Bridging the Expats-Locals Gap

Recently I wrote about the start up of a new, English language monthly newspaper here in The Hague called The Underground.

The reason I became involved was to do my part to help build a newspaper that not only includes interesting, intriguing and informative articles about life in The Hague and surrounding area, but that also bridges the international and local Dutch communities.

The Underground does exactly that, celebrating the city’s attractions as the International City of Peace and Justice and a welcoming haven for people from all over the world.

Well, it’s happened again.

No, not another newspaper.

Another effort to bridge the gap between expats and locals.

I opened my inbox the other day to receive a thoughtful email from Lisa Grijzenhout of Toneelgroep Amsterdam.

For those of you practicing your Dutch you’ll know it’s pronounced ‘toenail group,’ but rest assured it refers to a theater stage ensemble and not a pedicure.

Toneelgroep Amsterdam is the largest theater group in the Netherlands, and Lisa was writing to ask my assistance.

Knowing that as an expat blogger I often write about life here in Nederland, she was seeking my help to get the word out that the theater welcomes English speaking patrons who may not speak Dutch at a level comfortable enough to take in a stage show.

Their solution? For some performances they include surtitles, a form of theater subtitling. The English translation is projected on a screen above the stage, allowing theatergoers to take in the lines while focusing on the emotion and movements of the actors.

Seems they did a pilot project and the results were such that they have committed to using English surtitles for all shows on Thursdays throughout the 2011-2012 season.

Oh, and Lisa’s email was written in both Dutch and English.

As I told her, I’m happy to share this information for two reasons beyond letting people know they can attend plays in Amsterdam in English rather than only Dutch.

First, I think Toneelgroep Amsterdam’s actions are a wonderful example of reaching out to the non-Dutch speaking public to encourage them to be part of the theater experience. 

When someone makes an effort to include you, such as by making an accomodation in your own language, it means a lot. Obviously they can’t do it in every language, but by using what is easily becoming the primary common international language in Europe and beyond, they are going a long way to saying ‘we welcome you, please join us.’

Other examples include host cities and countries arranging for international fairs that welcome expats and provide information helpful for transitioning into local life, dedicated expat television and radio news shows, and of course magazines and newspapers aimed at the international community.

For example, in The Hague we are fortunate to enjoy the benefits of DutchbuzzNL radio, TheExpat.TV, ‘At Home in The Hague’ International Fair in addition to various groups, clubs and organizations.

The second reason I want to mention the Toneelgroep Amsterdam initiative is that I think it’s important to share such examples of international cooperation to encourage more of the same throughout the world.

Now before you accuse me of expecting a wholesale catering to the wants and needs of expats, be assured that of course I believe this should be a two-way street. I happen to think that expats (by which I refer to anyone living outside their home/birth/passport country) ought do as much as possible to be a contributing member of society wherever they live.

This can include, but isn’t limited to, participating in community activities, getting involved in volunteer efforts to address needs and help make a positive difference, (wherever possible) learning the language, and generally being an upstanding citizen.

When people make an effort to include each other, it makes a very profound statement. Just think of the possibilities if everyone embraced change and sought ways to encourage participation and involvement.

Now and then it helps to step back and take stock: what have YOU done to reach out lately?

Update: I was pleased to learn that the word about the quality productions put on by Toneelgroep Amsterdam and the concept of surtitling is getting out, as reflected in this article just published by I Am Expat about an upcoming performance of one of my favorites, J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace.



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