vrijdag 15 november 2013

Netherlands Books: on Dutchness

This is not a guide to Dutch literature. If anything, it is a guide to books on Dutchness, because, funnily enough, the Dutch love reading books about themselves and their own national psyche.*

There are things that all Dutch people know about our national character. Yes, we are direct (yes, even according to Americans). Yes, we do have a strange fondness for dairy and bicycles (and how I miss those!). Yes, Zwarte Piet is to foreigners a slightly bizarre cultural icon, so please look at our tulips and clogs and windmills and waterways instead. No, we don't do fashion (what you call "basic", we call "getting all dolled up". What you call "getting all dolled up" we only see on television during the Oscars). 

But still, every time I open a book on us, Dutchies, there are things that surprise me.

This friendly book poking fun at the Dutch and written by Brits living in Amsterdam is now in its seventh edition. I'm not sure when it was first published, but I do know it preceded the internet by a good few years and that in one of the subsequent edition the authors noted that the book was a fantastic hit - in the Netherlands.

The surprise: While washing the dishes, the Dutch will continue to use the same water even when it turns cold. The water will only be changed if it is deemed to dirty to actually clean anything. (This still strikes me as eminently sensible.)

This Canadian lady has lived in Amsterdam for eight years and is a digital native. No wonder she turned her list into a website!

The surprise: Dutch people have birthday calendars, on which they (and only they) write the names of their friends and family. Generally, this calendar will be in the bathroom. (Yes, we have such a calendar. It is next to the kitchen door - and please do put your name on it!)

For integration purposes: I once picked up an integration booklet, aimed at new Dutchies as the people from across the Mediterranean and the Caribbean are called. It mainly had a lot of politically correct yada-yada stuff (punctuality, appointments, the infamous one cookie policy, the never close the curtains thing).

Surprising points of view: The booklet warned that weird as it may sound to the readers, tight trousers are not appreciated by Dutch men unless the women wearing them have nothing to fill those trousers with, and that, if women want to be taken seriously, they should wear shapeless sacks. 
Also: when not working, the Dutch like to tire themselves out by organizing non-work events, instead of sensibly doing nothing. The booklet explained that it would greatly help integration if the new Dutchies would get themselves involved as well, and if they preferred to rest, to do so in the confines of their own home as sitting outside watching other people, is viewed as "gloating" and "lazy". 

The standard: Lonely Planet guide
This is one of those cases where the writers get nothing specifically wrong... But they don't really do anything justice either.

This is not actually a book, but a documentary on the light in the Netherlands. It is gorgeous. 

The surprise: The Netherlands actually still looks like those sixteenth and seventeenth century Golden Age paintings. It's the water that does it

NaBloPoMo November 2013

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