No. 57: Insurance

When you first move to a foreign country there are literally a jillion things you need to arrange. It’s no surprise that many of my first days in the lowlands were spent at the aptly namedAlien’s Police” completing endless red-tape.  I felt like an alien; there was the thrill of all things new and exciting, yet even the simplest tasks were confusing and utterly foreign.

On my list of things to arrange was insurance – and boy, was I in for a treat! I sat across a pimply banker who handed me a tattered laminated folder, of what appeared to be, hundreds of different types of insurance policies. After struggling through the list, I looked up and asked him what I really needed. He mumbled a few things about not being allowed to give personal advice and then pointed to one entry entitled personal liability insurance.

Where to begin…?

“You definitely need this one!” he blurted out, almost excitedly, “All the Dutch have this one!”

I asked what it was actually for, and he launched into a dull explanation of coverage for damage or harm to a person/property. Failing to understand exactly why this was of critical importance to all Dutch people, I asked for an example.

He snapped back, prepared for the question: “Imagine you are at a friend’s house for dinner tonight and you spill red wine on their white carpet! Instead of you having to pay for a new carpet, your insurance company will!”

Having already spent already far too long at the appointment I left, even more confused, with a bag full of insurance folders in gibberish. Back at the office, I decided to broach the subject with a few of my Dutch colleagues. Sure enough, they ALL had the infamous “personal liability insurance”. Before I even had a chance to ask more, one of my older female colleagues chimed in “Colleen, what would you do if you spilt red wine on a friend’s white couch? Now where would that leave you. How silly not to have it!”

Based on the morning’s conversations I could only help but assume three things:

  1.  The Dutch were very clumsy wine drinkers
  2. White carpets and couches seemed to be very popular in the Netherlands
  3. Dutch people apparently charged other Dutch people for damages incurred at dinner parties

The above didn’t necessarily leave me eager in anticipation for a Dutch dinner party (…I couldn’t imagine a scenario in Canada where we would suddenly swap bank account or insurance policy numbers over spilt wine).

Clearly I had a thing or two to learn about the Dutch, for it turns out they simply LOVE insurance! In fact, they love it so much they are the second highest consumers of insurance in the ENTIRE WORLD! Yes, this tiny nation of freakishly tall folk, are only second to Switzerland in their national obsession with all things insurance (and we all know what a fun-loving bunch those Swiss are ;) ;)

verzekering

“I’d like some insurance on my insurance.”

With this unsettling obsession you would be safe to assume the Dutch are a rather pessimistic and fearful bunch. However, this peculiar behaviour isn’t based in fear, but rather a pragmatic “always-looking-to-save-a-buck” mentality, coupled with a healthy dose of herd mentality. As my pre-pubescent banker alluded to, the “everyone-else-is-doing-it” sales-pitch was apparently quite convincing.

Apart from the above-mentioned liability insurance, the Dutch have a slew of other odd insurances. Take “funeral insurance” for instance, another speciality of the Dutch! Again, very practical albeit utterly morbid.

Can there be a point when a nation is too cautious or prepared? You betcha! In 2012 the Dutch National Consumer Bureau announced that far too many Dutch people were over-insured. Many a Dutchie was double or triple insured; some having completely irrelevant insurance policies. The spokesman even went as far as saying that purchasing insurance was now a “national hobby” of the Dutch.

So Dutchies, I think it’s far to say that it’s time for a new hobby. One that’s perhaps a tad more upbeat? Let’s show the world you aren’t as paranoid and uptight as the Swiss! ;)

(p.s. I eventually caved into the peer pressure and bought my “spilt-red-wine-insurance”, but am happy to report that I haven’t had to use it yet!)

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No. 56: Turning 50 in style (aka seeing Sarah)

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Dutch birthdays are weird. Sure, they’ve got those odd (albeit handy) calendars in their bathrooms to remind them of the big days, but why remember if you ain’t even the one bringing the cake! All those birthday “gefeliciteerds” are great for us (non-Dutchies) to practice our “g’s”, but the celebrations do seem to be lacking a little je ne sais quoi. The Dutch 50th birthday, however, is the exception: full of eccentricities, nonsense, and good ol’ fashion fun!

Sarah-Gezien-KroonschildWhen Dutch people turn fifty they are said to be either “seeing Abraham” or “seeing Sara”. Say what?! There’s sadly no bathroom humour here (as it doesn’t relate to my grandma’s “seeing a man about a dog”) however, the connotations are equally odd.

