Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Universal Theory of Everything

Over the past 4 months, as I've bitched and purged on this blog, I've had time to reflect on what it is that makes living in Holland - and dealing with Dutch people - so crucifyingly and unredeemingly awful. I've obsessed over various issues and behaviours, trying to make sense of it all. Little did I suspect that there could be one unifying theory that could unite all of Holland's and the Dutchies' shortcomings in one, simple equation?

But I think I've come up with the answer.

Lack of confidence.

It doesn't seem profound or particularly insightful - but when you examine things a bit more closely, you can see that the one constant in all Dutchies' behaviour stems from a deap-seated lack of confidence.

Certainly, there are many causes for and effects of this situation. But the constant throughout is the innate absence of self-belief and confidence.

You don't believe me? Think of the things in your life that you're not confident about. Driving; anything to do with science, electricity or numbers; your ability to control your drinking at an office party and calling your boss by his secret nickname? Or are they just my issues?

Anyhow, think of your behaviour when you're confronted with someone, or a situation, with which you're not confident. Are you at your wittiest? Your friendliest? Your most magnanimous or charming? Typically, no. Instead, you run between aggressive ("that is not poshibolll"), or silent (shrug shoulders, or point), or trying evasive action ("that will take too much time"), or trying to avoid the situation completely ("that ish not my ressshponnshibility!!").

And think of the things that make you feel not confident. A lack of knowledge or familiarty; feelings of inadequacy; previous disappointments in life. Given the state of Dutch educational standards; the provincialism; the lack of interest in learning or experiencing new things, it's easy to see how rare it is for a Dutch person to feel truly confident.

In fact, though it surprises me to admit it, I have met a handful of open, competent, regular Dutch people during my year here. But without exception, they have all lived abroad and have completed (at least) third level education. Their decision to get out of their comfort zone, and look outside the province, has made them happier, and ultimately, more confident.

So, when you put all of this together, I guess I have worked through my hostility and now just feel a bit sorry for the poor Dutchies and their limited expectations and attitude.

This realisation, coupled with the fact that I am leaving Holland permanently in the New Year, means that now seems a good time to finish this blog. I've worked through my issues. Thanks to anyone who read this and enjoyed it.

Dooooooooooooook! Oy! Oy!

Monday, December 04, 2006

Reverse Psychology

I went to see the new Martin Scorsese picture at the weekend, 'The Departed', during which I learned that Sigmund Freud reputedly said that the Irish were the only people who would not benefit from psychoanalysis.

Hadn't he ever met a Dutch person? Actually, thinking about it, it's highly unlikely, as the Dutchies would have been too cheap and/or terrified to leave the province to visit Austria. Conversely, from what I've read, Freud seemed to be the kind of guy who had enough intellectual pursuits and stimulation to avoid the need to come to a swamp with no culture, populated by morons.

It's a shame, because I would love to have heard his take on the Dutchies and their sour, bitter, resentful, narrow-minded outlook on life. Forget Penis Envy, try Everything Envy.

In my own amateur and shambolic way, I have tried to apply some psychoanalytical strictures to the Dutch to see where I get to? I have never studied psychoanalysis, and have no training in it; nor have I experienced it at first hand. As I'm Irish, according to Freud, it wouldn't have done me much good anyway.

But one thing which I have noticed is that when you do unto Dutchies as they do unto you - a kind of reverse pyschological process - the results are wonderful! Not wonderful in the sense that you gain a fleeting insight into the mind of the Dutch; or you briefly discover what makes them tick; or you finally feel that you are making some kind of human connection. But wonderful in the sense that it really, really pisses them off.

This morning, on the train from Central Station to Schip-hole, I was sitting, minding my own business, looking out the window. This woman sat down across from me and proceeded to make a call. Clearly a simpleton, her vocabulary consisted of only 2 words: 'YA!' and 'lekker!', which she proceed to SCREAM down the phone in ever-more-convoluted combinations:

- YA! Lekker!!
- Lekker!! YA!!
- YA!! Lekker!!!!! YA!!
- Lekker!!! YA!!! Lekker!!! YA!!!!!
- YA!! Lekker!!! Lekker!!! YA!!!!

You get the idea.

Knowing enough about the Dutch, I decided the best course of action was to try to block out her sound. So I put on my iPod Shuffle and sat back. Within seconds, I was hit on the back of my shoulder by a purple-faced Dutchie, who bellowed 'Turn it down!!'

I could hear him bellowing this through the music I was listening to, as well as managing to catch Simpleton Woman SCREAMING "YA! Lekker!! YA!! YA!! YA!! Lekker!! YA!! YA!! Lekker!!! YA!!! YA!!!!". My iPod was not turned up to full volume - it was on its default factory setting when you first switch it on - about Level 5 on a scale of 1 to 10.

So I took out my earphones, looked at the guy, pointed at Simpleton Woman (who was oblivious), and said 'sorry, I'm just trying to drown out this woman's screaming a little bit.'

I put my earphones back in and resumed looking out the window at the flat, featureless, rain-sodden murk. This time Purple Face grabbed my arm and ROARED 'you turn it down!!'.

So I took out my earphones once more, turned, smiled, and said calmly and evenly "it is not possshibolll".

He was a bit stunned, just like I have been on so many ocassions.

"It is too loud!!", he roared, struggling to make himself heard over "YA! YA! YA! YA! Lekker! Lekker! Lekker! Ya! Lekker!"

I smiled serenely and said "live and let live!"

He clearly didn't know what to do or say, so spluttered once again, but with less conviction this time, "it is very loud - turn it down".

I smiled even more sweetly, and repeated "it is not possssssssshibolllllllllllllll!", turned, and put my earphones back in. Purple Face had no option, but to sit down - but he kept shooting me murderous looks for the remainder of my journey.

How wonderful! It was such a pleasure, for once, to be dishing out the "not possssshibollll" crap, instead of being on the receiving end. It was fascinating to watch his reaction; his feelings of rage combined with impotence, in the face of someone being irrationally uncooperative and sociopathic. I loved it!

And so an appeal: to anyone who's ever read this and has identified with the frustrations I've outlined about life in Holland, join me! Next time one of the Dutchies asks you to do something, even if you want to do it, or it would be the simplest thing in the world for you to do, tell them 'it is not possshiboll'. As they rant and rave, take your pick from any one of their inane put-downs:

- it will take too much time!
- it is not my resssshponssssshibility!
- live and let live!

The fightback starts here.

Friday, December 01, 2006

How To Spot A Foreigner

Returning from holiday recently, my post-holiday buzz (or what was left of it after a 12 hour flight on klm) was rudely shattered by the Dutch customs officer I met at Schip-hole.

- Him - Where are you coming from?
- Me - Hong Kong
- Him - What are you doing here in Holland?
- Me - I live here
- Him - Sprekken lekken Nederlands? [or something like that]
- Me - Excuse me?
- Him - You live here, but you don't speak Dutch?!
- Me - Of course not
- Him - Why not?!
- Me - Are you allowed talk to me like this?
- Him - Come this way!

So he leads us to the search area.

- Him - Did you buy anything in Hong Kong?
- Me - Naturally
- Him - What did you buy?!
- Me - Assorted items
- Him - But what did you buy?!
- Me - Well you're a customs officer, we're in a search area, my cases are right there: knock yourself out
- Him - you are free to go!

What the hell was that all about? Why, out of all the people streaming through Customs, had he stopped me? I was frankly too exhausted to analyse it at the time, but reflecting on it since then, it appears to be just another example of the Dutch provincial terror and loathing for anything 'foreign'.

Does that sound paranoid? I used to think it sounded a little bit crazy. After all, how do the Dutchies necessarily know that you are 'not from these parts' just by looking at you? Given how slow-witted they are, surely they can't have some sixth sense which identifies you as foreign, without you admitting the fact?

But then I realised that all the clues are there. It is abundantly obvious to anyone who is, and who isn't, from the Parish, by following some simple rules on 'how to spot a foreigner'.

They're not as obvious as 'wears nice clothes' or 'has washed recently' as there are some Dutchies who have relatives abroad who will send them money or soap. It's certain, key behavioural traits that give the game away, so that if you did any of the following, even wearing a peasant costume, clogs, 34 gallons of fake tan, and a stunned-but-bitter expression, people would still know you are foreign.

1. Buy Food For More Than One Meal At A Time

It's late (around 5.30 in Amsterdam), restaurants are closing in about 10 minutes - not that you'd want to eat at one - so you have to go to Al-turd Heijn to get some food. Look in the other shoppers' baskets. What do you see? Herring Risotto for one? Raw meat balls a deux? Or maybe your fancy neighbour who has notions has chosen something from Al-turd Heijn's 'Excellent' range? (Aren't there trade description laws here?).

Whatever. What all of these shoppers will have in common is the fact that they are buying essentials or a meal for that day only. But if you spot someone with a basket, or - gasp, a trolley! - full of food or other items intended to last more than the next 24 hours, they are a foreigner.

2. Observe Basic Manners

If you've ever travelled to or from Schiphol on the train, you know that those swing glass doors at the entrance to each carriage can be pretty lethal if they hit you full on. So think about the times when the person ahead of you has held the door for you, to prevent it from smacking into your face. Anyone who has ever done this is a foreigner.

3. Anticipate Others' Movements

Remember when you lived or visited somewhere normal? Somewhere busy, dynamic and bustling? Where there were lots of people, doing lots of interesting, different things? Where the entire town or city did not wake up with the same thought every Saturday: 'Must Walk Slowly Up And Down Kalverstraat But Buy Nothing'.

In these other places, where thousands of people are rushing around, doing stuff, ironically, it is quite rare for someone to bump into you, and certainly unheard of to have someone deliberately and ponderously walk straight into you. Think about it.

