them hate the process.’ People who claim welfare benefits must now learn Dutch, if they don't already speak it, to a reasonable level. Optional ‘First of all, the exams need to not be overly difficult and only cover the Dutch language,' says Philip, who has lived in the Netherlands for 25 years and refuses to take the test.  'In most cases they should be optional but, for example, could be mandatory for naturalisation, some university programmes and some forms of employment. 'The costs for exams, classes and study materials need to be significantly reduced or offered for free. People learning Dutch often have very different backgrounds, ranging from not being able to read or write in any language to being university educated. Classes need to be made available that are suitable for the people taking them. 'Learning Dutch needs to be thought of as a lifelong learning process for most people, and integrated into an entire programme of lifelong learning and community development that includes Dutch people too.’ Worthwhile ‘I strongly believe that inburgering is a worthwhile programme,' says Rita, who moved to the Netherlands from Jamaica in 2013. 'I don't think it is too much to ask that immigrants learn the language and about the culture of their new country. I would not change a thing about it as I consider the requirement quite fair. Learning the language and as much as possible about the culture is the best way to be able to get along in any country. I think it is also only polite.’ Cultural focus ‘I think it should be completely overhauled,' says Roger, who passed the test in 2013.  'If you want to live here in Holland, the language plays a big part, but are you going to learn the language in a once or twice a week class for six months or a year? 'I don’t think you’re going to learn Dutch in a couple of hours a week in a class. I work and was working full-time back then and you’re expected to do a lot of homework. That’s fair enough but your job is going to come first. 'I would overhaul the programme in terms of what living here means, still with a strong emphasis on language lessons, but with the expectation that people aren’t going to learn a language in a short period of time. I would focus more on the cultural part.’ Relevancy ‘I think it's a good idea which is executed terribly poorly,' says lawyer Jeremy Bierbach 'In particular, expats, by which people generally seem to mean English-speaking migrants from rich countries, could do with more integration in Dutch society for their own happiness. 'Yes, you can live here for 20 years speaking only English, but then your interaction with Dutch people becomes limited to just superficial transactions. I think it would be nice if the government funded a form of education that inspired people to really learn Dutch rather than just go through the motions.’ The names of the foreign nationals in this article have been changed. If you have been through the integration process, we would welcome your comments. Read the previous entries in this series here: Part 1: How to be a good citizen Part 2: Going Dutch  More >


How to feel at home in The Hague: the city hall fair is back

How to feel at home in The Hague: the city hall fair is back

Ten years ago, Englishman Billy Allwood launched the first edition of the Feel at Home in The Hague fair – an event where the city’s businesses and expat organisations could profile themselves to the international community. Now, after a break of nearly two years, the fair is back home in the huge glass atrium of The Hague’s city hall. ‘Even in the internet age, there is still a need for the international community to physically meet and connect,’ says Allwood. ‘The fair is the place where the city’s international community shares knowledge and the secrets behind making the most of their time here, whether it be a few months or many years.’ Petroleum Wives An outsider would probably be amazed to discover just how many clubs and societies the international community operates - from the St Andrews Society to volunteer organisation Access and the grandly named Petroleum Wives Club. In total, 60 sports, social and community groups will have a presence at this year's fair, which takes place on Sunday 31 January. They will be joined by small businesses and expat service providers - taking the total number of exhibitors to 140. New this year is the Innovation Quarter with ideas and inspiration for young entrepreneurs. There is also a seminar programme providing useful information about living and working in the Netherlands, including presentations on buying a house. Sumo wrestling Outside city hall there will be activities organised by the Uithof, including a snow park, trampolines, a bungee run and sumo wrestling. Centre stage will be a fun five-a-side human table football tournament in which companies are invited to enter teams. ‘A lot has changed since the first fair way back in 2006,’ says Allwood. ‘Social media was in its infancy and most sports, social and community groups had no internet access.’ ‘In those days, people were just happy to come and gather information and go home with a stack of leaflets. Today, the fair is more about having a fun day out, and celebrating why we feel so at home in The Hague.’ Entry to the event is free if you pre-register and you can sign up for tickets online.  More >