For my first book in the 80 Books Around the World, I read The Dinner by Herman Koch. Picture two upper middle class white couples, one of whom is the front-runner to be the next Dutch Prime Minister, out for dinner and trying not to talk about the fact that their children recently committed a horrific act of violence against a marginalized person. The novel is about what lengths parents will go to in order to protect their children – or are they protecting themselves? Coincidentally, coming to theaters May 5th with Richard Gere and Laura Linney. I don’t plan to see it since I found the people in the novel horrible and do not wish to spend any more time with them.
If you’re a foodie, you might enjoy the detailed descriptions of each course. If you’re more impatient (or action-oriented, as I refer to myself) you might want to just get on with the plot. Apparently Dutch restaurants don’t hold with that “the customer is always right” philosophy, thus if someone sends back food, it is a mini scandal. One of the characters finds it disgusting to eat corn on the cob. (Is this a Dutch thing or just this character?) And during a vacation with other Dutch in Dordogne, France, the main character gets the distinct feeling the French locals are sick the of the Dutch interlopers….and nervously thinks about Deliverance, and Straw Dogs, two movies where things don’t go well for visitors. I didn’t see that coming!
Nowhere in the book did I find the odd Dutch expression “as if an angel is peeing on your tongue,” meant to signify enjoying a delicious meal.
Other fiction books set in the Netherlands include Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier; The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt; The Fault in Our Stars by John Green; and to understand why I prefer non-fiction or mysteries, you need look no further than the Miniaturist by Jessie Burton. In 1686, an 18 year old girl arrives in Amsterdam to begin a new lift as the wife of an illustrious merchant trader. So far so good. He gives her an extraordinary wedding gift: a cabinet sized replica of their home. To furnish her gift, she engages the services of a miniaturist – an artist who makes tiny creations to mirror their real life counterparts. And, that’s where I’m done. This sounds like a Saturday Night Live skit that didn’t make the final broadcast.
For movies set in the Netherlands, I can recommend Girl with a Pearl Earring (Scarlet Johansson is always great) or Kidnapping Freddy Heineken, about a real event. Crossing Lines is an American TV series set at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, where they pursue criminals all over Europe.
And random fun facts about the Netherlands, mostly from my internet research:
- Netherlands was the first country to legalize gay marriage, in 2001.
- Netherlands is the tallest country in the world. (I actually learned this from a classmate once.) The average height of men is 6 feet tall, and per an article I read, the government has recently promised to change building regulations to increase the height of doorways, as the population has grown in recent generations.
- No shortage of large sized shoes in Amsterdam! They have several stores that cater to unusual shoe sizes. Stravers Luxury Shoes includes both large and small sizes, US women’s up to size 12.5.
- Dutch mothers don’t feel guilty. They’re really got the work-life balance thing figured out. Read about it here: Dutch mothers.
- The Dutch love to swear in English – you can find many fun examples of signs here; my favorite is an a diner “F**k it – Eat Salads”. Dutch swearing
And finally, the Netherlands is like both the U.S. and other European countries with wildly differing viewpoints about immigrants. They have politician Geert Wilders, who wants to end immigration from Muslim countries and views himself as a right-wing liberal (??). Picture a younger, blonder, Donald Trump.
Yet they have other groups of people stepping up to help those in need. Bijlmerbajes is a former prison which is now turned into a temporary residence project, colorfully painted by artists and refugees. See that here. And Takecarebnb.com is a housing initiative which paris refugees with Dutch families for a 3 month period so they can get started integrating into Dutch society (started by a former Bosnian refugee).
Other than going through the airport in Amsterdam, where I had the most thorough pat-down ever, I’ve never been to the Netherlands. If anyone has, I’d love to hear about it.