Busy places are busy because, typically, they attract successful, dynamic people who value novelty, variety and fun. And these people can respect each other enough to see someone walking towards them and move out of their way, or naturally fall into a city's rhythm of 'slow lanes' and 'fast lanes' on the pavements. You don't believe me? Go somewhere normal, like London or Paris and see it in action.

In Amsterdam, it's rather different. If you see someone do this: try to walk quickly, with a sense of purpose; or anticipate someone else's movement and get out of their way, they are a foreigner.

4. Perform A Simple Transaction In Under 40 Minutes

You're in a queue for a simple service; one which should take about 30 seconds to effect. Not a mortgage application; not a CAT scan; not a heart, lung and kidney transplant. Something more straightforward like buying a cinema ticket.

Go, for example, to the ticket line at Pathe Tuschinski. Observe how it takes the Dutchies up to 30 minutes to buy a cinema ticket. What are they saying to each other? 'Is this a cinema?'; 'What do you mean? - moving pictures??';'How do the people get into the screen?'.

Anyone in front of you who goes to the ticket window, says what they want, has their cash ready, and walks away in under 1 minute with their tickets, is a foreigner.

5. Carry Take Out Coffee

Walk on any street in London or New York - or any normal city - and you will almost immediately see someone walking with a Starbucks or other take out coffee. Perform this observation between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m. Monday to Friday and you'll notice that the number of people doing this is in the hundreds.

By contrast, have you ever seen someone walking with take out coffee in Amsterdam? Think about it. Maybe once or twice? Those people, the ones you saw doing this - foreigners!

6. Laugh Or Smile Warmly At Something Other Than Someone Farting Or Falling Over

This one is the real give away. Scour the streets of Amsterdam looking for a warm, smiling face. If you find one, quickly scan and smell the immediate vicinity of the person in question. Did someone just blow ass? Or do you see someone who's just tripped over, or fallen, or been injured or mugged? Yes - and the smiling person is a Dutchie. No - and they are a foreigner.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Fashion Police

Now that the Dutch government has made it official business to dictate what people should and should not be wearing in public, I thought it may be worth considering some other fashion tips which the Dutchies could usefully follow.

Legislating to prevent Muslim women from wearing niqabs on the street or otherwise in public is of debatable propriety. But as this really will only impact up to 40 people in the entire country, aren't there greater and more widespread fashion disasters on which the government could focus, to the betterment of all society?

Forget the Burqa Ban: there are plenty more pressing Dutch Fashion Disasters which require urgent and immediate attention.

1. Polyester Everything

As all clothes stores in Amsterdam Parish are price-led, not fashion-led, there is a perpetual race to the bottom in terms of price: any Dutchie will always, always choose cheap polymix over natural fibre.

Perhaps this explains your average Dutchie's sourness and disappointment with life? Except for olive oil when sunbathing on the beach, your average Dutchie has never felt anything natural next to their skin; just clammy, itchy, scratchy cheapness. It's enough to make anyone grouchy.

2. Granny's Cast-Offs

There's a second hand clothes store on practically every street in Amsterdam but, interestingly, none of these is a charity shop. They are all for-profit stores to which the Dutchies run when Granny pops her clogs (literally), to try to swap her polyester nightie from the 1950s for something equally hideous.

Rail after rail of grotesquerie awaits while the Dutchies mooch around, pondering whether to shell out that €0.75 for their new outfit, or wait till late next Queen's Day when they can hopefully get it for free from the garbage?

3. Wet Perms

A substantial number of Dutch women, and - disturbingly - Dutch men, sport wet perms.

One word: why?

4. Au Natureul

Dutch women, famously, wear less (or no) make up compared with other European women. They see it as some kind of badge of honour. Well the badge ain't pretty honey, so make with the foundation and concealer.

Generally, there is a total lack of care or attention paid to appearance or grooming. No-one makes an effort here. Everyone doesn't need to look immaculate, or wear expensive gear. But it would be nice once in a while to go out and about and see some people who are well put together and not in the Amsterdam uniform of peasant shirt, too-tight polymix jeans and dumb boots.

5. Orangina

I know it's the provincial colour, but surely even the most ardent nationalist should shy away from dying - or burning - their skin orange, from head to toe, on a daily basis?

If you put all of these together, you're faced with quite a sight. In other countries, if the police broadcast an appeal for witnesses to help track down the perpetrator of a crime, a description of someone with 'orange leather skin; wet perm; wearing a third-hand acrylic jumpsuit, and a clueless, vacant expression' would quickly lead police to the suspect's door.

Here, though, it could be millions of people.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Mission Impossible

I'm going out to L.A. next week to pitch my idea for the fourth Mission Impossible movie.

Having foiled nuclear threats, thwarted international terrorism, prevented global catastrophies, and smashed international criminal rings, I think it's time for Tom Cruise to show what he's really made of and try to do something that truly is impossible!

His mission? To get some fucking change out of one of the morons who works at Centraal Station in Amsterdam.

Admittedly, the movie running time of 437 hours might put some punters off.

If you were at Centraal Station this morning between 9.15 and 9.45, you may have witnessed a man screaming and swearing at various employees around the station; tearing at his clothes and hair; and generally gesticulating wildly and scarily. A mental patient? An asylum escapee? No - it was me.

I swear to God, I am going to die before I am 40, the way my blood pressure is going through the roof living here.

What induced this fury? It really is bizarre. If you ask any of my friends or family, they will tell you that I am absolutely not a violent person. Ok, I may be a bit sarcastic, or a smart-arse now and again, but I am normally pretty even-tempered, and certainly have never been involved in a physical fight in my life. Right now, though, I want to headbutt someone. Hard.

All I wanted to do was get €3.60 in change.

First, I went to the Ako newsagent and picked up a paper and some gum. When handing over a €20 note, I said 'please can I get change for the ticket machine from that?' The guy looked in complete and utter astonishment at me: the most amazed I have ever seen anybody look in my entire life. He spluttered at me, struggling to get the words out, as he gasped for oxygen in disbelief - 'but that is not posssshibollllllllllll!!!'

I asked him why not?

Him - 'We need the money for the other customers!!'

Me - 'Right - I am a customer, so can I have some of the money you've been keeping for me?'

Him - 'It is not possssssshibolllllllllll'

Me - [gritting my teeth] 'maybe you could pick up 2 of the 2 euro coins there in front of you and hand them over to me?'

Him - 'It will cosht ush money'

Me - 'Er, noooo, it won't: you owe me the money anyway; I'm just asking you to denominate it slightly differently'

Him - 'It is not possssssshibolllllll - we have to go the bank at the end of the day for change and they charge us'

Me - [exploding] 'Why the fuck is everything so difficult in this complete dump of a country??!'

By this time, a line of about 9 people had formed behind me, so they were all witness to this.

I continued:

Me - 'For fuck's sake - could you just make an exception for once and hand me two 2 euro coins - please??!!'

Him - [smugly] 'It is not poshibolll'

Me - 'Fucking cheapskate loser!'

So off I had to go, muttering under my breath 'fucking ridiculous' as I did the walk of shame past the various people who had gathered to watch my meltdown. I'm sure I must have looked completely bonkers to them, but I was so frustrated, I couldn't help it.

Next, I thought I'd try the ticket office. At Schiphol, in the same circumstances, you can always get change from the ticket office, though you typically have to queue for about 4 hours to get it.

Logically, I picked the shortest queue - the one for International Tickets, as there were about 4,000 people in line for the domestic tickets. I swear, the woman behind the counter was the spitting image of Hilde from SunDaze: that was what was waiting for me at the end of the queue.

A reminder:

So I eventually reach the top of the queue, paused, smiled, and said 'good morning'. She just gave me a filthy look and did not say anything. I took the €20 from my wallet and said 'please can you give me change for this so I can buy a ticket?' Again, she didn't speak, nor make eye contact at me, but merely pointed to another part of the ticket office.

Me - 'Excuse me for repeating myself, but please can you give me change?'

Again, she didn't speak, or look at me, but stood up and turned off the light over her booth to indicate that she was no longer providing customer service. She then turned around in her swivel chair and started chatting in Dutch to her colleague.

I think even her colleague was a bit stunned by this, because she looked at me and for a split second, I thought I saw a flicker of humanity and understanding. So I said to the second lady 'maybe you could help me? I'm just trying to get some change?', to which the first lady, turned, glared at me, and again pointed in a different direction.

Clearly, I wasn't going to get anywhere here, so I had nothing to lose.

So I said to Lady Number 2, pointing at Lady Number 1, 'excuse me, could you call this man's supervisor for me? I'd like to make a complaint'

Lady Number 2 - [astonished] 'she is not a man!!'

Lady Number 1 - [furious; spitting] 'oiiiiii aaaccccccchhhhhh oooooooook' [or something like that, in Dutch]

Me - [shouting at Lady Number 1] - 'I hope you fry on your next sunbed session!'

And then, once again, I turned - without change - and took a long walk of shame past several bewildered, and a few frightened, customers. God forbid some of them were also in the queue at Ako a few minutes before.

I know, I know - you don't need to tell me. But I was boiling mad: I guess it wasn't just those 2 incidents this morning, but the cumulative effect of hitting my head against a brick wall for over a year.

The worst thing? A nervous-looking guy tapped me on the arm and said 'Excuse me - there is a change machine just there', pointing to the corner of the ticket office, in the same direction in which Lady Number 1 had originally pointed. I now realised that I definitely looked like a complete and utter freak: ie, to a casual observer, the only party at fault in all of this was me, not them.

Summoning as much dignity as I could, I went to the machine, got my change and went off to buy my ticket.

