The Netherlands: heading for international isolation?

The Netherlands: heading for international isolation

It was an interesting, perhaps eye opening conclusion: one of the leading newspapers in the Netherlands (NRC Handelsblad) found that the Netherlands, traditionally proud of its tolerance and international allure, has slid into a country characterized by an introspective, confused and inward-looking mentality. The survey was held under the ambassadors of various countries (not just Russia) and was quite threatening in the perspective of PM Rutte’s earlier statements in Birmingham: he proudly mentioned that 70% of the wealth in the Netherlands is earned from its exports, which in turn can be explained by the Dutch extremely open, internationally connected economy. It made me, an Indian expat who got married to a Dutch last year, wonder: how international and tolerant is this country?

Mark Rutte claims the Netherland to be " extremely international", but is that really the mentality?
Mark Rutte claims the Netherlands to be ” extremely international”, but is that really the mentality?


The Netherlands: heading for international isolation, but not economically…

Partly, I have to agree with Mr. Rutte: indeed this country is exporting maniacally, selling its cheese, diary, tulips and Heineken beer all over the world. Moreover, knowledge migrants are stimulated in several ways to come to the Netherlands, for example as IT experts, PhD’s or via other prestigious programs. And basically any Dutch will shout it from the roof: no country is more multicultural and tolerant than Holland! Yes, So far so good. But then, what happens if one takes a closer look and digs a bit deeper, to see what is actually going on? Can such person not end up wondering whether this country really is willing to embrace those expats, including the so badly wanted knowledge migrants?

Let’s take the story of one of those migrants -completely at random, of course! – : me! My own beautiful story started four and half years ago when I was invited to work in the Netherlands via an Erasmus grant for making “Artificial Meat” for this meat loving country. Once I had accepted the offer it was amazing how smooth and efficient all went! I just had to pack my bag and take the right airplane, everything else was taken care off by Dutchies. All my documents were prepared, I got a nice place to stay, excellent working facilities, a great supervisor and mentor, basically even a set of friends had already been arranged for me. It was heaven! To top it off I even fell in love with a Dutchie (I admit, that was not part of the set of arrangements), and I decided to stay in this flat but lovely country: why would I think of leaving this hospitable paradise, this multicultural heaven on earth?

Doing what I can :-)
Doing what I can 🙂


After I finished my PhD, it was time to become independent and find my professional road in this great global state. And that was when I fell out of paradise like Eva – but at least she had a bite of a nice and juicy apple for that. Suddenly, little was left of the open, tolerant and international oriented country so fiercely promoted by Rutte et al.; I got deeper than that layer and found the same side the NRC found too: an inner oriented, confused and inward looking mentality, a layer that desperately seemed trying to spit me out of this country.

Suddenly, language was a problem. The international renowned companies I started to apply, shining examples of Rutte’s passionately advocated VOC-mentality, told me that they only wanted people who speak Dutch fluently. The Dutch Tax Department, who had no problem to address me in English when they needed my income tax, told me they had a policy of only answering questions in Dutch when I was inquiring on a considerable amount they had to return to me. The same goes for De Gemeente and most other official bodies: how does this support Rutte’s vision, one cannot helping asking herself?

Dutch definition of tolerant society?
Dutch definition of tolerant society?

I also started to see other patterns. The library in Utrecht seemed to be a hub of people looking for a job; but why 80% of them were foreigners? Why the higher positions in Dutch universities are never being taken by people who do not have a Dutch background? Why there are no Moroccan or Turkish CEO’s or CFO’s in the Netherlands? Even though so many cleaners actually
are Moroccan or Turkish? I talked with some NGO’s fighting for the rights of the “outcasts” , the Dalits, in my country; but when you really go beyond the unspoken, are things that different in The Netherlands?

Any reader should not get me wrong: I do love this country, and its great social system. Things are nicely arranged here and hey, did I not even marry a Dutch?

But yet, is it not time that the Dutch are starting to realize that they are drifting further and further away from the shining example of tolerance and multiculturalism they once were? And that if they do not manage to change course soon, they risk to end up lagging hugely behind on this dynamic world that becomes more global every day?

Perhaps starting to realize that there is a problem, would be half of the solution already.


  1. This has been basically my experience. While studying this country was a paradise on earth and every seminar at the university or every job fair promoted the need for highly skilled migrants in my field. And when you go and apply for a job either you don’t speak good enough dutch or they don’t want to spend too much time on getting a visa etc. I have seen positions remain empty for a year now which I was denied because of “unexplainable” reasons. They are also making their visa laws stricter while advertising their country as work heaven for talented expats. It’s not entirely true and strangely for dutch people who claim to be brutally honest they are kinda being white liars.

    • Very true… and these unexplained reasons are their fear of loosing their language or culture to foreigners, with no attention towards the fact that without foreingers they cant survive. This has been actually said by some British in London, that they feel foreign in their own country.

      • I wonder why they have this mentality after colonizing so much of the world. I can understand self preservation before foreign interests my only issue is why do they advertise otherwise, it seems extremely hypocritical to me.

  2. I must say that this kind of experiences can be made… worldwide. I did it in Switzerland, Italy and Germany but I know that it’s very common everywhere. To study in a country is something completely different than to work in it. There are huge differences. And getting a work permit? Well, I can tell you that it’s not easy anywhere.
    I must say that I understand the request of being able to talk and write Dutch for anyone applying in NL. This is not different in any other country. Unless you apply in a company where English is the main language, of course…
    I observed exactly the same kind of policy in other countries: first we take locals (…) and then foreigners. Unless – yes, there are exceptions – they are highly qualified and won’t stay forever 😉 The unexplained reasons you and “icanrelatetothat” mention are very common. – This doesn’t make it better, I know, but it takes another perspective to your view. Thanks for talking about this topic.