In this case,  to “see” Sarah or Abraham is a biblical reference. The original meaning is still up for debate, but from my highly rigorous research (aka googling for precisely 2 minutes) it seems to include adultery, stoning, barren-women, seeing ghosts, aging, death, and sinning – yes, all the elements necessary for a rousing bible story!! Somewhere amidst the judgements and morals there is a rather literal reference to turning 50 years old and “seeing Abraham”. How it then made its way into the Dutch lexicon is anyone’s guess…

sarah1sarah3The Dutch clearly decided to put their own spin on the biblical tale. When Dutch people hit the big 5-0 in the Lowlands,  the birthday celebrations tended to include either a cake or pastry symbolizing the aging birthday boy or girl.

Somehow, over time (again don’t ask) the tradition evolved (as traditions should!) and that little pastry person morphed into a life-size doll in the likeness of the guest of honour! Think scarecrow-esque figures on front lawns, human paper-mâché travesties and five-meter-tall blow-up balloons of  graying women (aka Sarah) or balding men (aka Abraham).

As we all know, celebrations in the Lowlands are not complete without some snarky witty poems; such ditties, written by friends and family, often accompany the festivities. If you’re particularly lucky, those unfavourable poems might just adorn your front lawn as well!

sarah4Now before y’all start schooling me on Dutch traditions, I am highly aware that this particular one has lost some steam in recent years --but I am hoping for its revival. These grey Dutch skies could use a bit more colour, and if that needs to come in the shape of gaudy human-like balloons, then so be it! ;)

I can say with all certainty that I won’t be spending my 50th birthday in the Lowlands. However, it is one Dutch thing I just may be tempted to bring home with me to Canada - along with my beloved bicycle and my Dutch directness, of course!

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No. 55: Being happy

New-Year-ResolutionsAs 2014 kicks off, the Dutch are in a privileged position. While scores of mortals have spent the last few weeks pondering, compiling and fine-tuning their list of (rather similar) New Year’s resolutions, the Dutch have been able to nurse their hangovers in peace and return to business as usual –  devoid of such trivial pressures.

In fact, the Dutch need to worry less about New Year’s resolutions than any other nation. The reason? Resolutions are set to ultimately accomplish one singular goal - happiness - and in this case, the Dutch already have that one covered!

If you haven’t yet heard, the Dutch are a surprisingly contented bunch – and have long since mastered the whole “happiness-thingy”. In fact, Dutch women and Dutch children consistently rank amongst the happiest in the world.

If you say so!

If you say so!

Dutch kids, it seems, are just plain happier than children from any other nation (with 95% of Dutch children ranking their own happiness as above average)! Dutch women also seem to be living the good life, with the lowlands ranking amongst the 5 happiest nations for women on the planet. (Shall we blame it on the cheese? The candy? The natural births? The leggings? Or all that bloody free time?!)

So what about all those leggy Dutch men? Are they also floating around in a constant state of bliss?? Turns out, no one bothered to ask them! Based on the highly scientific principle of “happy wife = happy life“, I’d say they aren’t doing too badly themselves!

So what does all of this talk of resolutions and happiness mean to YOU, my humble readers?

- Dutchies: Throw those resolutions for 2014 out the window and finally accept the fact that you ARE, actually, already pretty darn HAPPY!

- Non-Dutchies: Have no fear, there is a very simple solution! You only need to make *one* resolution this year….”Move to the Netherlands (if you haven’t already)!” ;)

*And do tell…why do you think the Dutch are so darn happy?*

 

 

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No. 54: ‘Top 2000′ songs

You know what makes me happy? Really really happy? Discovering weird and wacky Dutch traditions that I never knew existed! It’s like finding an uneaten bar of chocolate at the back of your cupboard just waiting to be devoured or a crisp 20 euro bill in the pocket of your jeans from last summer. The joy of the find! Score!

top 2000At a Sinterklaas borrel a few weeks ago the Top 2000 popped up in conversation, later, at a meeting with Dutch colleagues it somehow worked its way into the conversation, and then again, casually mentioned in passing by a friend. Of course, by the third encounter my brain started ticking, my fingers started googling, and I couldn’t help but ask every Dutchie around.

