The figures presented above provide first insight into the identity construction of middle-class migrants and expatriates in Rotterdam. However, several questions so far remained unanswered. Why do middle-class migrants have the feeling they are perceived as allochtoon? And what do expatriates mean when they say they feel like cosmopolitans? To answer these questions, we ‘need to look behind the categories’, as Kiely et al. (2005: 76) earlier did in their research on the construction of British identity.
4.3.1 Feeling Perceived as Allochtoon
Many of the middle-class respondents say that, although they are legally Dutch, they do not feel themselves to be ‘real’ Dutch (wo)men. Looking at the explanations they give for their answers, it appears that the respondents do want to feel Dutch, but that others exclude them from this identity. Two examples of such statements:
I want to feel like a real Dutchman, but because others don’t see me that way, I can’t. (Male middle-class migrant, 55, Surinamese origin)
I would like to feel like a Dutchman, but because of the way other people approach me, I feel Moroccan. (Male middle-class migrant, 31, Moroccan origin)
One female trailing spouse, who is excluded from the sample because she has lived in the Netherlands for about 15 years, makes a similar remark.
I think I can describe myself as a Dutchwoman, but because of my looks nobody thinks I am Dutch. In America, everyone is American. They will not say ‘you are Chinese’, or ‘you are Turkish’. But in Rotterdam, I feel the people think ‘you are Chinese’, even if you belong to the second or third generation. (Female former expatriate, 51, Chinese origin)
Many of the respondents have the feeling that ‘Dutchness’ is reserved for native, white, non-Muslim people. The opposite of being native Dutch or ‘autochtoon’ is being non-native Dutch or ‘allochtoon’. Although the middle-class migrants do not feel themselves to be allochtoon in the Netherlands – since they have lived here for a long time, have a Dutch passport, work here, and speak the language fluently – they do experience the consequences of being labelled as such by other (native Dutch) people.
The label allochtoon is not perceived as a neutral description, referring to a factual foreign origin, but rather as a stigma. Middle-class migrants associate it with negative statements about immigrants, Muslims and Islam that have become more explicit in Dutch media and politics since the turn of the century. With the rise of right-wing politicians such as Geert Wilders and earlier Pim Fortuyn (discussed in detail in Chap. 5 by Van Ostaaijen), many middle-class migrants have established the feeling that they are not that welcome in the Netherlands anymore and some of them even think about moving abroad because of this reason.
As an allochtoon you have to prove yourself two or three times more, you get underestimated a lot. I don’t want that anymore. Since Wilders, it has become worse. I ask myself whether my children have a future in this country. (Male middle-class migrant, 52, Surinamese origin)
It is not always nice to live in the Netherlands if you are an allochtoon and certainly not if you are a Muslim. Particularly since about six years ago, with the rise of Pim Fortuyn, we are seen as second-class citizens. (Female middle-class migrant, 31, Moroccan origin)
I do not always feel welcome here. People think in terms of ‘we’ and ‘them’ and politicians encourage that. (Female middle-class migrant, 26, Moroccan origin)
Expats who feel themselves to be foreigners or think others perceive them as such usually do not see this identity as negative per se. In the explanations they give for their answers on the closed-ended questions, they often use the terms ‘foreigner’ and ‘expat’ in similar ways. While for middle-class migrants, allochtoon is a stigma and a sign of not being fully accepted as a Dutch citizen, for expats, the feeling of being perceived as foreigner actually comes close to how many perceive themselves in the Netherlands and Rotterdam: as persons coming from abroad who are likely to move on to the next destination or to return ‘home’ within a few years.
The expatriates generally do not know much about Dutch politics, but when they do know a politician or a political party, it is usually Geert Wilders and his Party for Freedom (PVV). That is to say, many do not know the exact names, but refer to them as ‘the irritating xenophobic guy’, ‘the guy that bleaches his hair’, ‘that albino guy, the fascist’, and his ‘extreme right party’. Some of the expatriates say they worry about these developments. However, since they do not consider themselves to be Dutch anyway – some do not even see themselves as residents of the Netherlands – they regard the political climate as something that affects ‘immigrants’ more than ‘expats’.
Some expatriates reflected on their relationship with ‘immigrants’ in Rotterdam. A Turkish and a Polish expatriate mentioned that there is a clear distinction between expats and other people coming from Turkey and Poland. This has to do with education and job level – like many Dutch people, they associate migrants from these countries with low-status jobs – but also with the level of integration. A Turkish expatriate says:
Well, there are two main groups of Turkish people here. The first group are the ones that came here a long time ago and they have Dutch citizenship. With that group, I am not close. They have a Dutch and a Turkish culture. But I also know PhD students from Turkey, I’m closer to them. (Female expatriate, 26, Turkish origin)
Despite the fact that many expatriates distinguish between expats and other migrant groups, some do feel a kind of companionship, based on a shared experience of being ‘foreign’. An American trailing spouse says that while she often finds Dutch people quite rude, her experiences with ‘immigrants’ in Rotterdam are positive.
Even people who are really strict Muslims … Even if a woman wore a headscarf, I found out that those people are more helpful in giving me directions and showing me … It is really interesting, it’s like they think: ‘we know you are foreign’. (Female trailing spouse, 34, American origin)
The middle-class migrants did not mention any encounters with expatriates. However, based on the interviews, we can conclude that many respondents from both groups appreciate the ethnic and cultural diversity of Rotterdam, which we will come back to in the next section.