    • Hi Ute… It is very nice to hear your view and how global this small form of Racism is. When I talked about myself, I am talking about a highly qualified person looking for job as Research Scientist in Microbiology. I have work Permit and permanent residence. So, this is to state that there are no exceptions. The only exceptions are people who are either lucky or who have completely become “Roman in Rome”, but its not a very easy even that. Because the example of Suriname, Turkish and Moroccans, I gave… They are people who speak perfect language and I guess educated too, but are seen mostly in lower functions. I do not want to be critical about it, as I am supposed to live here, But if we will overlook this, it will grow. And I guess its not going to be good for anyone (Dutch or Foreigners).

      • take 2-3 months off the job hunt and learn dutch and then apply, your prob is solve. also now being a dutch yourself you should think of saving the heritage of dutch.

        • It might sound harsh but I agree, I see in my neighborhood dozens of children speaking Arabic languages, sorry to say but If they were born here I would expect their parents to educate them as Dutch otherwise this problem of “in-adaptation” and “feeling ignored by the Dutch” will never end.

  3. Read “Bloed aan de klomp” . Tolerance was only ever reserved for the intelligentsia. And the tolerance Amsterdam allowed the Jews in the 17th Century was not the kind of tolerance you would think of in modern day liberal society. It was more a case of ” not seeing what they did not want to acknowledge” as Benjamin Kaplan wrote. I could go on and on. Dutch tolerance is a myth.

  4. Interesting to read about your experience and perception of the Dutch society. Although I would be the last to say that things are as perfect as many Dutch people claim they are, I think some points you make are completely misguided and wrong. First of all, I agree with Ute, that probably in most countries in the world it is difficult to get a job unless you speak the local language, or have something to offer that a local person does not. If you thought not speaking Dutch would not be a problem than you were just very very naive. Your point about the library in Utrecht is just ridiculous. The library in Amsterdam is full of the same type of people, but they all just go there for the free internet and computer facilities. You mention leadership at universities and no existing Turkish / Morroccan CEO’s or CFO’s. But you just happen to forget to mention that there are a significant amount of non-Dutch people on the management boards of most of the largest Dutch companies. The board of the corporate company I work for even has 4 out of 6 non Dutch people, 3 of whom don’t even speak any Dutch at all. I agree that Turkish and Morroccan are underrepresented in the top of the Dutch corporate life. But you shouldn’t forget that most of these migrants workers that are above the age of 45 (an age I expect a management board member of a large corporate company to at least have) have a very low educational background, often not even being able to read or write when they came to The Netherlands. I don’t want to trivialize the problems you have faced, or are still facing, but I think the general state of economy is also not in your favour. The last point I will make is that The Netherlands is the only country in the world that I know of that actually actively discriminates against its own population and favours foreigners by means of the 30% tax ruling (which you no doubt know of). That being said, I agree there is still a lot of room for improvement, and that Dutch people in general think that things are way better than they actually are.

    • I agree with your comment and I am not Dutch. I am happy enough I could get a job and so now I make an effort to study the language so when I finish my PhD, I am not in zeros.
      I believe that the cartoon above is absolutely OK and that is the way things have to be, one cannot go to another country and expect things will be on our comfort or advantage.

  5. I am an expat, Mexican. I am doing my PhD and I am already married to a Dutch national…

    I disagree with the overall topic of your experience. And for the record, I as a non-Dutch say the following: we always think just because we did a high degree program we will get everything on a silver platter….. I totally am freaked out by the language, but is what we have to do…. they speak Dutch here, so we must try at least to do it too.
    And that cartoon you put is completely o for me …. I would not like it if Mexico will be filled with strange people with their culture and at the end Mexico ends up looking anything else but Mexico. We are the “alien” ones, we must adapt.
    You mention something about the Moroccan and Turkish, I have nothing against them but I am scared to see how they impose their culture so hard that I do not feel safe when I see the socially unproductive “gangs” of foreigners hanging around my corner, it is not a good image, why did that happen? because they did not adjust and so they form clusters of cultural subversion.

    So, yes, we must adjust, we must mingle, we must adapt or else this will end up as France where Muslim opinion has more impact that the French opinion in some important originally French matters for example gay marriage….or religion in school. Those things are changing to the side of the Muslim, why?… because they did not adjust, they overpowered the local culture and language. And again, for the record: I have nothing against Muslim, I wish I could visit their countries and take pictures of their incredible ruins and history.

    In the case of Mexico, I do not like that Amercians took some areas as retirement paradise, they can buy property in the coast line now, Mexicans must speak English because they become the maids, servants, drivers of Americans… why?… because Americans did not adjust to the culture, they overruled the culture and so now they impose theirs.

    Those are the examples why I think the Netherlands is not a closed-up country, is just a matter of common sense. If you want to be you, with your costumes, with your language, then stay where you came from….not you specifically, but a rhetorical “you”

  6. The Dutch people speak Dutch. And it took you a few years to realize this? The first step to integration is learning the language; you simply cannot function in the kind of job you are after if you do not speak the language, unless you choose to work in one of the many international companies or at a university where they will accept that you lecture in English. I must say that after accepting and using a Dutch grant, not taking the time to learn the language and then bashing the country because they do not hand you a job on a silver platter feels…..wrong to me.


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