Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Will you take this Oriental as your lawfully wedded wife?

I must have visited the local municipality office at least four times in the last two months, because getting married here involves several appointments, pre-marriage (ondertrouw) and then waiting for a civil servant (ambtenaar) to contact you about a week before.

During our ondertrouw session, we had to decide on a location. I was actually quite indifferent to this, because we had planned to go for a free marriage -- where only the ambtenaar and two witnesses would be present along with the couple.

Sitting in the office, the lady pointed to some photos of available (and equally expensive) locations in The Hague. Pointing to this location, she said casually:

"This has an Oriental feel, which might be suitable for her?"


For an Oriental me! Wow, I've been mistaken for many nationalities while living here, such as Indonesian, Dutch, Chinese, Filipino, Surinamese, and even "East Indian", but I've never been labelled with such a catch-all term!

Wide-eyed, I thought she must have been kidding, in some strangely doubly ironic and amusing way, but nope -- she was serious. While I'm sure she didn't mean it maliciously, it does reveal a certain indifference to racial/colonial issues here, like how the Zwarte Piet (Black Pete) of Sinterklaas is just seen as harmless fun.

When I looked up the description of the hall on the municipality website:-
De trouwzaal op het Spui ademt de sfeer van de sprookjes van duizend-en-een-nacht. (The Spui wedding hall exudes the atmosphere of the fairytales of A Thousand and One Nights/Arabian Nights.)  
That's the collection of stories from the Middle East and South Asia as told by Scheherazade, a female captive to a fickle king, to stop him from killing a woman every night.

And that, dear readers, is how you change indifference into objection.

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