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On acculturation and consciousness of it

Those who know me personally also know that ‘integration’ in a Dutch society could be a tough topic to touch: while accepting that there is a degree to what you have to conform to a local culture as a resident foreigner I always struggle to find where to draw the line for myself, how to conform to the local rules without loosing my own cultural identity. Like today.

Yesterday Dutch was nice – as nice as paved, clearly indicated bicycle roads and looking at old ladies cycling in a middle of heide (heather, which is almost at the end of its flowering season). Than I thought that may be it’s not that bad after all if we end up living in the Netherlands – I could easily imagine myself as an old lady cycling through heide on a sunny Sunday afternoon…

Today Dutch was sad – as sad as a pregnant woman in a train lifting her suitcase to an upper shelf and no man around offering to help. I usually bring ‘suitcase lifting’ as an example of things that I don’t like about Dutch society: I just don’t get that sort of ‘being an independent woman’. I have found my own workarounds (keeping my suitcases on the floor ;), but I’m horrified by an idea that my kids could grow with an understanding that the situation above is normal.

Which brings me to a couple of quotes from Watching the English, the book I enjoy reading in so many respects. It’s on consciousness of an acculturation:

In fact, I would go so far as to say that Englishness is rather more a matter of choice for the ethnic minorities in this country than it is for the rest of us. For those of us without the benefit of early, first-hand influence of another culture, some aspects of Englishness can be so deeply ingrained that we find it almost impossible to shake them off, even when it is clearly in our interested to do so […]. Immigrants have the advantage of being able to pick and choose more freely, often adopting the more desirable English quirks and habits while carefully steering clear of the more ludicrous ones. [p.18]

Many of those who pontificate about ‘acculturation’ are inclined to underestimate this element of choice. Such processes are often described in terms suggesting that the ‘dominant’ culture is simply imposed on unwitting, passive minorities, rather than focusing on the extent to which individuals quite consciously, deliberately, cleverly and even mockingly pick and choose among the behaviors and customs of their host culture. I accept that some degree of acculturation or conformity to English ways is often ‘demanded’ or effectively ‘enforced’ (although this would surely be true of any host culture, unless one enters it as a conquering invader or passing tourist), and the rights and wrongs of specific demands can and should be debated. But my point is that compliance with such demands is still a conscious process, and not, as some accounts of acculturation imply, a form of brainwashing. [p.19]

Archived version of this entry is available at http://blog.mathemagenic.com/2006/09/11.html#a1830; comments are here.

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