Utrecht is home to many nationalities. Every week, DUIC features an Utrechter with a different background. The concept was inspired by ‘180 amsterdammers’.
“In the Netherlands, I learned that everyone is equal“
“My job as a chef in Bar Beton in Utrecht Centraal station means that I meet lots of people every day. I really like that; it’s good for my Dutch”, says Munir enthusiastically in the café. “I like my colleagues too. We even go out for drink sometimes. We have a few gay guys working here; I’d never met a homosexual in Egypt. Homosexuality is a big secret there, but here I’ve learned that everyone is equal. They like men, I like women and it’s as simple as that.”
Munir was born in Egypt, where he qualified as a social worker. Finding a job was difficult. His brothers ran a successful restaurant in Zaltbommel and in 2004, they invited Munir to join them in the Netherlands, hoping to give him a better future. What was his first impression of the country? It was so clean and tidy! He left for Amsterdam and started washing up in a restaurant. He had just graduated from university in Egypt and didn’t have much experience in the kitchen. “That’s one of the great things about the Netherlands. People don’t feel too good to work in a job that they’re over-qualified for. You wouldn’t see that in Egypt; the people are too proud. Everyone has respect for each other here: for what you do and what you think. Including the postman.”
While living in Amsterdam, he met Aline. They fell for each other in De Melkweg nightclub on New Year’s Eve. The language barrier made it difficult for them at first, but Munir had a lot of friends who were keen to help. They decided to move in together after four years and as Aline had her own house in Utrecht and Munir lived with friends in Amsterdam, the decision wasn’t difficult: Munir moved in with Aline. He found a job at Bigoli, where his colleagues soon dubbed him the ‘quiche-master’. Ideally, Munir would have liked a job as a social worker, but his Dutch wasn’t up to it. He attended Dutch lessons at the Babel language school for 18 months and gained a Dutch vocabulary of 5,000 words. But he still needed another 10,000 before he could even contemplate training as a social worker in the Netherlands and his work compounded with the birth of a son soon put this out of reach. Munir decided to concentrate on building a career in catering instead.
Munir loves cooking. His dream is to have his own café/bar in Utrecht. De Zakkendrager and Kafé België are among his favourite places. He flies to Egypt to see his parents and sisters twice a year, and the thing that always strikes him is the difference in people’s attitudes to ‘time’. In the Netherlands, time is sacrosanct. But in Egypt, no-one is really bothered if you turn up for an appointment a couple of hours late. So when he has more time (i.e. when he’s retired), he and his wife plan to move to Egypt. “I came here for a better life, and that’s what I’ve got. But my heart is still in Egypt.”
Name: Munir Il Emam
Place of birth: Kafr el Sheikh, Egypt
Date of birth: 13 November 1980
Motto: ‘You get what you deserve by doing your very best’
Allemaal Utrechters is a series of interviews with people who moved to Utrecht from another country. We ask them about their background and their impression of Utrecht, revealing the true diversity of our city. The ‘Allemaal Utrechters’ series is a collaboration between DUIC and Culturele Zondagen, and has been made possible with help from Stichting Dialoog and the Municipality of Utrecht. We hope to showcase every nationality in Utrecht.