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Holland Park Press

A Kleptomaniac’s Antonym

13 January 2012 Zie Nederlandse versie
by Arnold Jansen op de Haar

Never one to miss a play on words, the Sun ran this headline during the past week: ‘I’ve been Edam fool but I’ll be Gouda from now on’, obviously referring to Dutch cheese.

The well-known British TV chef Antony Worrall Thompson publicly apologised because he had been arrested after stealing cheese, among other things, from his local Tesco.

We were shown a picture of the TV chef being driven away from their six-bedroom Buckinghamshire country home by his wife in their BMW M5, thereby adding an interesting detail which is omitted in the Netherlands. There they never write: ‘This morning the troubled singer left his six-bedroom country home in Wassenaar.’

The number of bedrooms seems to be really important to the English. They may well be covered in chintzy furnishings but it’s the number that matters. Later the TV chef declared, ‘I’m just renting.’

I’ve never stolen anything; even worse, if I’m given too much change at the till, I politely inform the checkout assistant. I’m a champion of returning goods, in short: the antonym of a kleptomaniac.

This may have its origin in an event that happened around 1969. Aunt Ted had arrived home with a bottle of wine from Van Woerkom’s Delicatessen (‘est. 1946’, the first Dutch supermarket) in Molenstraat, Nijmegen. I’m giving you all the facts, so that you know it’s a true story.

Aunt Ted had wandered absent-mindedly out of the shop without paying, only to realise this after arriving home. This caused general consternation and granny advised, ‘Phone Miss Van Oijen right now.’ Miss Van Oijen was one of the stalwarts at Van Woerkom.

We at home pictured a disillusioned Mr Van Woerkom worrying in his stockroom. The poor man, his custom going down the drain! My aunt swiftly called Miss Van Oijen with a message for Mr Van Woerkom: he was likely to be short of one bottle of wine. Subsequently she drove her Fiat 500 back to the shop to pay.

Personally, I think the Dutch produce the dullest cheeses in the world, and our TV chefs, too, are much less flamboyant than elsewhere.

For example, there is no Dutch equivalent of Nigella Lawson; it’s quite cruel to subject a man home alone in front of the telly to watching Nigella licking a spoon. Wonderful!

Back to cheese: the Netherlands is a cheese-making country. It produces boring round cheeses without much taste, and yet it’s no coincidence that we call ourselves cheese-heads.

I must have a word with Wikipedia about this matter: they report that ‘cheese-heads’ is a term used for people who live in the US state of Wisconsin. What’s that? The only cheese-heads live in the Netherlands, obviously; that’s why the Sun’s headline referred to Dutch cheese.

There are also some lovely Dutch proverbs involving cheese: ‘he doesn’t let anyone take the cheese off his bread’ (he is his own man) and ‘he hasn’t tasted the cheese’ (he is completely at a loss).

Actually, in Dutch trains you smell a lot of cheese. Whereas in English trains you hear the sound of beer cans being opened, in the Netherlands your nostrils are assailed by the wafting smell of cheese. Boring cheese on plain brown bread, out of economy put into a lunch box at home and having been there just a bit too long, it now smells like someone’s armpit.

This suddenly reminds me of a country boy from the Dutch province of Groningen. He was being interviewed on the evening news because an inland dyke was about to collapse due to high water. ‘Ah,’ he exclaimed, sporting a broad accent and a big smile, ‘at last something is happening.’

Please, come and steal our cheese!

© Arnold Jansen op de Haar
© Translation Holland Park Press

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