Riotous Rotterdam – Ethnography in the Netherlands

I don’t think there that many people from abroad who are doing ethnographic research in the Netherlands. Which is a pity. The country is small, travelling is easy and Dutch may seem a difficult language but many people also speak (some kind of) English. In particular with regard to integration, islam, radicalization, migrants, multiculturalism and so on, a lot is happening here and many of the transnational debates about these issues have a particular local flavor.

One of the exceptions doing research here is Ms. Long from Canada. Her Ph.D project on constructing national identity through space in the Netherlands aims at understanding the relationship between Dutch Muslims and Dutch natives by looking at how people interpret their belonging (and not belong) in relation to specific places and how this is influenced by national and Islamophobic sentiments.

Besides this very interesting topic she also holds a weblog: Riotous Rotterdam where she blogs about her experiences as a researcher, PhD student, migrant and so on. The next entry is exemplary in the sense that it not only combines all those aspects and also makes clear what good ethnographic research is about:

Riotous Rotterdam: Lost in Transit

I followed all the steps to buy a ticket at the machine (the station is under construction so there is no ticketbooth with an actual person) yet when I went to pay, none of my cards would work! Debit yes, but only for a Dutch bank, Chipcard yes (of which I own one) but it didn’t have the 24 Euros on it that I needed to get to Amsterdam Centraal. After fidgeting and becoming exasperated I noticed that a line had accumulated behind me and I tried to cancel out of my purchase so others could go ahead of me. Just when I thought all is lost, the man behind me asked if he could help. He ended up purchasing my ticket on his card to which I gave him money – Thank goodness. As it turns out this man was an audio technician who has travelled all over the world creating speaking podiums, concert halls, and the like. He had spent much time in Iran and had an opinion on the state of affairs in Rotterdam with regard to how Muslims living here choose their identity. He believed that religious identity had become a cultural identity for some, and that the distinction between these identities was lost to both those adopting the label ‘Muslim’ and those native Dutch who conflated the religious and cultural identities of individuals. Heavy talk for 10 in the morning but it works for me!

This man also informed me that my ticket to Amsterdam Centraal would not take me to the station that I was trying to go to, Amsterdam-Sloterdijk. The conductor on the train also surmised that I would have to get out and buy the extra ticket at the Central train station that would take me the one train stop further or I could take my chances with the next conductor who would switch over at the Centraal station. ‘It’s okay’, he said, ‘you have 5 minutes between when we arrive and when we leave again, so you can run to get your ticket’. Great.

So our train arrives and I’m waiting by the doors. I run downstairs to the ticket machines and search on the screen for Sloterdijk…Sloterdijk…Sloterdijk…but it’s nowhere. Arg! So I queue up with other passengers to ask at the information desk. The line-up took a while and when I finally told her my issue, she gave me a mothering look, “well that’s because you’re looking for Amsterdam-Sloterdijk, darling” Ah, yes, I should have known. So back to the machine, I go through all the steps (which station, first or second class, single or return, full price or discount) when I realise…this machine ALSO doesn’t take any of my cards and while it was only 2,20 Euros to the next stop…I was 30 cents short! So I walked into the nearest shop to purchase a small drink to get change meanwhile giving up on the idea that I would make the same train but that I would catch the next one. Wait in line, purchase a water, walk back to the ticket machine, purchase the ticket, walk slowly to the train listing on the wall when I realise…I still had one minute to make the train! So I’m running back through the station up platform 8a run up the flight of stairs just in time…to see the doors close and the train pull away.

I should also add that throughout the rest of the day I proceeded to lock myself out of my mobile (the mobile I have here has a pin code that I must be entered when it’s turned back on which I forgot in the safety of my room in Rotterdam), mix-up where I was suppose to check out of the metro thus docking my Chipcard to the point where I couldn’t afford another route (so I got off and tried to walk, got lost and fed up, got back on the tram and paid for another ticket) and then had to pay for both internet time and a pay phone card in order to meet with my colleague who is doing research in Amsterdam. Phew. If it feels like a wild ride just reading the blog I was very very very tired yesterday when I finally stepped back into the flat. Although I was lost in/through/around transit at points during my day, I did make some wonderful contacts and learn quite a lot. I look forward to the next time I visit Amsterdam…but maybe next time I’ll take a smoother ride.

Ok, forget what I wrote about ‘easy travelling’ but it is exactly these kind of experiences that makes ethnography difficult, exhausting and so rewarding.

Ms. Long also has a colleague who does ethnographic research in Poland and yes she is also blogging about it.
Notorious Nowa Huta

Using Nowa Huta as a case study, my research looks at the changes that have taken place in Poland over the past twenty years, the ways in which people of different generations remember the socialist past, and what their memories can tell us about people’s lives in contemporary Poland.

Both researches and blogs are very interesting to monitor which I certainly will do for the time to come. And if there are other researchers from abroad working in the Netherlands I would love to hear it!

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