The Top 2000 is a real gem on the SDPL list; a bizarre cultural phenomena embraced by millions of Dutchies. No idea what I am talking of? Let’s review!

  • every year the Dutch vote for their all-time favourite songs in a contest-of-sorts called the “Top 2000″
  • Dutchies cast their votes online at the beginning of December
  • the tradition first started in 1999 by Dutch radio station Radio 2
  • the broadcast was planned to be a one-time event, but was carried over due to its overwhelming popularity
  • in 2002, Radio 2 added Top 2000 television programme featuring the top songs, interviews and performances
  • in 2003, Top 2000 in concert (broadcasted on New Year’s Eve) was added to the  empire, featuring Dutch artists performing songs from the list

Now here’s where things get even more fun:

  •  it is estimated that well over half of the Dutch population tune in to the Top 2000 every year! Yes, you read that correctly! We are talking over 9 million Dutchies with ears-perked!
  • various online “movements” take place to try to bump songs out of certain positions or get new songs into the top listings
  • numerous Facebook pages, discussion forums and websites announce impromptu campaigns and “calls-to-action” to attempt to influence the ratings

queenSome more fascinating facts:

  • the first year’s top three songs were: Bohemian Rhapsody (Queen), Hotel California (Eagles), and Deep Purple (Child in Time)
  • Bohemian Rhapsody has held the #1 position for 12 of the 14 years
  • the Dutch song Avond by Boudewijn de Groot briefly bumped Bohemia Rhapsody off its pedestal in 2005
  • Hotel California (most often in 2nd place) took the victory position once, in 2010

The low-down on 2013:

  • a whopping 3.3 million (!) Dutch people voted in this year’s list (a record)
  • 60% of voters were men, 40% women
  • over 11 million Dutchies are set to tune in this year

Tomorrow (December 25th) at precisely 12:00 noon, the Top 2000 will kick-off, blasting tunes across the Netherlands. While other cultures are eagerly anticipating unpacking their stockings and/or devouring their Christmas turkey and trimmings, the Dutch are awaiting the commencement of 7 days of pure unadulterated radio pleasure. 

It has been rumoured that the whole tradition may have actually arisen as a cheap  efficient way to save costs during the holiday season (oh you Dutchies are sooo predictable!) Instead of paying radio DJ’s holiday pay for working on Christmas, why not just load up a set of 2000 songs to play and skip those pesky fees! ;)

Regardless of its original motivations, the Top 2000 is a unique Dutch oddity that looks like it’s here to stay! Now, who was it that said ‘video killed the radio star’? I suppose they weren’t anywhere near the Netherlands in December!

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Our Sinterklaas poem for the Dutch

The Dutch, you see, are a complicated bunch
Their jokes and traditions as strange as their lunch

They’re tall, often blond, and usually quite blunt
Their treacherous stairs are an acrobatic stunt

Lucky for us, not all wear red pants
Or spend their days smoking infamous plants

Dutch dinner resembles an indiscernible mash
A date with a Dutchie? Don’t forget to bring cash!

Their houses ain’t windmills, their shoes ain’t (all) clogs
But don’t be surprised if it rains cats and dogs

Let’s celebrate the Dutch and all of their quirks
Get some giggles and laughs or a couple of smirks

We thank you dear fans for the chatter and fun
With such food for fodder our work’s never done!

 

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No. 53: Sarcastic poems

poems

Photo: Tarja van Veldhoven

The Dutch are currently in the throes of their most beloved holiday. We are T-5 away from the big event, and over the next few days many a Dutchie will be putting pen to paper (or keyboard to screen) in an attempt to write the perfect Sinterklaasgedicht.

While endlessly debating Zwarte Piet (yes, even we foreigners have grown tired of it) the Dutch will adamantly tell you that this holiday is “all about the children”. But don’t be fooled, those fully-grown Dutchies love themselves some Sinterklaas just as much as their mini-me’s!

orange surpriseThe 18+ version of Sinterklaas however, has a few more twists and turns – namely booze, “surprises” (pronounced surpreees) and gedichten (poems). Family (or friends) draw names for the receiver of their gift & poem on surpriseavond (surprise night). The surprise is a cheap small gift wrapped in a home-made-craft-project-of-sorts; the paper packaging made to represent a hobby/passion of the gift receiver. Like football? You may just get a 3-foot orange paper jersey! Need a new bike? Guess what? You’re not getting one – but here’s a cardboard version!

cardboard bikeI find myself torn between appreciating this very Dutch tradition for its enormous creativity and questioning it for its suspicious thriftiness. Is the overly elaborate home-made packaging just a way to fancy up an otherwise cheap gift? ;)  A proverbial ‘pig in lipstick’?

