I'm a grandchild of immigrants. Three of my grandparents sailed away from economic hardship in the old country speaking only Norwegian. While I have kept my grandparents' religion (and still eat fish balls and goat cheese), I can barely say hello in Norwegian. While proud of my heritage, I am American. My ancestors assimilated like so many others in their era — quickly.
These days, incentives to blend quickly are not as strong. Thanks to modern telecommunications advances, communities of foreigners can settle in more comfortable places while remaining in close contact with friends and family back home. When my grandparents migrated from Norway to the US, they effectively severed communications with their Norwegian relatives, and had little choice but to melt into American society. Today they could use the Internet to read newspapers and watch television shows from home, and talk to relatives around the world for free on Skype.
This means that immigrant groups can choose whether or not they want to integrate with their adopted countries. Consequently, rather than “melting pots,” wealthy countries in Europe are becoming cafeteria trays with dividers keeping ethnic groups separate. I've met third-generation Algerians in the Netherlands who don't speak a word of Dutch, and don't expect their children to, either. And I've met third-generation Pakistanis in Denmark that speak only Danish and know and love their adopted new country just as their blond neighbors do.
Immigration can be a major wedge issue — especially in formerly homogenous nations. For example, only 40 years ago, there were virtually no foreigners in Denmark. As in many European countries, a segment of the Danish population, especially older and more insular Danes, fears immigrants and gravitates to right-wing, racist parties. Meanwhile, progressive Danes — who celebrate a multicultural future — see a paradox: a wealthy nation of high-tech, multilingual globalists who still struggle to get along with their relatively small community of Muslim immigrants. While some Danes view their growing Muslim minority as a problem, others are willing to see a more colorful society as an opportunity. In my next blog entry, I'll offer my own take on this issue.
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You are reading "Melting Pot or Cafeteria Tray?", an entry posted on 21 August 2009 by Rick Steves.