Inburgering has a different ring to it, and it’s not McDonald’s or Quick. Burger means citizen. It used to refer to the free city folk who had acquired a certain status and political power: de burgerij, or bourgeoisie. They lived in a burcht, a fortified enclosure, rather than out in the open. The head of the city was the burgemeester, master of citizens. (Burgemeester is still the word for “mayor”.)
Inburgering, then, really means something like becoming a citizen. But whereas Einburgering in German refers to getting a German passport, inburgering in Dutch has a more philosophical connotation. The Flemish minister for inburgering, Geert Bourgeois (the name is a coincidence, I’m sure), says in our interview (on page 7) that it means de taal leren, to learn the language, and to accept certain normen en waarden, norms and values.
The cursus maatschappelijke oriëntatie, or training course in social orientation, was being held in
English. Many of the 20 or so people of all shapes and colours, sitting in groups at round tables, could already muster one or two words in Dutch. “Een klein beetje,” a Nepalese woman told me, “heel moeilijk.” She speaks a little Dutch, but finds it very difficult. Some knew a bit more, like the Indian man next to her, who said: “Ik woon al twee jaar in Vlaanderen en ik werk in een bar.” He’s been here for two years and works in a bar.
I wondered if they were aware of the “norms and values” intentions behind these early mornings. For now, they were discussing the photos they had taken of things typically Belgian. The teacher, a cheery man in his 30s, said the photos “help them to understand our society, om goed in te burgeren.” To integrate well. The Flemish make verbs out of everything. People don’t play football, zij voetballen. (ik voetbal, ik voetbalde, ik heb gevoetbald) They don’t spend time on the internet, zij internetten, e-mailen, facebooken and twitteren.
Inburgeren is one of those scheidbare werkwoorden (separable verbs), where the first syllable separates from the rest when conjugated. And so, our new residents don’t “go through the process” of becoming fully-fledged citizens, zij burgeren in.