Regardless, we have yet to get to the juiciest bit of the evening – the poems! What fun would a truly Dutch tradition be if it didn’t involve a little bit of passive-aggressive Dutch directnessTo paraphrase our good friend Mr.Wiki “a traditional Sinterklaas poem highlights the less positive traits of its subject in a friendly/joking manner.” Yes, these poems gently (or sometimes not so gently) poke fun at the victim subject in a humorously sarcastic way.

Trust those Dutchies to use a festive holiday as a means for ‘keeping it real‘! In fact, it’s essentially the principle of “doe normaal” set to rhymes. Think your cousin is a bit too braggy about all that money he makes? Now’s the chance to tell him you aren’t so impressed – in a sing-songy note!  A recipe for disaster or just plain good fun? I suppose it depends on the company you keep! 

And so dear readers, stay tuned as we’re busy composing our poem to YOU! In the meantime, have you got a great one to share? Were grudges held after a particularly harsh gedicht? ‘Tis the season of the sarcastic sonnet!

p.s. still need a gift? Look no further!

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No. 36: Sinterklaas

You’ve seen the imagery all over town: that old dude with white hair and the big pointed red hat. You know those pesky black-faced fellas he hangs out with. The ones who’ve whipped pepernoten at your head. You’ve joined in the heated Zwarte Piet debate. And you’ve eaten your chocolate initial at work. BUT what really is the deal with this whole Sinterklaas thing?

Basically, all you need to know is that Sinterklaas is the most beloved of all Dutch holidays and traditions. And one, Dutch people are fiercely proud of. Don’t you dare go messing about with this very gezellig affair! Check out our handy guide below to help you survive the madness.

Everything you need to know about Sinterklaas

Q: Where does this old dude and his black-faced friends come from?
A: Sinterklaas is said to have originated from St. Nicolaus, the Bishop of Mira, who lived in Turkey in the 3rd century. According to the legend, he saved the town from starvation, revived a couple of dead children, and offered gifts of dowries to poor girls so they didn’t have to become prostitues. Hence, a pretty saintly dude.

Q: How does he get to the lowlands?
A: Nowadays, he sails in from Spain on a boat in late November and rides about the town on a white horse named Amerigo (don’t ask) with a handful of black-faced friends who throw things at people.

Q: Huh? Who are these black guys? Bodyguards? Elves?
A: These friends, Zwarte Piets, are Sint‘s mischievous helpers and they can be seen through town violently whipping hard-stone like cookies (aka: pepernoten) at children and passerby’s. Duck!

Q: I don’t get it. Why are their faces painted black?
A:  Please. Save yourself the trouble and don’t go asking this question in your Dutch workplace. You won’t make any friends. You can speak your mind here.

Q: Wait. Am I allowed to say anything critical about the Sinterklaas tradition?
A: No.

Q: Ok…back to the basics then. When is it officially celebrated?
A:
Get out your Dutch-people agendas! Although he makes his first appearance mid- November, Sinterklaas doesn’t get into the full swing of things until December 5th.

Q: This is the poem and presents stuff right?
A: Yeppers. On the eve of the 5th (pakjesavond) children place their shoes by the fireplace (although hardly any Dutch homes have them), by the radiator (how the heck do the presents get through that?) or by the door (for the brighter Dutch children) and eagerly await their presents.

Q: What do they get?
A: Back in more modest times, presents consisted of mandarin oranges, chocolate letters (the initial of your first name), chocolate coins or marzipan figures. Surprisingly, no Dutch licorice or dairy! Nowadays, full fledged gift giving is in effect with the average Dutch home spending upwards of 130 EUR on presents.

Q: Why did my boss write me a sarcastic poem?
A: Adults get into full swing by writing witty poems to poke fun (or publicly chastise) their family or friends and often accompanied by a gift exchange (similar to a “Secret Santa“). The poems are often funny and of course, involve Dutch directness!

