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Day 1: Dutch Courage

Today we found out about Dutch courage. We would like to note that we’re very courageous to kick off this blog and we didn’t even drink booze (unlike the South-African girls who are drinking whiskey in the other room).

It was the first course day of the International Winter School on Pluralism and Development 2011. Today was all about getting to know each other. In the weekend everybody arrived here in Bloemfontein, settling in our cosy homes: Tutu and Oprah. It wasn’t a very warm welcome though, most of the heaters were broken, so we were sleeping underneath 5 blankets and a hot water bag. The Indonesians even wore a winter jacket as pajamas.

This morning however we started with a very warm welcome in the form of a triple opening word of the deputy vice chancellor, the director of the Institute for International Studies in Race, Reconciliation and Social Justice and dr. Suransky, as they call her here. After an introduction round we started with the real interesting part of the day: the prejudices. All different countries were asked to be very open and honest about their prejudices towards each other. The Indonesians began, and as we expected, were very polite, careful and sweet. Then it was our turn, we apologized before hand for our own rudeness. A short illustration: Black South-Africans (because they always want you to define whether you mean white or black South-Africans) have well developed manhoods, people from Uganda are slow, late and lazy, Indians are unorganized plus they have bad manners (gargling, spitting, you know...). But we weren’t the only ones who were brutally honest. Apparently we only shower once a week, we have superiority issues, and we love our queen. There were also more confronting prejudices, especially about us as ‘Dutchmen’. According to the South-African and the Indonesian, we are proud of our colonial past. This was an eye-opener to us, we hadn’t realized before that we were looked upon this way. It felt like we were still held responsible for the actions of our ancestors. We tried to explain that we weren’t taught to be proud of this, this is an issue which we’ll probably stumble upon more often during this Winter School.

We hope to find the courage every time again to be debate these issues; because we “really don’t have courage, only when we drink booze” (explanation of Dutch Courage by the Ugandans, 11 July 2011, Bloemfontein). After an exciting and exhausting first day, we’re very much looking forward to the rest of this experience.

Vicky Hölsgens, Fleur Nollet, Renske van Lierop