I needed to call someone to tell them of my trauma: I wanted to hear someone reassure me that I was not going mentally insane. So I called my partner, whilst waiting for my train on the platform to recount my experiences. As I was telling him the whole story, I got totally wound up all over again, so started shouting down the phone and gesticulating wildly.

At the height of my story, as I was literally waving my hands around like a windmill, I saw the nervous-looking guy who had told me about the change machine on the opposite platform, looking at me. From the expression on his face, it was clear he thought that I required heavy medication.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Home Economics

It's great to be back in Amsterdam Village! Arriving at Schiphol, it was wonderful to see the all-expense-spared Christmas decorations. They really made me feel festive.

But having spent rather a lot of money on my holidays, I think it's time to put some money-saving tips into practice.

Hmmm - maybe I should cut back on eating out at great restaurants; buying nice, contemporary clothes; and trips to interesting theatre and galleries?

Hang on! - I already do none of those things, given that each is non-existent in Amsterdam village!

Fortunately, there are plenty of other ways to save money. Over the past few months, I've been observing my Dutch colleagues go about their business and have gathered several penny-saving tips which should slash my monthly spending budget! After all, I have been lucky to see real masters at work.

1. Receipts Please

One particular colleague (who earns well over €100,000) often becomes anxious to discuss work projects around lunchtime. At first, I thought he was lonely, or socially inept, and simply wanted some company at lunchtime. Wrong. Turns out that, frequently, whenever he lunches with colleagues and discusses work matters - however casual the discussion - he expenses the lunch as a 'business meeting'.

Given that the average cost of lunch in our canteen is around €3, but, apparently, all it takes to elevate a random conversation into a 'business meeting' is to say something like 'Oooooooiiii - I am shtresssshed and am 42 weeksh late on my project!!!', it appears he's onto a winner.

Savings: €3

2. Big Plate, Little Plate

In our office canteen, a big plate of salad is €2 and a little plate of salad is €1. Our lawyer - who easily earns around €70,000 a year - always takes 2 empty plates to the salad bar: 1 big, 1 little.

He places the little plate on top of the big plate. Then, he carefully constructs a salad tower on the little plate, about 1 foot high. Once past the cash register, he upturns the little plate on to the big plate.

Voila! One big plate of salad for the price of a little plate.

Savings: €1

3. The Milky Bars Are On Me!

Three colleagues have only ever bought me a drink whilst we are travelling on business. The first time it happened, I naively assumed that these guys only loosened up once they were away from the confines of Amsterdam village: I had been out several times with each of them before and they had never once offered to pay for anything.

Now, in sharp contrast, they were extremely generous and kept buying round after round of drinks, waving away any suggestions that I contribute.

Gradually, I realised that this was another expenses hustle: the mentality being that anything purchased outside of Holland is free!

How else do you explain the copious consumption of food other than deep fried balls and raw meat, the thought of which would cause terror back on Dutch swampland?

It is not unusual to see these guys stock up on about €100 worth of cigarettes, food, drink and other consumables which they can expense, thus saving the corresponding amount in Holland.

Savings: €100

4. Soft and Gentle

I caught a guy red-handed taking toilet paper from the toilets in our office.

I say red-handed, as if this connotes some sense of shame or embarrassment on his part at being intercepted stealing bogroll, but on the contrary, he seemed quite proud of his entreprise.

I asked him 'have you spilt something in your office?', to which came the memorable reply 'this is shofter than the one at home', as he walked out of the toilet with his bounty, making no effort to conceal it.

Saving: €2

5. Business Holiday

Except for domestic camper van extravaganzas, almost everyone in my team has taken their holidays on the side of a business trip. This way, they get their flights there and back for free.

Unfortunately, little of our business is done in attractive coastal resorts, or culturally-rich centres, so 2 week holidays in Bratislava or Minsk are not uncommon amongst my colleagues.

Saving: €150

6. Sock it to 'em!

On the dreary commute to work from Amsterdam village to the windswept, soulless business park where we work, I have frequently observed a director-level woman from the marketing department darning a pair of socks on the train. Isn't life too short?

I have no idea what this woman earns, but I reckon it's enough so she wouldn't feel the pinch of shelling out €3 for a sock multipack at Hema once in a while.

Savings: €3

Total Savings: €256

Screw the economising! With €256 burning a hole in my pocket in Amsterdam, there's no end to the fun I can have!

I'm off for a cocktail on the Botel and a slap-up feed at Febo!


Thursday, November 02, 2006

Come Back Soon!

Doooooooooooooooook!! It ish mee!! Hilde from SunDaze!! Yesh - go ahead and stare, I am used to it! I know I am a sheckshee lady!

Just to let you know that the man who does the blog is on holidays for a couple of weeksh! But be shure to come back on 21 November for the nexsht epissshode!

Doooooooooooooook!! Oy!! Oy!! Austublieeeeeeeeeeeft!!!

Monday, October 30, 2006

As The World Tans

Previously, on 'As The World Tans'...

'Doooooooooook!! What do you mean, there is a new tanning salon opening across the street??! We will be put out of bishness!!!!'

[dramatic voiceover]

- Will SunDaze survive?
- Will the new salon force Dirk and Hilde into the 20th century?
- Who is the mysterious owner of the new salon?

.... find out, on this week's episode of 'As The World Tans'....

Dirk: Oooooooooiiiii Hilde!!! Look at thish promotional flyer!!!

'New Tanning Salon open! Special introductory discounts!
Convenient opening hours. Friendly service. Latest model sunbeds.
Professional staff. Clean environment. Credit cards accepted.'

They are everything we are not!!! We will be deshtroyed!!!!'

Hilde - [shrugs shoulders] - 'I am not worried. We have loyal customers. They will not defect to this fancy Sun Palace across the shtreet!'

Dirk - 'but Hilde! We have 43 staff on our payroll! 11 are on job share and work 12 minutes a week each! The other 32 are on permanent sick leave! We are close to going under as it is! And now thish! Ooooooooiiiiii!!!'

Hilde - 'do not worry Dirk, I have a plan! Let us do some indushtrial eshpionnnnage! Let ush shee what we are up againsht!! After all, their flyer may just be all lies! Remember - our shign shays we also are friendly and clean, but you shecretly film the girlsh when they are doing the tanning and watch the filmsh with your friendsh - ho! ho! ho!'

Dirk - 'yesh, Hilde - as usual you are right. You go and shee what these Sun Palace people are made off......'

[Scene 2: in the lobby of Sun Palace].

Sara - 'Hi there! Welcome to Sun Palace! My name is Sara. What can I help you with today?'

Hilde '[eyeing her up and down scornfully] - yesh, I am here to have a tan! - what elshe?'

Sara - 'ok, if you don't mind me saying so, you have rather a deep, deep colour as things are. Have you just come back from holiday?'

Hilde '[proudly] - I was in my camper van in Hilvershum! But I am naturally very bronze!'

Sara - 'well, have you been on a sunbed in the last 3 days?'

Hilde - 'of courshe! what is wrong with you?!'

Sara - 'really, I don't think it would be safe for you to tan any more for a while. We have very high standards of care here at Sun Palace. I really do think your skin would benefit from a rest for a few days. Perhaps you'd like to consider a rejuvenation therapy instead?'

Hilde - 'you Americansh make me shick! Coming here thinking you know everything! What about him?! [points at Sara's assistant]. He hash an even bronzer colour than me!! You probably let him use your shunbed!!!'

Sara - 'Er, he's black, I'm from Antwerp, and I was just making a suggestion. Of course, you are welcome to use our sunbeds if you choose to do so.'

Hilde - 'YA! Lekker! Yesh, I go for the Turbo Bronze for 45 minutesh.'

Sara - 'the maximum time allowed, for safety reasons, is 10 minutes. That will be €7.'

Hilde - '[blinking] what will be €7?'

Sara - 'your 10 minute sunbed session.'

Hilde - '€7??!!! For 10 minutesh!! You can get the Crishpy Duck Special for that!!'

Sara - 'sorry, what? I'm not sure I follow - what has a Chinese restaurant promotion got to do with our pricing?'

Hilde - 'You fool! The Crishpy Duck Special is mine!! At ShunDaze - across the shtreet - all you can tan for €7!! I have sheen enough here! Austublieeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeft!!!!'

[Scene 3 - back at SunDaze]

Hilde - '[cackling] Dirk, they cannot shucksheed. The place will close within a week! The prices they are charging, no-one from the village will go! They are outshidersh too!'

Dirk - '[applying blister cream to Hilde's face] - you are so clever! But wait - who's that at the door?'

[Dirk goes to answer the door, and returns with a strange man].

Hilde - who are you?

Dirk - he shays he's the owner of Shun Palace!

Strange Man - don't you recognise me, Hilde?

Hilde - '[squinting] - Bobby??!!'

[dramatic voiceover]

- who is Bobby?
- what will become of Sun Palace?
- has Hilde had her last Crispy Duck special?

...... tune in next time for more 'As the World Tans'...

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Freaks of Nature

I've been resisting the temptation for several weeks to rant about my neighbours. I figured that I was simply unlucky to be living amongst such a bona fide collection of freaks. That the topic, or my experiences, were not universal enough to be the subject of a posting. But having consulted more widely, it appears that I am not alone in suffering neighbour-induced hell. Though I challenge anyone to have quite so many traumatic encounters as I do.

We all live in a house on one of the canals in central Amsterdam. My partner and I are up on top; then there's 2 sets of neighbours on the floor below; and another on the ground floor. Plus several adjacent neighbours with terraces which adjoin ours. All of them are Dutch.

Now, I am a good neighbour. I've never lived in a big, detached house or anything: it's been apartments all the way, with people above, below, and on either side. I've never had any difficulty with any of them. We all paid our bills; kept our place and common areas clean; taken deliveries for each other, you know the kind of thing. Equally, I've never become bosom buddies with a neighbour: it's been more a cordial 'let's look out for - but not stalk - each other' kind of arrangement.

