Two years after I graduated from Cambridge, I find myself filling in an application form for a job at Albert Heijn.
Education level?, asks the form. “PhD”, I write.
What section would you like to work in? This is a tough one. Baked goods is the obvious choice, but then what about the cheese counter? I decide to come back to this.
Why do you want to work at Albert Heijn? “I have a passion for food products” – this is not entirely a lie – “and I’d like to get more out of my people skills”.
That’s the short answer, I guess. The long one: “I don’t, actually, but I do want Dutch citizenship, and that means doing the inburgering exam, which involves filling in a mountain of fake job applications just to show that I can, even though I already have a job, and then having my qualifications evaluated by an hbo’er from the local council.” This, of course, wasn’t going to fit on the form.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not opposed to the exam. And if the ‘Orientation to the Dutch labour market’ part was tiresome, ‘Knowledge of Dutch society’ was supremely entertaining. It consists of 40 questions designed to weed out people who are racist, sexist, religious bigots and utter morons. And, not or – since you’re allowed to get 15 wrong there’s plenty of scope to be one or more of the above, just not all of them at once.
Here’s an example: Job and Mieke are Catholic. They install a statue of Maria in their garden. What should Ali do? The answer options are, loosely paraphrased, as follows: (a) tell them to remove it, (b) wait till night falls and topple it under the cover of darkness, or (c) nothing, because who gives?
Ali reappears in a number of questions, and we are told he works in a factory. He seems to be married to Fatima, a cleaner. In the written Dutch exam they are joined by someone called Faisal, and you have to complete sentences like “Faisal’s neighbour Joke invites him to her birthday party on Wednesday. Faisal can’t go because …”
I wonder what would happen if I write “… because he’ll be at home wiring up a bomb from his toaster”, but then in excellent Dutch. The word for toaster escapes me though, so I settle for “… as a paediatric oncologist he’ll be hard at work on Wednesday, like most immigrants”.