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Column: You shouldn’t have to mince your words5 April 2010 Zie Nederlandse versie
by Arnold Jansen op de Haar
Dutch people are hospitable, friendly and tolerant, at least that is how the Dutch view themselves. Of course, the best country to live in is The Netherlands. All surveys report the same result: The Netherlands is one of the happiest countries in the world. Well, that is the Dutch opinion. However The Netherlands is not a paradise, actually sometimes it resembles hell.
Consider yourself sitting out on the pavement in front of a cafe. It is very busy, and after about half an hour you manage to attract the attention of a waitress: ‘I would like to order a coffee.’ In any other country you would be presented with an apology.
In The Netherlands, it is far more likely for the waitress to tell you: ‘Please order from my colleague’, or, even worse: ‘If that is the case I would recommend you to go somewhere else.’
Another situation: you are invited to a party but you don’t know any of the people present. Dutch people prefer to cling to a group of acquaintances. You can identify these cliques by the fact that everyone kisses on meeting, three kisses to be precise.
Suppose that although you do not know anyone, you were to introduce yourself and to start a conversation. This creates a hostile atmosphere not even matched by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The Dutch are quite blunt. On Sunday mornings a great music programme is broadcast on Dutch TV. It is called Free Sounds. It features classical music, jazz and new developments in music.
Last week, the Dutch Royal Marines Band was a guest and when the conductor was interviewed, the interviewer immediately made it clear that he had never served in the armed forces because he was disqualified on grounds of ‘S5’. When the Dutch still operated a conscription service, ‘S5’ stood for ‘Stability level 5’, or in other words, the prospective conscript is mentally ill.
Now the interviewer didn’t at all mention this to highlight any of his mental problems, instead he wanted to assure the viewers that he had nothing to do with the armed forces, he felt much too good for that.
Everything that is a bit out of the ordinary arouses suspicion. In The Netherlands one is obsessed by fitting in, or not, as the case may be. The number of eccentric Dutchman is heavily curtailed.
Last year, for example, Joris Linssen, the host of Joris’ Showroom, a TV series about eccentric people, complained bitterly that he had problems finding extraordinary people; the supply seemed to have run dry.
On the other hand ladies wearing hats are considered to be positively exotic. An exception is made for the Queen, yet apart from her hardly anyone else wears a hat.
There is one occasion on which hats are worn and that is the State Opening of Parliament (Prinsjesdag), but even so, the reports on TV that evening speak of odd headgear on display. Well, this doesn’t help the establishment of Dutch Haute Couture.
‘You shouldn’t have to mince your words’ has become an oft-quoted phrase by the Dutch, especially when discussing third generation immigrants from Morocco. They maintain that you have to be able to express your opinion because if not freedom of speech is endangered!
You have to admit Moroccan youths do cause a few problems, but no one addresses the question of why they behave like that. It could well be that we are all a bit to blame. I mean, do we really make it that attractive to belong to our society?
One of the most popular Dutch websites is called Without Style. It describes itself as tendentious, without grounds and gratuitously hurtful. Shortly they will be launched, with state subsidy, on TV. ‘You shouldn’t have to mince your words’ is now highly popular; bruising is a core business.
Now it is a persistent misunderstanding that The Netherlands stands for equality. For example, it is commonly known that ‘the Royal Family behaves just like us’, except that the power of this Royal family is unequalled anywhere else in Europe. The Dutch queen is part of the government and during the formation of new coalition cabinets she plays a crucial role.
Apart from this fact, the Dutch are all the same; we eat punctually at 6 pm and, wherever you are, it is quite a task to find a restaurant that takes orders after 9 pm. On Easter Bank holiday the Dutch go en masse to furniture shopping malls and garden centres.
Now I have definitely been inviting this comment: ‘Why don’t you go and live abroad?’ Yet, this is also my country and the country of my mum and dad. I write in Dutch for heaven’s sake; I do love this country. I just don’t want to belong to any cliques; I do not want to be pigeonholed. More than likely I am just a bit of an eccentric.
© Arnold Jansen op de Haar
© Translation Holland Park Press
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