Tuesday, 1 November 2011

What I got shouted at for in Holland

It’s fairly alarming, and not a little dispiriting, to be constantly ordered about by people who can’t seem to mind their own business. The Dutch call this ‘being straightforward’; those of us from other (thinner-skinned) nations might consider it a titchy-tad bad mannered.

I attracted what seemed to me (and at least some of my travelling companions) an unfair number of ‘Nee, nee, nee!’ admonishments, among them:

* When I helped 2 hungry swans, trying in vain to reach stale bread left on the wall of a canal – I broke it up and tossed it to them, and was roundly reproached by a passing Dutchwoman who hissed, ‘It brings rats!’ Try as I might, I couldn’t work out the logic of this.

* A Dutchwoman on a station platform who ordered me, ill-temperedly, to tie my shoelaces, which had come undone in our various rushes for trains. (They are actually rawhide strips that tie my boots closed at mid-calf, are too short to reach the ground, and have never, ever tripped up me or anyone else.)

* A Dutchman who took the trouble to actually stop his car to shout at me for not controlling my dog. I felt like Peter Sellers when I said to him, ‘It’s not my dog’ – it was simply a hound that was occupying the same pavement space as me, and was behaving impeccably at the time, lying down in an alert but relaxed state.

* A Dutchwoman who snapped peremptorily at me for pushing the ‘walk’ button on a traffic light - which, incidentally, is the only safe way to cross a street in Amsterdam, where pedestrians wage a losing war against a tidal wave of bicycles, trams, buses, cars and other pedestrians, all moving as if they’re late for a theatre opening (and on the wrong side of the street).

* A Dutchwoman who ticked me off for lack of manners for requesting another bottle of wine at a dinner, and went on to suggest to all who would listen that I have a ‘drinking problem’. Which was amazing to me, given that everyone around the table was at least half-toasted by then, and our hostess had just poured herself yet another generous glass of potent brandy liqueur. (And anyway: me, a drinking problem??!)

* A guard at the Rijksmuseum who crapped on me soundly for pointing out something in a painting, although my finger was nowhere near the actual artwork. I was hugely relieved that he didn’t produce a steel ruler and rap me over the knuckles with it.

* A shopgirl who yelled clear across the shop at me for attempting to remove a T-shirt from its packaging to have a look at its size and design (you know, what we do in Woolworths all the time) – and who treated my sister the same way, rebuking her for looking through a row of scarves for one she liked: ‘They’re all the same!’ the shopgirl growled, although they weren’t.

My Dad (who lives in Holland) gave me a book for my birthday while I was there called The UnDutchables: an observation of the Netherlands, its culture and its inhabitants, which describes the Dutch as (among other things) ‘moralising’ and ‘criticising’, and I suppose I would have had a less stressful time if I’d read it while I was there. Alas, we were too busy, so I only got to that part when I got back to dear old SA. Forewarned might have been forearmed.

There are, however, also lots of extremely fabulous things about the Dutch and their country, and I’ll tell you about them in future posts.

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Tracey said...

I've just remembered another one - this happened to my sister. She asked a Dutch shopgirl if the pastries on display were fresh, for which she earned a frosty look and, 'I don't know, I didn't bake them.'

Adesias said...

I have once been offered the following explanation: In 1579, the Union of Utrecht was signed, which led to the birth of the Republic of the Seven United Provinces in 1588. This early republic, in an era of kingdoms, principalities and other duchies, was the trigger for some radical changes in the way people related to one another: there were no longer "the Nobility" who was owed deference by "the common People", everybody was equal. I was told that this, even though they reverted to Monarchy since then, is (at least partially) at the root of the Dutch straightforwardness.
You obviously noticed that "klant is koning" is not a motto applied in Dutch shops. Similarly, it is very normal to use "jij" (familiar form) instead of "U" (respectful addressing form) even when talking to strangers.

Tracey said...

Thanks, Adesias, for that explanation. An interesting counterpoint, I think, is that the Dutch truly love their royalty - their queen (who, by all accounts, is a lovely lady) is widely admired, and we saw her picture up everywhere.