What does it mean to be Dutch anyway?

campingThere is a lot of fuss in the media at the moment about how people from other countries should learn Dutch and integrate. This is the first in a series of posts looking at issues of what it is to be Dutch, what it means to be integrated, why the need for labels (allochtoon or nieuwe Nederlander) and whether the Dutch really do want people to integrate and what they mean by this.

We’ll start with what it means to be Dutch.

When you first come to live in Holland it can be a bit of a surprise to find that the Dutch aren’t all cycling past windmills, clogs on feet, with a bunch of tulips in one hand and a joint in the other. It can be a nasty surprise when you meet your first grumpy or mean or materialistic or suburban Dutch person. From the way they market themselves and Holland abroad you think they’re going to be a bunch of liberal hippies who will greet you with a big hug rather than a mess of paperwork.

I lived in Germany for a few years before coming to Holland and there I soaked up the idea that the Germans have that the Dutch are somehow cooler, funnier, more easy-going and less bureaucratic than them. Then, when I got here, I realised it wasn’t true and that it was because – shock, horror – you get the same types of people in Holland that you get in Germany or England but that their tastes will be influenced by their environment. So, whereas an English person will get incredibly excited at the prospect of a cup of tea, a Dutch person will get incredibly excited at the prospect of a cup of coffee or whereas an English person will take Marmite to put on their toast, a Dutch person will take peanut butter to put on their bread.

I think in any country you get an averageness of that country that a lot of people conform to. The longer I live here the more I realise that average Dutchness has nothing to do with coffeeshops (it’s only a small part of the population that uses cannabis – see this research for more details) and laid back hippiness.

Average Dutchness is the couple I saw the other day on the early Saturday evening show called CampingLife. Average Dutchness is the fact that there is an early evening show called CampingLife, which, as the name suggests, is all about camping. It’s not about laid back hippy pitch-your-tent-anywhere-and-only-bring-the-clothes-on-your-back camping. It’s going to a big campsite, preferably a gezellig one with lots of other Dutch people rather than German or English people, with your big caravan, camper van or trailer tent that is equipped with everything to make you feel at home: flatscreen TV, kitchen with fridge and gas rings, beds, ballrooms, guest bedrooms with en suite bathrooms, formal dining rooms, jacuzzis, conservatories…

Back to the couple on CampingLife. They had sold their house and bought a camper van – flatscreen TV! freezer! – and were now spending two months travelling round Europe. Now in Italy they proudly showed the presenter all the storage space in the camper van, which they were using to store 120 krentenbollen (bread rolls with currants in them) because the man ate two a day and couldn’t do without them. She also mentioned the vanilla vla they needed and showed us the cans of whipped cream stored between the slats of their bed. They didn’t mention it but I bet they brought their own pindakaas and hagelslag too.

If this kind of average Dutchness is what we should be aspiring to then there are a lot of Dutch people that need to start integrating too.

But maybe I touched on something above when saying that you get similar types of people in Holland, Germany and England. We all know that the problem that the media and politicians have isn’t with people from countries with similar cultures but from countries with different ones.