Except in Amsterdam. The neighbours' issues range from exhibitionism, to racism, to inappropriate interference, to out and out psychosis.

Neighbours Number 1: Fists of Fury

29 minutes after we moved into our apartment, we got our first complaint from our downstairs neighbours. The issue? Music. Not loud, raucous music. Not music at an unsociable hour either. This was at around 4.30 on a Saturday afternoon. We were unpacking all our crap from our move from London and so I put on some music to get things moving. You know how it is. Admittedly, the music was probably too loud to carry on a conversation if you were sitting right beside the speakers, but it was certainly nothing socially unacceptable - you could still hear traffic outside and church bells, for example.

'Bang! Bang! Bang!' - fists on the door. I answered it.

'Hello - I am your neighbour. Turn off the music'.

Picture the scene. I'm fresh off the plane and new to Amsterdam, so I haven't fully realised the social horrors that await. So I took this exchange at face value. The guy was about my age (34), maybe a bit older. I could tell, instinctively, that he was on edge about something: he was a bit twitchy and stony-faced. So I said 'Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't realise it was that loud? I'll turn it down.'

With that, he managed a half-smile and said 'so you are moving in?'
- 'Yes, we just got here. We've moved from London; I've come to start a new job and we're....'
- [interrupting] 'We are used to having no-one live here.'
- 'Oh - right. Was the flat empty for long?'
- 'Yes.'
[awkward silence ensues]
- [brightening] 'well maybe you will come down for a drink tomorrow when you are unpacked? But remember - no music!'

Classic passive-aggressive behaviour. So I turned down the music a bit and we got on with our unpacking.

About an hour later, there was another 'bang! bang! bang!' on the door. I answered it again.

- You are walking! Stop walking!
- Excuse me?
- You are walking on the floor! Stop it!
- Sorry. What?!
- We can hear you! [points upwards]. The walking is too loud! Stop it!

And with that, he turned on his heel and left.

Did he want me to fucking levitate? It was clear by this stage that he was a total crank, so I figured best keep out of his way and not to antagonise him unduly.

The next morning, there was a letter pinned to our front door. "We can hear EVERYTHING. The apartment is very old. We can hear you walking and what you are saying." Hilarious! (I think I still have the letter somewhere; if I do, I'll scan it and post it online). What a complete freak!

Now, any time we play music or turn on the television, he or his girlfriend bound up the stairs and pound the door furiously with their fists. When we ignore them, one goes down to the street and starts ringing the intercom, while the other continues to pound and pound on the door. It's absolutely hilarious! I must video it.

Neighbours Number 2: Support Knickers

The woman on the ground floor is a psychoanalyst's dream. Neighbours Number 1 are just straightforward nutters, but this woman presents a gamut of symptoms. In a nutshell, she is the most intrusive, nosey, interfering person; prone to making unsolicited racist remarks; and typically clad in a sturdy pair of support knickers. Only.

I reckon she's about 55. Now, bits of my body are already beginning to head south at the age of 34, so I have no issue with her decision to wear enormous control pants. But could she put on a skirt, or shorts, or something? Anything?

You may even have seen her? She typically sits in a stuffed armchair by the window watching EVERYTHING that goes on in the street outside. It is now almost impossible to leave or enter the building without her running around the hallways in her support knickers, accosting you, and saying things like 'there's a letter for you there: it's from London!!' or 'I see you arrived home in a taxi the other day!!' On Monday and Thursday mornings, when the garbage is collected, she's typically outside on the street, coquettishly handing bin bags to the dustmen - yes, in her underwear.

She thinks all black people are drug dealers and freaks out if she sees a black person entering or leaving any of the neighbouring buildings, warning us to 'beware'.

She has made it a personal crusade to be given keys to everyone's apartments in the building. She says this is necessary in case there's a fire. Bollocks: she's just nosey. She even wrote to our landlord, demanding keys, saying that we had given permission (we hadn't). I've seen her skulking around one of the other neighbours' apartments when she was away on holiday. When we were on holiday, she was in our apartment, saying she thought there was a leak.

In total, I have had about 300 interactions with her over the past 7 months. That's more than my own mother.

Neighbours Number 3: Outdoor Spa

The guy who lives in the building next door has a terrace which adjoins ours. He was the inspiration for my 'Grandpa's Dick' posting a while ago.

Yes, I know I am probably being prudish, and that public nudity is not such a taboo in continental Europe. But still. Maybe if was just sunbathing, or taking the air, it wouldn't be so much of an issue. But I think it's the combination of his nudity, with his other unconventional behaviour that is causing me some difficulties.

In particular, he recently got himself a girlfriend and they have taken to having baths together. Not in the privacy of their bathroom, with scented candles and oils, or whatever. But in a crappy tin bath on the terrace. With a hose.

In fairness. Seeing Grandpa's Dick is one thing. But seeing it swinging like a dodgy pendulum as he soaps his 80 year old girlfriend's tits with a hose and a bottle of Fa is a bit much.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

One, Two, Five

A comment on one of my postings recently said that only about 30% of Dutch people went to university. I couldn't believe this, so did some digging. In fact, the situation is even worse! Only about 20% of Dutch people between 19 and 23 are in full-time education. That's staggering!

Though when you reflect upon it, perhaps it's maybe not so surprising after all...

Traditionally, universities are places where you go to learn new things, as well as to broaden your horizons and prepare for adult life. As most Dutch people don't value learning, culture or novelty; hate different things and people; and are terrified of any form of change or evolution, perhaps it is not surprising that so few of them go on to study anything and go straight from high school to sick leave.

I live in the centre of Amsterdam village, quite close to Amsterdam 'University'. I was intrigued to find out more, so managed to get into the English faculty and found the following excerpts from an English degree exam paper.


You have invited a friend for dinner and need to buy a herring at the fishmonger.

Complete the following gaps with the word or words you believe most appropriate.

Time Allowed: 8 hours

"Dooooook! Oy! __! I would like to buy a _____!"
"That is not ___________. You must buy at least 5 herrings at a time."
"But I only want ___!"
"That is not _________.""
"Why not?!"
"________ are lekker: everyone knows that."
"OK - better give me 5 _______."
"We are out of _________, but we do have some salmon."
"Why didn't you just say you had no herrings! OK - better give me the salmon"
"It is not my _________________! I only sell herrings!"
"Well can I speak with the person who sells _____?"
"That is not _________"
"Why not?!"
"He has a cramp. He is on long-____ sick leave."
"Maybe you ____ sell me the salmon?"
"It will take too much ____"
"_____ you could pretend the salmon is a big, pink herring?"
"That is not ________"
"I want to speak to someone else!"
"_____ will not help ___"

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Political Science

"There is no such thing as society: there are individual men and women, and there are families".

So said Margrit van Thatcher, Dutch Prime Minister, in 1987.

What's that? She wasn't Dutch? She was British? Her real name was Margaret Thatcher? Boy, do I feel silly!

Imagine thinking that a woman would be allowed to become Prime Minister of Holland!

The more I experience of Dutch society, the more I am reminded of this quote. Again, Holland has done a great marketing job. The received wisdom is that Holland is a lovely, socially cohesive, nice, middle-of-the-road place, in which the extremes of unchecked capitalism, or unfettered socialism, are nicely balanced in a big, orange, fudge.

The reality is that the poor Dutchies are confused between, on the one hand, having a divine sense of personal entitlement in the face of the rest of society and, on the other hand, no clue how to improve their lot and expecting the Dutch state to figure things out for them.

Maybe it's the fact that these 2 irreconcilable concepts are constantly competing with each other for prominence that leads, inexorably, to that Dutch torpidity, resentment and indolence with which we are all so familiar?

Let's look at both sides of the equation.

1. Me, Me, Me!

Each Dutch person believes that they are entitled to whatever it is they want, and that their needs are paramount above everyone else's. Critically, this sense of entitlement does not depend on hard work or knuckling down: it's yours by birthright, simply because you are born Dutch.

The 'me, me, me!' mentality finds its logical expression in the 'live and let live' mantra which the Dutch are so fond of quoting. 'Live and let live' means, in fact, the diametric opposite of what the Dutch marketeers would have us believe. It does not mean 'let's all live together in harmony: I won't get in your business, if you don't get in mine'. In reality, it means 'I'll behave exactly as I please - if you don't like it, tough - and I'll trot out this 'live and let live' bullshit to justify my behaviour'.

Some examples:

Your average Dutch waiter or shop assistant believes that their job is a temporary staging post on the way to something more fulfilling. It's not like in L.A., where many service staff are harbouring ambitions to become movie stars: it's rather more mundane than that. Instead, the key aspiration is to win the lottery; find a load of cash; or get on long-term benefit: some way of turning their dream of sitting on their arse doing nothing into a cossetted reality, that's funded by somebody else.

This is why your attempts to get service or attention are competing with the Dutchie's innate desire to squat on a scatter cushion, eating herring-waffles, and whose idea of dynamism is to shift the majority of their body weight from their left arse-cheek to the right. That is the Dutchie's divine right and is more important than yours, even if you are a paying customer.

Similarly, if a Dutchie in your apartment building decides they want to dine al fresco, they won't contemplate spending money on a restaurant. Rather, they'll carry their crappy old table and chairs onto the doorstep of the building, and sit there, blocking the entrance, munching herrings and farting. 'I'm in the way and you want to get into the building? Can't you see I'm having dinner? Live and let live!'

You were relying on me, your co-worker, to help you out with something? I'd much rather be at home, doing nothing, but getting paid. In fact, I can feel a cramp developing. Looks like I'm going to be out of action for months!

