Utrecht is home to many nationalities. Every week, DUIC features an Utrechter with a different background. The concept was inspired by ‘180 amsterdammers’.

In India, only poor people bike to work

Photo: Robert Oostenbroek

“Learning Dutch was useful for my work”, says Rohan D’Sa casually. Now in his thirties, it was his job that prompted him to move to Utrecht from India in 2009 (“somewhere between IT and business, for a bank”). He knows a few more people from India living in Utrecht; most hardly speak any Dutch despite having lived here for longer than him. Rohan’s accent has all but disappeared.

He and his wife emigrated because of work, choosing the Netherlands rather than the USA. “My wife wouldn’t have been allowed to work in the United States because she had the wrong type of visa. And the pressures of work are high there; I’m not a workaholic, I have hobbies I enjoy too.” Having arrived in the Netherlands, Rohan was forced to buy his first ever diary. “You don’t make appointments with friends or family in India”, he explains. “You just turn up. That’s a cardinal sin here!”

Rohan is used to it now, but there are other things he still can’t quite get to grips with. Biking to work is one of them. “In India, only poor people bike to work. You bike to school, but then you go by public transport or get a driver’s licence.” He certainly experienced a culture shock. Rohan remembers his first day in the Netherlands. “I was walking through the city and came across a pedestrian crossing. I’d never seen one before. The light was red, but nothing was coming. I was totally confused, didn’t know what to do: cross or wait?” Luckily, his wife had been to Europe before and was able to explain some of the finer points.

Workshops on cultural differences

“I’ve learned a lot about the differences between eastern and western culture since then”, continues Rohan. In fact, he now gives workshops on the subject to anyone who’s interested – mainly newcomers to the Netherlands who have trouble following the western mindset. “I often start with the Fons Trompenaar’s dilemma: imagine: you’re in the car with a close friend. He drives too fast, causes an accident and someone is seriously injured. Do you lie to the court to protect your friend, or do you tell the truth? Westerners set great store by honesty, Orientals consider friendship more important. But if you were to ask a westerner: ‘Imagine this happened in Saudi Arabia and your friend stands to lose his hand?’ Then everything changes. What I’m trying to say is that our behaviour and culture are influenced by external factors.”

Giving workshops is just one of his hobbies. “I have a YouTube channel reviewing gadgets with a friend, and I play guitar in a band called John’s Brother Dave. Last week, we gave out best gig ever in dB’s. And stupidly enough, we didn’t record it!” he laughs.

“But I’ve had a new hobby for the last eight months”, he says excitedly. “My first child.” It turns out that this was the real reason for learning Dutch. “I thought: if we stay here and have a child, that child will speak Dutch and go to school. I want to be able to talk to my son, understand what people are saying about him, help him when he needs me.”

Name: Rohan D’Sa
Place of birth: Pune, India
Motto: “I haven’t got one.”

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.

Click here to view the other articles.

Article by Fenna Riethof.