Stuff Dutch People Like

No.58: King’s Day (Koningsdag)

Have seen my friend?

Have you seen my friend? He’s the guy in orange.

For a nation which often insists on “normal” behaviour and the following of rules, King’s Day is truly nothing of the sort. It’s one day of the year where the Dutch break all their self-imposed rules and let loose in a way that puts all other nations to shame. To say that King’s Day is the world’s greatest party is nothing short of an understatement. Put concisely as possible: King’s Day is E-P-I-C.

If you haven’t experience the pure joviality and joy of a city flooded in Orange, I dare say you haven’t truly lived. Trying to explain King’s Day to someone who hasn’t experienced it is like trying to explain where babies are from to a 4-year-old. Bells sound, bands play, children perform, deals are made, bargains are found, drinks are consumed, and above all, love, laughter and smiles abound.

For a nation often divided, King’s Day is the great equalizer. Unlike other countries’ national day’s, April 27th (or 26th, this year) is not about in-your-face patriotism or royal worshiping, it’s about oneness. Everyone can participate, everyone can partake, everyone can carve out their own way to celebrate, and everyone can do so with the simple act of throwing on an orange t-shirt and joining the gezellig crowds.


Queen's Day: often a blur

King/Queen’s Day past: often a blur. Can you spot me? ;)

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 ;) ;)


“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!)

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!

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?*



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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