2. State Aid

The other side to the equation is that the Dutchie expects someone else to create their world for them. Although every Dutch person has an innate sense of entitlement to everything, it is never up to them to make their vision of how their world should be into a reality. In short, this is summed up in that other classic, Dutch expectoration 'it is not my resssshponsssshibility!!!'

So whose is it? It doesn't really matter, so long as it's not the Dutchie's. This is a society in which it is perfectly acceptable to do absolutely nothing in your job; go off on long term sick leave for months, on full pay; return to do absolutely nothing; then go out on sick leave again, over and over in an endless cycle. The justification? Because there will always be someone else to cover and take responsiblity (even though there never is).

This is the land of the micro-job, where you have to deal with 7 or 8 people separately, in order to effect the simplest transaction. This structure has not arisen because each person has an important role to play in the chain: it's so that when, inevitably, what you want to achieve is not posssshiboll, or will take too much time, that there are plenty of other people to point the finger at, because "it was not my ressssshponssssshibility!!!"

The Dutchies see nothing wrong or opposite in their twin core beliefs that: (1) they should be allowed do whatever they want and each individual is more important than everyone else; but (2) they have absolutely no responsibility in making anything happen for themselves.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Mind Your Language!

Look! Here's an extract I received from a Dutch video-training manual for those inbuggering courses where foreigners are forced to learn Dutch! It's intended to familiarise the Dutch teachers about all the weirdo foreigners they're going to have to deal with! See it here.

Ok, ok - I made it all up. It's actually the opening sequence from a 1970s British sitcom. Does anyone remember this TV show? It was about foreign students learning English and was truly woeful, relying on all kinds of national stereotypes for humour. So the Italian guy was always saying "Mamma Mia!" and the Indian guy was always saying "goodness gracious me" etc. Actually, it would probably go down a treat in Holland in 2006; maybe as part of a Mr Bean double bill special?

Anyhow, I was reminded of the show when attending a conference last week. There was a bunch of us there from all over the place, and English was the common language in which most people conversed when not speaking with someone else who spoke their native tongue.

Now the Dutch speak good English and, typically, learn it from the age of 4 or 5 at school. They have a greater fluency and several years of practice more than, say, your average Pole or Hungarian. So it was interesting to compare the different ways in which people expressed themselves in English; in particular, how the Dutch people's choice of words and style revealed their underlying personality traits and character.

In conversation with non-Dutchies, when you ventured an opinion or view about something with which the other person disagreed, they'd usually say something like "Really? Do you think so?" Or "Why do you think that?" or "I have a different view" or "My view is that....". That kind of thing; basically a way in which you can have a good exchange of views, but keep the conversation moving along nicely.

Except for our Dutch friends. "No, no, no, no, no, no - I am 100% certain that I am absolutely right. In fact I am sure of it." This was the riposte I received 15 seconds into my first conversation with a Dutchie. What were we debating? It wasn't some incontrovertible fact, like what's the capital of Bolivia?; or some conjecture, like who will win the F.A. Cup?, but rather the name of someone we both (allegedly) knew in common; who I had hired at my previous company; known for 7 years; and had spoken to the day before, in person. In contrast, the Dutchie thought he may have worked with her a couple of years ago, but, nevertheless, based on his logic, I had somewhat embarrassingly been calling her by the wrong name for 7 years.

I decided to change the subject and talk about Prague (where the conference was located). I said 'such a beautiful city' (which it is), or some other small-talk-conference-speak thing like that, to which his reply was "I took some photographs earlier around the place - very disappointing, because normally all of the photographs I take are amazing. Even if the subject is not very good!"

Our scintillating conversation then moved on to talking about the conference itself. I asked him had he attended in previous years? No, first time for him - as it was for me. So I said that I thought this was the third year the conference had been run? He waved his hand in my face and said "no, you are quite mistaken. I know for a fact that this is the fourth year! In fact, I am sure of it!"

So I had some fun with him for a while by saying things like 'I thought Amsterdam was in Germany?' and 'don't you think that the Dutch language will cease to exist in 3 or 4 years', but to be honest with you, it was diminishing returns sense-of-humour-wise - ie, he didn't have one.

It was time to dump him on some other unfortunate in the room. I saw a couple of other people who I knew and so asked if he knew them? "I have absolutely no idea who they are. I've never met them in my life before!" Er... a simple, 'no, but it would be lovely to meet them' would have done it. With that, I said, "you know, I think I left the iron on in my room, I better go check"". I didn't bother to wait to hear the "no, no, no, no, no you are quite mistaken!"

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Lounge Lizards

I've been travelling this past week on business. Due to the amount I travel for my company, I recently got a gold card for klm, and received a leaflet explaining all of the benefits to which I am now entitled. The one that sounded most useful was lounge access: from now on, I'm entitled to use the klm lounge at Schiphol, even when travelling economy.

You can tell a lot about how boring my life in Holland is by the fact that this is one of the most exciting things that has happened to me in months.

The other morning, I decided I'd try it out and made my approach to the klm lounge. When I got to the door, there was a handwritten sign outside it, on which someone had scrawled the word "FULL". Now, I've lived here long enough to know that this was exceptionally unlikely to be the case, and that, rather, the subtext of the sign meant "PLEASE GO AWAY - WE HAVE MAGAZINES TO READ". As I was pondering my next course of action, the doors to the lounge swung open and about 8 businessmen exited.

I therefore figured that, at worst, the lounge must now be full, minus 8 people. So I went in. 3 klm staffers sat behind the counter. 2 were chatting to each other, the third was.... reading a magazine. I decided I would approach her and went up to the desk, said "good morning", and smilingly proffered my boarding pass and card. Without looking up from her magazine, she simply pointed a dirty-fingernailed, nicotine-stained, wrinkly hand towards the door where the "FULL" sign stood.

I didn't say anything (I was actually a bit stunned), and stood there. She flipped the page in her magazine, making no attempt whatsoever to communicate or even make eye contact with me. I looked across at her 2 friends who were still too engrossed in their conversation even to be aware that there were customers waiting to be served.

So I decided I'd just ignore them, as they had done me, and go right on in. The place was busy, certainly, though 2 things caught my attention: (1) there were plenty of empty chairs around the place; and (2) it was absolutely filthy.

As I was taking about my 6th step past the reception, one of the talking girls shouted after me: "Shur - it is not posssshibolll. It is very bisssssshy."

I returned to the desk. I was livid. "I'm so sorry - I didn't want to interrupt your conversation earlier and your deaf-mute colleague is busy reading about Big Brother, so I figured I'd just come in. Also, for your information, the lounge isn't full. By a quick reckoning, I'd say 20% of the seats are free. It is completely filthy though. Why the 3 of you aren't fired immediately is beyond my comprehension."

And with that, I continued into the lounge, and got a coffee. I felt like such an asshole. It is pretty out of character for me to speak to people like that, but my outburst wasn't really about this latest episode of imbecility from the Dutchies: I guess it was the dam breaking after several months of drip, drip, drip: the daily grind of trying to get anything accomplished or any modicum of professionalism or service from the Dutch. I didn't feel like saying "maybe you could look up from your magazine and talk directly to me?" or "maybe you could stop chatting; take down the misleading sign from outside; and run this place professionally for your paying customers?" Not today, at any rate.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Coochie Coo

Do a survey of "nationalities that are known to be charming" and I guarantee you the Dutch won't feature highly. So it's ironic that you have to employ all your skills of flattery, encouragement and diplomacy to charm them into doing something for you.

I'm not taking about charming someone in the traditional sense: you know, where the person you want to do something doesn't really want to do it, but with a bit of banter, compliments and a few smiles, you can often figure out a solution. Rather, I'm talking about all the extra work you need to put in with the Dutch.

You're not drawing on a deep well of decency here, where, with a bit of effort, you can influence the other person to seeing your point of view. In Holland, the process is significantly more laborious and cumbersome and requires you to:

1. surmount the Dutchie's suspicion and hostility at being asked to do something in the first place;

2. figure out some solutions to the problem (because they certainly won't);

3. tentatively suggest the solutions, while at the same time being full of praise and encouragement for the Dutchie; and

4. make the Dutchie think they're doing you a great service by using the solution which you identified for them in the first place.

Exhausting, but true. If you don't believe me, next time you're trying to persuade a Dutch person to provide you with something you want, be alert to how many of the sentences in your interaction commence with the words "maybe you could....?"

It is ridiculous how much work you have to do to offset their infantilism.

Suppose you're at a store and ask to purchase something. Suppose you're given one of the Holy Trinity of Dutch service responses: 'that is not posssshibolll'; 'that is not my reshponshibility'; or 'that will take too much time'. Rather than getting frustrated, or leaving, maybe try a 'maybe you could...?'

'Maybe you could look up the price in your manual?'

'Maybe you could phone your other branch to see if it's in stock there?'

'Maybe you could let me pay by credit card, because if you don't, I can't buy this item?'

And so on. The Dutchie will listen to your suggestion before imperiously deciding whether they can be arsed to exert the single calorie required to do what it is you're asking them to. It's critical at this stage to smile at and encourage the Dutchie, much like you would coddle a baby or indulge a toddler. Then tell them that they have been so helpful and smart to think of the solution in the first place.

It sounds completely trite and banal, but it works! The other day, I went through this whole rigmarole and watched as the sales assistant stood up straight, nodded sagely at me, and said "yesh - it is possshiboll" - as if bestowing some divine right on me, when all I wanted to do was pay for something, but collect it a couple of hours later.

Initially, I was summarily informed: "it is not possssshibolll", but by applying my new theory, I got to "Yesh - it is possssshibollll" in 5 easy steps:

1. Me: 'I'd like to pay for this now and collect it in a couple of hours - ok?'

Them - 'It is not possshibolll'

2. Me - 'Maybe you could let me pay for it now and take it away now?'

Them - [caught slightly off guard] 'Yesh...'

