Ladies and gentleman, your excellency ambassador Borkowski, I would like to bid you all a very warm welcome to the opening of this special exhibition of Szopki, here in the center of the internationally diverse city of Rotterdam. We owe this international character to the port, which is the largest in Europe, and the modern architecture. But first and foremost, we owe it to the people living in this city. Rotterdam has traditionally been a cultural melting pot. For centuries, people from all around the Netherlands, Europe and the world have come to live in Rotterdam. Being home to 174 nationalities, the city now is one of the most versatile cities of the Netherlands. Rotterdam is open-minded.
Participation is the key word. As City Council we want everyone to join in, develop their talents and show they're engaged in shaping our mutual future. It doesn't matter where someone came from, all that matters is where they want to go. We think it is important to understand and use diversity as a source for change and innovation.
Currently, approximately 15,000 to 20,000 Polish people live in our city. We support newcomers by handing out leaflets, providing a consultation hour in North and South Rotterdam and by hosting information evenings every three weeks. In addition, we have two Polish information officials at our municipality who advise and assist their fellow country men and women.
I have met many Polish people who are extremely motivated to get in touch with Dutch people and to learn the Dutch language. The municipality has initiated all kinds of language programmes to help residents of Rotterdam master the Dutch language. Mastering a language is a must for finding a good job, but also for being able to help your children with their homework and for being a full member of society. That's why we, as a municipality, have launched a 'taaloffensief', intended to increase Dutch language skills, in the scope of which we closely cooperate with businesses and organisations.
The library is one of our partners and serves an important purpose with regard to language development. Children up to the age of eighteen can become member of the library for free. I heartily recommend all Polish families to make use of this facility, especially if they have small children. It can't be stressed enough how important it is to read with your child. Not only is it fun, it also increases the vocabulary of both the reader and the child.
The library also serves an important purpose in the exchange of knowledge. The coming month, in which Polish culture will be spotlighted, is a good example of this sharing of information. Visitors can learn more about Polish poetry, the history of the Polish in the Netherlands and the Christmas tradition of our Polish fellow residents.
I have come to understand that food plays a very important role in the latter. I've heard that by tradition, no less than twelve dishes are served on Christmas Eve, among them several types of soup and the typically Polish dish 'pierogi', consisting of a special type of dumpling. Preparing Christmas dinner takes up days. And I'm sure there will be sausage on the menu, because every time I ask a Polish person what he or she misses most from Poland, the answer always is 'the Polish sausage!'. And of course there's the firm bread, the Sernik, Pączki, Babka…
Fortunately, there are plenty Polish stores in Rotterdam where these delicacies can be found. The Polish are doing well in Rotterdam, but, of course, they remain close to their country of origin. That's why, this month, it's beautiful to see other Rotterdam residents also being able to get acquainted with Polish culture and with the Szopki in particular.