The oddity about newcomers who are being kept 'new'


Western European societies are believed to have ratified the most immigration-friendly policies of the world. The way some of them may deal with those, is often a question of policy emphasis or simply budget. Many countries oblige the immigrants to adapt to certain expectations such as work, housing, heath care and education. The outcome of this is integration. From this point there are lots of sociologists and politicians who are opposing 'the need to adaptation' as a so-called result of «an excessive introspection» of that country. They consider the country in question to be uncertain and undetermined about its own direction (Schinkel, 2007). As a result newcomers would be affected by this identity search, because the native society keeps reflecting about possible reasons for certain sociological problems.

The post-war evolution to more internationalist politics is not a concept which is "modern" or "unique". In Western European societies, this process stems at least from the era after the fall of Napoleon, which led to the construction of the now-known nations, such France, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium. Peoples were merged into bigger countries, rather than "united" and countries haven't stopped re-inventing themselves ever since, in order to maintain stability within Europe. The internal uproar which has been manifestating throughout the existence of these countries (happily less violent in more recent history), however, has never been healed to my opinion. A possible reason for this is a lack of a strong identity which binds people somehow. What is the Netherlands? Why not merge into a bigger enitity? Can we comprehend people who are saying a Europe of Peoples will be the best long-term solution or do we better wipe out these "inequal" identities to create one people with one open view? Why do people prefer to call themselves Flemings and not Belgians? What is the main principle of American pride? These are perhaps unavoidable questions every pupil in secondary school has to deal with before participation in society. Only from a strong introspection, we can take a look outside our borders, trying to understand newcomers and what identity means to them. Only from a profound self-understanding one can discuss problems and propose constuctive solutions in a decent way. This would prevent the fenomenon Schinkel describes a hypochondrion people have got to relate sociological problems to.

As a consequence of these self-estimating questions, we can make choices properly. When it then comes to the question "do we want immigrants to adapt?", I personally believe they are welcome to, but not obliged. However, they only may 'adapt' under the condition that *we* know what we are ourselves and that we must not question the good values we already have got: democracy, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of trade... 'To adapt' must be more than a contribution to a social system. 'To adapt' describes a movement. 'To adapt' is - without losing your own identity and beliefs - to spontaneously learn the language, to get in touch with locals, to broaden your network you can rely on and to respect the above-mentioned values our society is built on. These are elements that help immigrants to survive. Immigrants should be proud of becoming Flemings, what our democracy stands for. When immigrants talk about themselves, they are Flemings (okay with different roots, but whatever). Is it then odd why specific groups of immigrants keep labelling themselves as the people of their roots (even when we are talking about the sixth or seventh generation already)? Or are we simply too afraid to require that some values are to be respected, just in order to create a solid picture of our expectations in our society? You know, I finally want to stop calling Flemings with, for instance, Moroccan roots for 'Moroccans'.

The discrepancy between understanding and identification in inter-cultural communication


What do we need to know about other people's background? The best way of understanding other cultures is not to learn all their habits or aspects by heart nor to become part of them yourself, because judgements and deems seem to appear quite easily.

More relevant, however, is questioning the necessity to try understanding cultures regardless. If you ask me, every culture has its positive values and its downsides compared to Western standards. How do we look on an individual who comes from a (slightly) different background? Do we beset their motivation (to come over to our country) with questions about their meals, national football team and politics? Unfortunately, I am afraid these are not always appreciated. They come over to our region in order to participate in an international project, to experience the professional relationships on a level that exceeds the specific cultural differences, or it merely exists 'next to' the cultural contrasts that do not necessarily need to be set aside. The question is merely 'is it relevant to take cultures and backgrounds in account anyway'?

There is a quite longwinded description of the 'Nasirema', with a considerably primitive overtone. I will spare you the explanation, because there is no such people like the 'Nasirema' ('Americans' inverted). The inventor(s) of the story behind the 'Nasirema' wanted to mock with the idea of forming a complete profile depending on a sole point of view. When I listened to it as a class experiment, I actually did not care a lot about the details, because I noticed their stupidity after a while. It just makes clear that the lack of a fact-checking attitude is a daunting reality with many amongst us. Moreover, what do we think ourselves about someone? Then, which judgements can we make in a less biased way? Does another individual side or appreciate these collective values at all? Perhaps we tend to digg too deeply into specific information for a profound understanding of another's culture.

The real understanding of the people we deal with should be based on their presence, their actions, their individual point of views. I am thus far from an individualist, but my message is predominantly to be aware of the person who stands right in front of you. Identifying this person with his point of view and his qualities, means in my opinion a more successful inter-cultural communication. You are not labelling him as 'who he is supposed to be', but rather considering him as 'who he is'.

In conclusion, if we want to build a professional relationship with other-cultural people, we should avoid making them feel 'comfortable' by means of talking in their language, making their typical food, talking about their culture... We need to have our eye on one other's fields of interest. Like this we can prevent utterly awkward situations, in which our 'other-cultural' conversation partner could regard us as an annoying host.