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Gedogen — active Dutch tolerance


The Dutch verb gedogen doesn't really translate. The term is Dutch, the concept is Dutch — and it only really works in the Netherlands.

The best approximation of "gedogen" in English is "tolerate." Tolerance is passive, though. Gedogen is active, and a matter of governmental policy.

If there is a social matter that will not allow a concrete solution, the Dutch will "gedoog" it; they will allow a flexibility in enforcement — not by ignoring the behavior, but by accommodating it.

The examples of official tolerance that foreigners will typically recognize are those concerning prostitution* and "soft drugs."

The Dutch acknowledge, officially and with intensive debate, that sometimes eradication of a problem is impractical — and for that reason may be an inappropriate objective.

Indeed, the concept of "problem" is a matter subject to interpretation. Predisposed morality colors the debate about the supposed "problems" of paid sex and socially-benign drugs. Predisposed morality is a factor. There are many others — and the act of "gedogen" acknowledges this.

A Dutch girlfriend gave me the best definition of "gedogen" that I've heard: "not legal, but not illegal."

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* Prostitution is legal in the Netherlands — regulated and often unionized. "Streetwalking," or prostitution outside of a red-light district, is illegal. However, on the perimeter of some large metropolises is often a site called a "tippelzone" where such illegal activities are themselves tolerated.


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