“No, I can not meet tomorrow, because I’m going to a psychologist,” a friend said to me. What an openness you sometimes encounter here. He was not ashamed. Others who heard the conversation did not look strange either. In Syria we see people who go to a psychologist as crazy. We have a special hospital for them. Sometimes when I’m on the train, the train stops because someone has jumped on the track. There are many people in the Netherlands who do not feel well. They use medicines for it, go to a psychologist or commit suicide.
I think I understand how that is possible. In Syria you work every day at the base of your life. You do your best to be safe, get food on the table or buy a house. Is your washing machine broken? Then you save for six months until you can buy one. In the Netherlands you are safe, there is always food, for everyone a house and after one salary you buy a washing machine. You can work, but if you do not work, you also get money. I think people can therefore feel that they are extra in this life. Nobody is needed here. You do not have to work hard to maintain yourself. If I later have a wife or children, the government will take care of them more than I do. I sometimes find it difficult to be happy in the Netherlands, because I do not know what happiness is here. What does my life expect now that I have the basis? Now that my life goal does not consist in obtaining safety, money and a house? I study, I do volunteer work, I make friends and learn Dutch, but feeling useful in a country that already has everything remains difficult.
“Hold up my hand to my wife after 25 years of marriage?”
I was at home with a classmate and drank tea with her mother. She was happy, the mother said, because on Saturday she was married for 25 years. There will be a big party, with family, friends and colleagues. The Dutch do that. They continue to celebrate, even when they are old. With 50 years an Abraham at the door, with 40 years of marriage another great party. In Syria, we say in such a case: “They should respect their age.” “Giving a party or letting you go is no longer appropriate from the moment you get older. “Those people are not ashamed of anything,” we would say about them. That starts soon, because people aged 50 and over are seen as old. As if they only have a few years to live.
A Syrian friend of mine of 20 years will soon have a brother. He is not happy, but is ashamed of his parents. At that age, and then still have a child … I like that old people can also party here and behave as they want. “Congratulations!”, They say to a pregnant woman of 43. “Nice that you still have a baby!” I like to participate in the Dutch way. I want to keep celebrating. When I just wondered how Dutch men can give so many parties in their lives, a Dutch friend said, “Women pay for this too.” I could not. After 25 years of marriage, I hold up my hand to my wife to give her a party. That will not happen. Merging cultural aspects of the Netherlands and Syria is fine. A disadvantage: it costs me a lot of money.
I was lying in the sun, near a swimming pool. I heard a father talking to his son. He said: ,, I hope you will become in the future something you like”. He made me smile. It is nice that fathers and mothers in the Netherlands think that is important.
I am used to always being told that you have to become something that you gives you pots of money. Doctor, engineer or IT professional. It is not for nothing that you have so many doctors in some Syrian streets, that you have to look for an accident to find the one you have an appointment with. All children who once heard from their parents: “You must become a doctor”. If you are now wondering whether there is work for so many doctors in Syria: yes, there is. We like to go to the doctor. We do not want pain, but just medicines that take away our pain.
The father at the pool was talking about something else, but I was still thinking about his remark. If his son likes to dance, does he like it when he becomes a dancer? In the Netherlands, not all fathers and mothers assume that their children will be happy with money. That is why they do not send their children in that special direction, when they have to choose an education.
“You should become an actor”, I hear my whole life. That was not serious advice, they would have looked mad in Syria if I had really done it. In the Netherlands it is not surprising, but here I do not speak the language sufficiently for the drama training. So, I remain dreaming, along the side of the pool. About a Dutch film with a Syrian protagonist. Then I shall convince everyone. Have a bet?
‘Dutch people love drama on their desks’
When I’m at the Gelderlander, I see cuddly toys on the table, a football, food, papers, everything. When I ask, ‘can I have a screwdriver?’ someone picks it is so off his desk. I often wonder why that is. Do people want to show their boss that they are busy? A Syrian office is always tight. Only the necessary is arranged in an office. It would be crazy to put a pink stuffed dog on your desk, because you will be so happy. Or a football, so that you can occasionally kick a ball on the work floor.
Also at the text office where my girlfriend works, it’s a mess. I offered to clean it up there. I do not need money for it. Just one Saturday on which I organize everything clearly. “No, we do not want that,” my friend said. ,,We feel happy in this way.”
Dutch people quickly feel happy and at ease. I was once asked to have dinner with Dutch people, who still had to cook at the time I came. “Hello Anwar!” they said happy. ‘Nice to have you here’. They grabbed a few knives and cut vegetables. I did not know what to do. Help out? Wait in silence in the room? Come back later? I kept wondering if I had remembered the time of the appointment.
Dutch people also invite you to their home, and do not clean up in advance. I was with a friend, who had to pick up all his clothes and belongings from the couch. ‘Look, sit down,’ he said afterwards. When I walked home I had an ass full of dog hairs. Apparently I had been seated in his place.
When I get guests, from now on I will say at the door: come in! Do you first take off your clothes for your and my hygiene?