3. Me - 'Or, maybe you could let me come back in a couple of hours and buy it then?'

Them - [now definitely confused] '...Yesh....'

4. Me - [quickly] 'So maybe, then, we could split the difference and you could let me pay now, but collect later?'

Them - [chews cud; doesn't really understand what's happening; so is about to go into default 'it is not posssshibolllll' mode]

5. Me - [Smile indulgently; ] - 'Thanks so much for coming up with this solution! It's extremely thoughtful of you!'

Them - [blinking] 'Yesh - it is posssshibollll'

Thursday, September 28, 2006

I Want Money For Doing Nothing

Hello! And welcome to 'I Want Money For Doing Nothing', the top-rated Dutch quiz show which gives YOU the opportunity to do exactly what you've always wanted: get lots of money.... for doing nothing!

Regular viewers will know how simple the rules are! A series of 'moral dilemmas' are posed to our contestants. Those who guess the answers correctly, based on our survey of 100 Dutch people, wins the round! First to 3 rounds wins!

Let's meet our contestants! First up is Elisabeth, she's 43 and works at a tanning salon. What's that? You're 23? I'm so sorry, forgive me! We also have Peter who is on long-term, stress-related, sick leave from his job as a hand model. Finally, we have Marieta, who works as a waitress in Amsterdam. Er.... where is she? .... Hold on, I've just been told that she is very busy and will be with us in another 6 hours!

OK - let's get started! Scenario 1: you see an old person wandering and disoriented. They are clearly distressed and confused. The question is: what do you do?

Elisabeth - go through their pockets?!
Peter - pressurise them to sign a will leaving everything they own to you?!

Peter! That's excellent. 98% of the Dutch public agree with you! You're 2 steps from the money!

OK - Scenario 2. You have 2 friends who each helps out with a charity and has asked you to help with door to door collections. One collects for famine relief. The other collects for rehabilitation of Dutch paedophiles. The question is: what do you do?

Elisabeth: the paedophiles, of course!
Peter: do both on alternate days, then take the money?!

Oh! Bad luck Elisabeth! Peter's just shaded that one with 75% of Dutch people agreeing! Peter - you're just 1 step from the money! Elisabeth - come on! You need to start fighting back here!

It's time for Scenario 3. You are walking in the centre of Amsterdam when you see an immigrant distressed: their house is on fire and their children are trapped inside! The question is: what do you do?

Elisabeth, you go first here - and remember, go with your instincts. What do you think most Dutch people would do?

Elisabeth: eat a herring?!!!
Peter: it's a trick question! An immigrant would never be allowed to live in the centre of Amsterdam!

Oh Peter! You've done it again and you're our winner! You've won €5! Well done!

Join us next time for more "I Want Money For Doing Nothing". Or you can catch Peter again as he'll automatically go on to our other exciting show "I Wish I'd Never Got Money For Doing Nothing Because If I Try To Spend It, People Will Think I'm Showing Off".

Good night!

Monday, September 25, 2006

Wordsh Will Help You!

Note: in the interests of balance and fair comment, today's blog posting has been made by a Dutch guest editor

Doooooooooooook! Oy! Oy!

Everyone in the world knowsh 2 things: (1) that Holland is the greatest country in the world; and (2) that Dutch people are the besht at everything! All who live here are lucky! Everyone in the world shecretly wishes they are Dutch! Dutch is the most beautiful language in the world! William van Shakespeare is a Dutch! So is the shinger Van Morrisson! The world comes to Holland! That's why the country is so crowded! But there are not so many problems. Everyone is happy. Everything is lekker!

It is not true that we do not have shervishesh here! I go to Febo for my dinner and can pick my own food! In restaurantsh, I am allowed collect my own menu, search out my own drinks, carry my own plate! In shopsh, I can look at picturesh of things I can have in my house in 7 monthsh! Now that is shervish!

It is a lie we do not have food that is lekker! Julienne of bitteballe, with cabbage confit and jus de herring is my favourite!!

Even though Dutch are the greatesht at everything and all other people are shits, we are very modesht and egalitarian! No-one is allowed to be flashy in Holland and show trappings of wealth. This is because we are all the shame! (well, exshept the outsiders from other landsh). It is nothing to do with us being bitter and reshentful that other people may shucksheed by not shitting on their arshe!

We are not rashist here! I even have a black friend, Sooty! Sometimes, I eat oranges that come on boats from black countries! If I was rashsist, I would not be able to peel them!

I don't undershtand why the foreigners think we are humourless and aggreshive?! It is shimply not true! If you don't like it here, why not fuck off?!!

Doooooooooooooook! Oy! Oy! Austublieeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeft!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


A couple of weeks ago, I speculated what life would have been like had the Brits not kicked the Dutch out of New Amsterdam? If the U.S.A. had never happened? Instead, if by some grotesque quirk of history, the Dutch had remained and become the world's dominant cultural power? How different would things be?

It's relatively easy to piece this parallel universe together by looking at other countries' experience of Dutch colonial rule, and other communities where the Dutch and their ancestors have flourished.

Two examples stand out above all others: the Boers and the Amish. The Boers settled South Africa and quickly set about implementing State-sponsored segregation of people along colour lines: white or Zwarte Piet. This became known as 'apartheid', which is the Dutch word for 'separateness', and the English word for 'racism'.

On the other side of the world, the Amish community represents the product of almost 350 years of uninterrupted Dutch social development on American soil. Their guiding principles are to shun all modern forms of technology and to live a simple life, plodding and untainted by modern artifices, like medicine and telecommunications.

Imagine if these 2 unique Dutch contributions to world culture had been allowed to develop unchecked? Would we still be tilling soil by hand? Or, more likely, would slaves be doing this? Would medical science be laughably underdeveloped? Modern services and conveniences would still be the stuff of science fiction. If there was any science. Or fiction.

It's sobering to think what Oranjestan could have been like. Backward and insular, mean to minorities, resistant to change, with an acute hostility to progress and development. Basically, exactly like modern Holland. Only bigger.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Tick, tock

Time is a complicated thing in Holland. It means different things, to different people, in different circumstances. While one person or situation may call for absolute punctuality, another may excuse extreme tardiness.

Of course, timekeeping can be a very subjective thing and we all have friends who can be maddeningly late. But in Holland, there is another dimension to time. The variations are not as simple as 'early/ on time/late'. There are entire additional sub-species at work, and I'm not just talking about restaurant staff.

1. Too Much Time

Ask someone to do something and you can often be told "that will take too much time". There's a critical piece missing here. What the person means is that it will take too much of their time. Or to paraphrase, "Go away - I can't be arsed". The uninitiated or unfamiliar may think this rude or incompetent, but it is actually the distillation of hours of careful customer service training.

In an effort to move people on from the ubiquitous, knee-jerk "it is not posssshibollll", this new phrase has entered the Dutch service lexicon. The hope is that the customer will take the "it will take too much time" brush-off on face value, and leave the Dutchie to get back to reading their comic.

The problem is that, demonstrably, what you're asking for won't take too much time. Typically, it is the most straightforward thing in the world. The other day, I bought a cinema ticket online. When I got to the cinema, the ticket dispenser was broken. So I joined the queue for the ticket desk. When I explained I had already booked and paid for my ticket but couldn't retrieve it, the woman behind the counter shrugged and pointed at the next customer, beckoning him forward.

Me: "Hello? Can you give me my ticket?"

Her: "It will take too much time."

Me: "Huh? Just look it up on you system and print it off."

Her: "It will take too much time."

Me: "Well, I ain't moving, so do it, or call your supervisor."

Her: [Theatrical sigh] "What is the credit card number you used to book?"

I gave her the number; she tapped in the last 4 numbers; the tickets were printed automatically. In total, the whole thing took about 3.5 seconds.

Me: "See - that didn't take much time at all, did it?"

Her: [Stares venomously in silence, eyes filling with hatred].

2. Be On Time

God help you if you are a billionth of a nanosecond late for an appointment with a Dutch official. It's a major disaster for you, but the sweetest feeling in the world for them. Naturally, we all try to be on time for our appointments. But stuff happens. Like no-one will give you change at the railway station so you can buy a ticket. Or a delivery truck parks for 2 hours and blocks off the entire road. Or it pisses rain for hours and causes delays to traffic.

Even if you're 1 minute late, the Dutch official will smugly book you in for another appointment, in 2 weeks' time; then go back to picking their nose.

Once, I was just 3 minutes late for an 8 a.m. appointment at the tax office. I was the only person in the building, apart from the 43,000 employees sitting behind the counter, each of whom was doing nothing. The man I dealt with practically had a hard-on telling me that I had missed my appointment and that it was not possssshibollllll to see me now, even though the allotted appointment time was 30 minutes. As I protested, he said "words will not help you - come back in 2 weeks".

At least I got a good blog title out of it.

3. Don't Be On Time

How long would it take you to carry a sofa for 3 miles? Factor in frequent pauses for rests. It would be pretty slow - right? Even assuming you carry it 3 steps per hour, you'd still make it in a month. Which means you'd beat Jenckinova, de Bijenkorf, or any other Dutch store by 6 months.

Why is that, when you want something, and are prepared to pay for it, you still have to wait for months to receive it? When I moved here, my Dutch relocation agent gave me a book on Dutch business etiquette. Having read it cover to cover in 9 seconds, I remember one of the points being that "Dutch people expect you to be on time and it is considered rude to be late". But this is only one half of the equation, and it doesn't work.

Dutch people expect timeliness when you are coming to see them, but think it's perfectly acceptable to be light years late when they're coming to see you. If you're late, you get pious mooing. If they're late, you still get the pious mooing, coupled with shoulder shrugging and hostility.