4.3.2 Feeling Like a Cosmopolitan
Expatriates who primarily identify themselves as ‘world citizens’ or ‘cosmopolitans’ often explain their answers by saying that because they lived in (sometimes several) different countries, they find it difficult to choose one answer option. In their opinion, feeling like a world citizen comes closest to a multilayered identity. They emphasize that they do not belong to a single place and cannot be placed into a single box. The quote below is from an expatriate who, after some contemplation, chose the option world citizen.
I know that I am a foreigner, but we have this thing here with my friends that we are Rotterdamers. So, if I had to describe myself in Holland, I would say Rotterdammer. Maybe just for fun, but it feels a bit like it. I also feel a bit like a world citizen; I always travel. If you ask me if I feel Brazilian, yeah, I lived there most of my life and that is part of what I am. But I feel more international. I feel like I never fitted there so well, and I never fit here so well. So I don’t know if I fit places. (Female expatriate, 29, Brazilian origin)
The fact that relatively more expatriates than middle-class migrants say their primary self-identity is cosmopolitan or world citizen might have to do with their differences in migration experiences: expatriates generally lived in more different countries than middle-class migrants, of whom many were born and/or raised in the Netherlands. Some of the middle-class migrants who chose this answer option also lived in more than two countries. One of them lived in Morocco, Belgium and the Netherlands and thinks about moving back to Morocco one day. The explanation she gives for her answer is similar to that of the Brazilian expatriate quoted above.
I find it difficult to say whether I feel more Moroccan or Dutch. As a matter of fact, I do not think the term ‘feeling’ is really helpful. In Morocco, I feel Dutch, and in the Netherlands I feel Moroccan. Actually I feel myself to be a Rotterdammer, a Muslim, a Moroccan, and a Dutchman. I feel like a world citizen. If it were up to me, all national borders would disappear. (Female middle-class migrant, 41, Moroccan origin)
As Hannerz (1990) argued, cosmopolitanism is not necessarily about having lived in many different places; it is a way of relating to increasing diversity. According to this view, a cosmopolitan is someone who enjoys the coexistence of different cultures. Many of the respondents, both expatriates and middle-class migrants, have such a positive stance towards diversity. Interestingly enough, their celebration of diversity is not so much mentioned in reference to their self-identity as world citizens or cosmopolitans, but rather when they talk about their bonds with what they call ‘world cities’ or ‘cosmopolitan cities’.Footnote 3 They, for instance, say that they feel close to ‘London, because it’s a melting pot of many different cultures’, to ‘New York, because of its ethnic mix’ and ‘Istanbul, because it is a big, beautiful city with a mix of cultures’.
Some respondents mention that Rotterdam does not have the same ‘lifestyle’ or ‘vibe’ as these world cities. Many others, however, embrace the city of Rotterdam because for them, it similarly represents cultural diversity. One middle-class migrant refers to the variety of available foods to illustrate this mix of cultures:
I feel connected with Rotterdam; I wouldn’t want to live in any other city. I began to love this city. In Rotterdam, if you want to have nasi [an Indonesian rice dish] or kebab at four o’clock in the morning, you can just get it. (Male middle-class immigrant, 44, Surinamese origin)
It can be argued that in the Dutch context, Rotterdam – together with Amsterdam and possibly The Hague – is the city that comes closest to what many migrants see as their cosmopolitan ideal. An expatriate explains that in Rotterdam, compared to other areas in the Netherlands, he does not feel he is ‘different’.
Specifically in Rotterdam – in other places it is different – a huge part of the population is foreign, so being a foreigner myself, I don’t feel like I stick out particularly or that my presence is unusual. There is a significant presence of people from all over the world; that is something that I enjoy. (Male expatriate, 38, Italian origin)
While the expatriate quoted above sees it is a positive thing to be ‘one of the many foreigners’ in Rotterdam, for middle-class migrants, being perceived as a ‘foreigner’ or ‘allochtoon’ is actually often experienced as insulting, as we discussed earlier. While the feeling of being perceived as allochtoon is particularly mentioned in relation to the political climate on a national level, some respondents also experienced a change in their beloved Rotterdam. One of them – the same respondent who called herself a ‘world citizen’ – describes how her identity as a Rotterdammer has weakened over the past years.
For years, I felt myself to be a citizen of the city. But that changed some years ago. In the past, when I had been in Belgium for family visit and the train to Rotterdam passed the Turkish mosque, it really felt like coming home. But now, people see me as an allochtoon. (Female middle-class migrant, 41, Moroccan origin)
With their multilayered identities, relating to different national, cultural and religious backgrounds, both expatriates and middle-class migrants feel at home in ‘cosmopolitan’, ethnically diverse cities. However, while to many middle-class migrants, Rotterdam represents (super) diversity, they have the feeling that others think Rotterdam should represent ‘whiteness’ or ‘being native Dutch’. As long as this is the case, and their identities as Rotterdamers or world citizens are not confirmed by others, such identities are also difficult to be real to the persons holding them (Berger and Berger 1972).