BFF | Cultural heritage


It was one of the few times I used my road bike. I was on my way to visit a friend and had to cycle past a grocery store, where a group of young men was hanging out. Damn, I thought, here we go again. And I was right, I heard them calling to me: "Pssssst, baby come here, pssssst…" And they made the in Suriname well-known kissing sounds. I quickened my pace and raised my middle finger in a reflex.

The flattering words were instantaneously replaced by a few hardcore Surinamese swear words. And out of the corner of my eye, I saw that a very angry young man was chasing me. I accelerated as if my life depended on it, and the distance between me and my attacker increased. Phew, I luckily out cycled him. Several hours later, having forgotten about the incident, I cycled back home. Of course, I took the same route back and passed the same grocery store. Our eyes met and I immediately sprinted off, with the same aggravated guy chasing me. Fortunately, I cycled him out again.

On the streets of Suriname there is always plenty of ‘attention’ for women. Men often whistle at women and try in all possible macho ways to get their attention. This behavior by men, fortunately not all of them, is so ingrained in the Surinamese society that there is even a term for it: 'schijnen' (catcalling) it is called. If you respond positively to catcalling, you are a slut and if you don't respond, you are arrogant. You always draw the short straw as a woman. I hate this behavior.

When I arrived in the Netherlands I noticed that things were very different on the streets. What a relief! Compared to Suriname I could walk the streets without being shouted at. To my surprise, after a while I began to wonder; do I still matter? It felt like I was not worthy of a glance. Walking past a construction shack might have helped then. And then it hit me. Unconsciously, I had adjusted my behavior to be as invisible as possible, to not provoke the annoying behavior of men on the street. I had unconsciously dimmed my flamboyant Surinamese temperament.

Of course, this is not an invitation for men in the Netherlands to start catcalling. It illustrates that certain aspects of the culture you grow up in, can influence your behavior in unexpected, and sometimes in unwanted ways. Being invisible served my interests in the Surinamese society. Being invisible in the Dutch society didn't work for me. You often get left behind if you don't make yourself heard in this culture.

It is important to be aware of the impact of cultural heritage on yourself. It would be a mortal sin if cultural heritage is a barrier to express your true nature and qualities.

BFF | Bald, Frizzy or Flowing is a joint initiative of Willem Mulder (Bald), Monique Bruining (Frizzy) and Luc Brunsveld (Flowing), that they started at the beginning of 2023 on the site of Cursor.

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