4. The Land That Time Forgot

Even while time is passing all around the world, it seems to have stood still in Holland. Or rather stopped. I think at one point, time may have been on fast-forward here in social terms in that Holland was, briefly, a liberal, open and tolerant society. That is certainly the reputation it has garnered worldwide and how the country and Dutchies like to market themselves.

But it's like a Victorian seaside resort proclaiming that it offers the most entertaining holiday imaginable. Trying to lure people with donkey rides and Punch and Judy shows, while everyone's gone to Las Vegas or a spa in the Maldives.

I accept that Holland did, historically, embody some liberal values. But the world has grown up, moved on, and overtaken it.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Miss Holland

The Miss Amsterdam contest has ended with one woman being crowned winner at a lavish ceremony at a kebab shop in Rembrandtsplein. She will now go on to represent the country in the Miss World contest, embodying all the cultural and social values of modern Holland.

Round by round, the contestants were whittled down to the 3 finalists, each of whom triumphed in rounds such as speed-tanning; golliwog-making; and shoulder-shrugging.

A controversial note was struck when the second runner up declined her award and officially withdrew from the contest at the final stage. This woman, who had originally settled in Holland from Indonesia at the age of 4, walked away, having had enough of the Parish Council's members' requests to fetch them drinks and clean up after the other contestants. The final straw appeared to be the requirement that she wear a sash reading "allochton"* for the latter stages of the competition. When asked why she hadn't been made to wear this from the outset, the Parish Mayor confessed he had thought she was a member of the janitorial team until guest judge, the Mayor of Minsk, had corrected him.

Perhaps recognising that the allochton tag might be a bit crass in 1806 - sorry, I meant 2006 - the runner up was chosen specifically for the fact that she demonstrated values of multiculturalism and openness. The crowd oohed and aahed as they heard her speak about her travels beyond the parish limits. A modern day Vasco da Gama, not only had this woman been to places like Harlem and Amstelveen, she had in fact travelled the world! She had visited exotic countries like Germany and Belgium, having been to both Antwerp and Cologne on day trips from Amsterdam!Although she readily admitted that she didn't much like either place and was glad to get back to Amsterdam Parish, the crowd was captivated by her intrepid tales of exploration to lands few of them had even heard of.

And the winner? A woman who had quickly become the darling of the Parish Council with her sweet nature and deferential admiration for all the utterances and pronouncements of the Council's members. Agreeing that she simply "wouldn't worry her pretty little head" about things too much, she shared the waffles and cakes she had baked and giggled as the Mayor of Minsk winked at her. There was one challenging moment when a reporter from a foreign newspaper asked her how she felt about the statistic that, although women make up 40% of the Dutch workforce, fewer than 1% occupy senior management positions? But she disarmed the crowd by confessing that maths wasn't her strong point and, besides, she'd only go off to have babies anyway, so she could completely understand.

* allocthon is an official Amsterdam Council classification of people as 'foreign' or 'not native'. Practically, Dutch people never call white North Americans or Europeans 'allochton', and it is reserved exclusively for non-whites, even those who have been born in Holland. Amsterdam Council resolved last week to continue classifying people in this way. The Hague Council voted to eliminate it some years ago.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Rules of Engagement

Did you know that, outside Scandinavia, Holland has the highest proportion of single person households in Western Europe? And that the proportion is growing?

Psychologists, economists and anthropologists have speculated on the causes, but no consensus as to the reason has emerged. Could it be that Dutch people prefer a life of solitude and contemplation? Or that they are innately independent and prefer to strike out on their own? Or that an existence in which someone else might nick your last herring out of the fridge and never buy toilet paper is too gruesome to bear?

My own view is that it is becoming increasingly difficult for the Dutch to meet potential partners. How do single Dutchies meet their soulmates? At least the ones who don't marry their cousins, or the person from the next village over? Their options appear limited.

We've already looked at the restaurant scene, and the only conclusion can be that an invitation to dinner is more a prelude to a break-up, or punishment.

Partner 1: "Honey, I'm sorry, I've been having an affair."
Partner 2: "That's it! I'm taking you to dinner!"

What else is there? Maybe something cultural, like a trip to a museum or gallery? Again, this option seems fraught with difficulty. Most of the Rijksmuseum is still closed for renovation. The temporary Stedelijk building has Legionnaire's Disease in its cooling tower and one person has already died there. Even scarier, the Van Gogh museum costs €10!

Maybe a romantic stroll in the Fondlepark? Again - problematic. In Deep Winter, it will be pouring with rain and hail, and you'll be buffeted by gales. In Winter, it will be full of Dutchies having herring-barbecues and Grandpa's Dicks.

Hmmmm. Shopping? The catch here is that the nutjob proprietor will throw you out of the place if you try to.... er, shop. God forbid you're holding a cup of coffee.

I know! How about good old-fashioned bar hopping? Meet your soulmate over some warm beer and a boiled egg? Again, the service and hygiene issues mean that this route is not guaranteed to achieve the results you wish. Plus, when a Dutch person goes Dutch on a bill, abacuses and calculators are at the ready. That can kill the mood.

Maybe they could go digital and try internet dating? But have you ever called a Dutch internet service provider and tried to get a working broadband connection installed at your home in under 37 years? Exactly.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Titter, titter

Dutch Comedian: Knock, knock!

Other Dutchie: Who's there?!

Dutch Comedian: You.

Other Dutchie: You who?

Dutch Comedian: You have a wife who is very ugly!

Other Dutchie: Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! HAAAH!

Ah - simple pleasures. Have you experienced Dutch humour? Still clutching your sides from the Mr Bean marathon they showed on your last klm flight? Or maybe your tummy hurts from chortling at the Benny Hill DVDs that have been passing around your office?

Dutch humour is very subtle. So subtle, that you could often miss it. By a mile.

We're not talking delicate, comedic insights here. It's a super-special, rarefied type of humour that is so understated and intangible, it often goes completely over the head of non-Dutchies.

Going to the barber the other day for a haircut, I noticed there were 3 other people ahead of me. So I asked the barber "how long will it be?" He said it would be around 20 minutes. "But on the other hand, it could be 21!" They all pissed themselves. The barber and other customers, chortling and guffawing, clapping their hands with glee. If only I could have thought of something equally witty, I could have felt included in their merry gathering - but alas, I had to leave defeated and dejected.

Perhaps I should have farted loudly to compete with their repartee? Because the surefire way to elicit a laugh from a Dutchie is to talk shit - literally. I've been at a meeting where, after a break, one Dutch colleague returned to the table from the bathroom, and pointed at another, announcing: "he has just done a big, smelly, shit - ho! ho! ho!" How we laughed at this Dorothy Parker-like epigram.

Interestingly, it is stupefyingly easy to wind up a Dutch person and watch how their face turns from 'you've got diarrhoea!' glee to stony-faced, cud-chewing, indignation. Simply turn the tables on them and make a joke about any aspect of Dutch life or culture. The tittering stops and the pious mooing begins, guaranteed within 15 seconds to induce an invitation to leave the country. It seems, as an expat, your choice is either to: (1) worship, venerate and unquestioningly adore every aspect of Dutch life; or (2) get the hell out. No room for anything in between.

Now that really is funny.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Dutch Disco!

Have you seen the signs? All over shop counters and at kiosks? They're there if you look hard enough. If you can't see one, the Dutch person behind the counter will only be too delighted to point it out.

They tell you all the things that you can't do, have or get from your friendly Dutch service outlet. No change. No information. No credit. No tourist assistance. No stamps. No English. No clue.

What's even better is that if you ask a Dutchie for one of the forbidden fruits referred to in their charming signs, they point triumphantly at it. 'Look! It is not possshiboll to get change. It even shays sho!!!'

Combining two of their favourite things: (1) being unhelpful and (2) pointing instead of communicating, you will make a Dutchie's day by asking for something you can't have, and allowing them to point majestically at their sign, bursting with pride and satisfaction.

Depending on how many things you ask for, and the positioning of their friendly little signs, they can end up looking like demented disco dancers.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Black Pete

Even the name of this posting sickens me. If there is anyone Dutch reading this, is there any way you can justify the Zwarte Piet situation? For those of you yet to experience it, in early December, Dutch people consider it entertaining to decorate their homes and businesses with golliwogs. They like to 'black up', wear afros, and dress like buffoons. There is a parade of hundreds of these 'Black Petes' throughout the centre of Amsterdam and, no doubt, other Dutch hamlets. It beggars belief, and is truly sickening.

Other countries could invoke their anti-discrimination legislation to prevent this carry on. Not that they'd need to. Society just would not countenance or tolerate it. Can you imagine a parade of black and white minstrels going down Fifth Avenue in New York or Shaftesbury Avenue in London? There would be justifiable uproar.

What is wrong with these people? It's bad enough that ethnic minorities are so marginalised and ghettoised in this country without having to endure the festooning of homes and offices with racist caricatures, and a parade through the town. What's next? Klansmen?

And spare me the whiny claptrap about it being 'traditional'. It was traditional for women not to be allowed to vote. It was traditional to live in caves and to have doctors tie a spider and walnut around your neck to cure cancer. (Okay, maybe that last one is still traditional).

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

New Amsterdam

I just got back from New York. It was great to spend a few days in a modern, functioning, urban environment. Eating great, flavoursome food; mixing with different communities and races; receiving great service; experiencing an array of consumer choices; being allowed to drink coffee and shop - at the same time!

Somewhat surprisingly though, it felt weird not to be surrounded by Dutch people. The only time I encountered any was on the Staten Island Ferry. It's free, by the way.

Perhaps it was this sense of dislocation that drew me to an exhibition on the Lower East Side about life in New York under the original Dutch settlers? Did you know that the Dutch founded New York and that it was originally called New Amsterdam? Until the Brits kicked them out. I couldn't help wondering what life would have been like in New York if this hadn't happened and if the Dutch had remained in charge?