Q: This whole Sinterklaas dude seems pretty familiar. Are you saying the Dutch invented the North American Santa Claus?
A:
Closely related Sinterklaas figures are celebrated in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Belgium as well as French Flanders. Scandinavian folklore has a “nisse” character who is pretty similar. Santa Claus is thought to be a combination of Sinterklaas and the British Father Christmas.

Phew! That should cover the basics! Now go out, eat some pepernoten, speculaas, and kruidnoten, write some poems, buy some presents, paint your face black and join in the fun! Easy enough, eh? ;)

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Official book launch: this Saturday 16 November in Amsterdam

3D_book (1)Yes folks you read that correctly – this Saturday we are officially launching the Stuff Dutch People Like BOOK!

If you are in Amsterdam don’t miss the chance to get a first-edition signed copy (and meet moi in person). We worked our butts off to get it to you in time for the season of gift-giving!

I must say seeing the book in print was a very exciting moment! It felt a bit like Christmas morning (or I suppose Sinterklaas for you Dutch peeps).

Details:
Date: Saturday 16 November
Time: 15:00 – 17:00
Where: The American Book Center, Spui 12, Amsterdam

We’ve made sure to arrange lots of our favourite Dutch stuff for the event – think Dutch gin, Dutch cheese, and fresh steamy stroopwafels!

You can RSVP on our Facebook event page - or just show up for the fun! 

Looking forward to see you there!!
xColleen

p.s. Yes, our good ol’ friend Zwarte Piet is on the cover.
p.p.s. Do you really have to ask why??

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No. 52: Cocktail sausages

When I first moved to the Lowlands I remember pondering why the selection at my local grocery store was seemingly so poor. I couldn’t put my finger on what exactly was missing, but the cramped aisles certainly seemed to be lacking some of the essential food groups.

photo

Sausages as far as the eye can see!!

The problem eventually dawned on me: there was a disproportionate amount of shelf space being dedicated to completely useless and/or inedible items. City supermarkets in the Lowlands are small to begin with therefore there isn’t much space to lose! Yet, astoundingly, shops throughout the Lowlands seem quite willing to dedicate entire rows to...wait for it.Canned Sausages!

Given the amount of shelf space dedicated to these tubular treats one can only safely assume that Dutch people must eat these tiny sausages in absurd quantities!

Across the pond we, of course, have our fair share of hot-dogs. But it must be said that hot-dogs strictly appear on the menu in a handful of predefined occasions/locations. These being a) back yard bbq’s b) camp sites c) children’s birthday parties d) street vendor stalls. These occasions all have one thing in common: convenience! Let’s face it, in North-America you eat hot-dogs because it’s quick & easy, not because you necessarily want to.

worst

Knak? Knak? Knak?

Based on their dominance of super-market shelf space – we simply can’t figure out the Dutch dining rituals involving these mystery meats. Do the Dutch eat sausages for lunch? Dinner? At borrels? At parties with happy little Dutch flags sticking out of them? All of the above? Why are they in cans? And tins? And shrink-wrapped? And more importantly, why are they called cocktail sausages? Please don’t dare tell us you enjoy a nice cocktail with a nasty sausage floating on top ;)

Dear Dutch readers, enlighten us. Have we missed the mark? We understand what makes a warm German bratwurst so yummy… but what is truly so special about your wieners?

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No. 48: Stroopwafels

6873340785_d003a15219You can’t visit/live in The Netherlands for long without stumbling across the famous stroopwafel. It sounds fairly medieval, but in reality it is a modern day tasty treat. Stroopwafels are made from two very thin layers of baked batter with a caramel-like filling in the middle. Stroll through any busy Dutch market, and you will smell the delicious confections long before you actually see them being made.

Ever notice how a Dutch person places their stroopwafel so that it sits perfectly balanced on their coffee mug? This is the traditional way to eat one, so that the rising steam from the hot beverage warms the waffle and slightly softens the inside, making it all yummy melty on one side and crispy on the other.

stroop

Stoopwafels are said to have originated in the late 18th century in the town of Gouda, made famous for its cheese. Be careful though, as they highly addictive. Take that first bite, at your own risk.

Beware of the pre-packaged types of Stroopwafels found at grocery or tourist stores. They may have sat on the shelves for months. If you enjoy the taste of sweetened cardboard, and are not worried about losing any teeth, then plunge right in! Otherwise, head to your nearest local market to find the real deal.

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