Visiting the exhibit led to an incredibly strong sense of deja-vu. It was like I had stepped back 400 years from present-day New York, right back to present-day Amsterdam. The rooms in the exhibit looked eerily like any doctor's surgery in contemporary Amsterdam - complete with rusty pliers and jars of pickled leeches. I could almost imagine hearing the figures in the exhibit whispering "it is not posssshiboll..."

Typical 17th century meals of potatoes and dumplings were shown. Obviously, they were not real food, but grey, lumpy copies of the real thing - again, uncannily like what's served in many of today's Amsterdam restaurants!

Stuffed dummies dressed in laughably outdated clothes were positioned around the display. As I stared into their vacuous, expressionless eyes, and waited for the dummies to move, however imperceptibly, I had to reassure myself I wasn't in a contemporary Amsterdam shop or cafe, waiting to be served.

So what if the Big Apple had, instead, become the Big Herring? How different would things be?

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Al-turd Heijn

Remember those days when you could visit the supermarket when it really was super? I never thought I would miss schlepping around Sainsburys or Tescos, but those trips seem like a visit to Fortnum & Mason, or Dean & Deluca, compared to the horrors that are endured at Albert Heijn.

First of all, did the people who ran GUM and other Communist department stores in Russia take over at Albert Heijn once the Berlin Wall came down? What's with the queues, food coupons and bread shortages? Or the insistence on trying to sell stuff that is clearly past its sell by date? Not subjectively: it says so on the label.

If you pick up any of the cheese at the deli counters at Albert Heijn, take a close look at the label. 9 times out of 10, its sell-by date has already expired. If you ask the dynamo working behind the counter why they're selling gone-off cheese, they'll first try to insist that it isn't, and that the sell-by date is advisory only. Thank God for EU food-labelling regulations is all I can say. When you object and say "well - I'd prefer some fresh cheese, and I don't plan on savaging it all in one go with 12 doorstep slices of bread, so could I get some that has 3 or 4 days left to run before its expiry date?" the shrugging and head-bowing begins. Back to the Friesian behaviour.

The stuff you want is never there - unless you want super-salty, processed, gloop. Everything is price-led: there is no emphasis on freshness or quality. But who cares when you can buy beefburgers made from donkeys' balls for €0.20?

The most shocking thing, however, is Hamster Week. Have you seen/experienced it? This is the week in which every Dutchie descends trying to scoop up some bargain as deep discounting begins. It's called Hamster Week because - get this - Dutch people like to hoard during this week of cheapness to the extent that it's reminiscent of a hamster's cheeks stuffed, bulging with bounty. Can you imagine that? Who is the marketing executive who came up with this idea? Why does it not stop the Dutchies from flocking to the store? Can you imagine any other nation putting up with this: "Cutomers! We think you're like cheap, greedy, rodents! Come on in!"

Monday, August 28, 2006


Another beautiful Summer's Day in Amsterdam! It's warmer in Murmansk (in Siberia) and in Minsk. And yes I did check.

Have you noticed how Dutch people are unable to form a line or queue? That unless they are herded into a specific line formation, they will amble around aimlessly and try to shove their way to the front of any line?

Worst of all, it seems, are older Dutch women. They are not the kindly, matronly women I remember from my youth, but perpetually cross, disappointed-looking women, the corners of whose mouths are permanently downturned from years of scowling, complaining and tanning; with a shock of chemically treated orange hair. Kind of like the cartoon dog, Droopy - remember him?

At any counter or desk, people will mill around, elbows out, jaws jutting. This morning at Centraal Station, I had a spare 40 minutes to kill, so thought I would try to get a cup of coffee-sludge. There were about 11 people bobbing around in front of the counter, in no obvious formation. Just as I was about to get 'served', an extremely angry-looking Dutch woman shouldered me aside and started waving at the person behind the counter, shouting her order. The poor, bewildered server stood there blinking, not sure what to do.

How about saying "Whoa there Droopy! Wait your turn!!" As that's about as likely as a Dutch person offering to stand a round of drinks, I turned to the woman and said "Sorry - I was here before you" and continued to give my order. Her eyes bulged, her chemically treated hair stiffened, her mouth creased ever-further downwards at each side. She shouted again to the server which confused him even more. He stood there, making gargling noises in his throat, mouth agape, looking from one of us to the other. So I turned around to Droopy and said "Listen - I've been waiting here for longer than you. Wait your turn!"

So now I'm the person remonstrating with a stranger in the middle of Centraal Station - what is my world coming to? Droopy scowled and muttered, but backed off and waited her turn. As I was leaving she shouted after me, in Dutch (somewhat pointless, don't you think?). As I glanced back, she was literally shaking her fist at me. I mean, come on! Apart from cartoons, have you ever seen anyone actually shake their fist at someone? If she had a pitchfork, I'm sure she'd have waved that too.

Saturday, August 26, 2006


If you get into conversation with a Dutchie, chances are they will bore you rigid with unsolicited insights into how wonderful life in Holland is. They genuinely believe that they're great, and superior to all other nationalities. They claim their 4 key traits, which give them the lead over all other nations on Earth, are their: (1) pragmatism; (2) 'live and let live' approach to others; (3) pursuit of 'coziness' and harmonious work/life balance; and (4) trading prowess.

Scratch one-tenth of a milimetre below the surface, and you'll quickly discover that each of these is a load of rubbish. Let's look at them in turn, starting with pragmatism.

Pragmatism: Dutchies say they are pragmatic. This forms the basis of the Amsterdam Parish Council's decision to permit the drugs n' hookers playground that has made Amsterdam famous. The Dutch say that because people have sex and take drugs, you may as well cater for these activities, rather than drive them underground. Or to put it another way, if it were not legal to buy hookers and hash, people would do it anyway.

Actually, I think this policy is reasonably enlightened. Though I still find the Red Light District and the women who ply their trade there a pretty depressing sight.

What gets me is the triumphant and somewhat patronising invocation of being able to buy a 10 minute hand job and a mouldy joint as evidence of pragmatism. There are so many other issues which could better and more pragmatically be addressed. You can imagine the Parish Council meeting at which the Hash n' Hookers Disneyland was approved:

"Well, the doctors are still using leeches. We've totally messed up the roads and sanitation. Our service industry has gone to pieces. Our racial integration policy is non-existent. But the people can still pick up a hooker and smoke a spliff! Well done everyone! Herrings all round!"

Live and let live: Again, in a patronising and snooty way, Dutch people will tell you they are so wonderfully liberal and tolerant. Live and let live. Right. But if you're black, Muslim or Indonesian, you better be doing your living in the furthest-flung suburbs; don't come into town; and don't apply for a job unless it's in sanitation or catering. Marvelous!

And now, the immigration committee of the Parish Council has decreed that new immigrants must take a course in Dutch 'language' and 'culture'. That's helpful. Forcing an individual to learn a dying language and say "Dooooooooooooooooooooooook!! Oy!! Oy!! YA!! Lekker!!" and learning how to become worskhy and blow off all your responsibilities, become inflexible, and live on a diet of raw meat balls and herrings. Real progress. That's really letting someone live how they want to live.

Coziness: To be cozy is the holy grail for a Dutch person. They explain 'coziness' as some Zen-like, intricate balance between well-being and one's surroundings, where the self can achieve harmony with one's environment, in one big orange aura. Please. It basically means being able sit on your arse doing fuck all.

I think coziness is the most evil of all Dutch traits in that it is directly responsible for the unbelievably crap service and the average Dutchie's ashen-faced terror of change. A Dutch person explained it to me as follows: if you go into a shop/bar/restaurant and the staff are sitting around, filing their nails/reading books/sipping sodas/filling out long-term sick leave applications, you are not to be frustrated or indignant. Rather, you are to pause and admire the cozy working environment they have built up for themselves. Wait your turn and don't antagonise them.

Although I doubt I'll be here to see it, I cannot wait for a tidal wave of reality and competition to come crashing over the Dutch service industry and wash away this pious, self-righteous, bullshit excuse for laziness and indolence.

Trading Prowess: Dutch people will reminisce about the Golden Age - 400 years ago, when their boats set off around the world and came back laden with herrings and syphilis. A true age of enlightenment. The mercantile way of life back then has imbued contemporary Dutchies with a trader's mentality - "how can I make a quick euro with the absolute minimum of effort?" Dutch people are truly proud of this. We've seen it on Queen's Day, when people scrum to sell their unwanted crap to their neighbours. (By the way, has anyone ever seen one, single charity shop in this village?). I have personally experienced it where I have asked Dutch colleagues would they or a friend have a boat they could lend me for a day to go up and down the canals? One was offered to me for €800. I could fly to Tokyo and back for that. Just so mean, stingy and opportunistic. There's no trace of embarrassment in any of this. Disappearing to the toilet when the bill comes; recycling tea-bags; saying "Moo! - I forgot my wallet"; I've experienced them all.

OK so every nation and their people have stuff they need to work on. But in Holland, the problem is worse. Dutch people refuse to acknowledge that things could be better or different. A large part of this is down to their innate hostility to change - "we have a shyshtem!" If there were a collective acknowledgement that their services are seventeenth century and their treatment of certain sections of their society unacceptable, then perhaps they could move on to doing something about it. But no - they're still insistent that their way is the best way and cannot contemplate anything else. Plus, they are unbelievably defensive! They cannot engage in any adult, serious discussion about the shortcomings of their society. The initial response to any criticism is always to try and deflect it with some claptrap about pragmatism or tolerance. Then, once you've demolished that argument in about 10 seconds, the Dutchie will sit, chew the cud and then snap "well why don't you leave then!"