Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Down-to-Earth - the Dutch Culture

One of the things I find fascinating in mainstream Dutch culture is the way normalcy is prized. Calling a person  "nuchter" - down-to-earth - is  a compliment. (It's also the word for sober, and I was very confused when I read a medical document that called for blood taken on a 'nuchter' stomach. In that context, it just means empty, not that for other blood tests it's fine to show up totally drunk.)  Doutzen Kroes, the famous supermodel, said in an interview that she considers herself nuchter, and values her simple background in Friesland, one of the northern provinces. Googling 'nuchter' and Doutzen Kroes brings up several hits, including a page that even calls her, translated, 'the Dutch downtoearther'. High praise for a globetrotting international beauty. But if she keeps fame and fortune from going to her head, shouldn't we all?
A common phrase I've heard here, especially from parents, is "Doe normaal." Act normal. Which somehow automatically is supposed to shut out things like tantrums, jumping on the couch, or other forms of outrageous behavior. When I went through training as a TSO moeder - lunch mom - at a primary school, the curriculum and leader actually spoke against the phrase. "You see," the teacher explained earnestly, "what may be normal for you is not normal for all of these children. In a Surinamese family, for example, it might be considered rude to look an adult in the face while they talk. Here, if a child avoids eye contact, we assume they're hiding something. So telling them 'Doe normaal' just won't work - they are being their own normal!" As a mom now myself, hanging out with other moms and their children, it's easy to see the differences in family culture, even just among the Dutch themselves. 
But in general, staying on the center of the beaten path is encouraged. Study well in school. Perform well at work but don't try to outshine your colleagues - no one likes a showoff. Have fun on the weekends - but not TOO much fun. The popular (and generally mandatory slogan) here on alcohol advertisements is, "Geniet, maar drink met mate." Enjoy, but drink in moderation. How effective this slogan actually is, I haven't checked, but I imagine that if a colleague had one too many beers after work, the response might be, "HĂ©, doe normaal!" 
Moderation extends to birthday parties, where the streamers and balloons are hung but generally there is no Amazingly Detailed Party Theme like the kind that seems popular in America. Guests are served one piece of cherry vlaai from the bakery per person, and nibble on snacks from little bowls. The birthday person might dress up, and the birthday child might wear the paper crown they got from school, but that's about it. Gezellig, cosy, and expected. Occasionally there might be phrases about craziness thrown around, whether discussing the weather, sports, or politics. "Het moet niet gekker worden," someone might say, looking out the window at a snowy April morning or a blistering October afternoon. "It shouldn't get any crazier." Or, discussing a politician in the new government coalition who's calling for environmental change, "Doe maar gewoon en dan doe je gek genoeg." If you act normal, you're already acting crazy enough." I've even seen that slogan on kitschy blue-and-white tiles. Whether it's a warning, or encouragement, I haven't figured out yet. 
One of my favorite songs is "15 miljoen mensen", which describes, sometimes tongue-in-cheek, the culture here. Of course, the population of Holland has grown since the song was written  - from an estimated 15 million in 1996 to 17 million in 2016  - but a lot of the verses are still recognizable. Like the line, "The land where no one lets himself go, except for if we're winning, and then the passion breaks out intensely, and no person stays inside." And the video clip for that line looks like it's taken at a voetbal match, with screaming fans wearing the national orange color. Football, or soccer, is one of the few occasions when it's more than okay to go crazy. When the Feyenoord club won the national championship last year, car horns started blowing in my neighborhood and I saw fireworks in the middle of the afternoon. The center of Rotterdam was so crowded with thousands of red-and-white-wearing fans that there were security advisories issued for anyone who was crazy enough to want to go to the city and see the awards. Because sometimes being crazy is totally normal... in moderation. 

1 comment:

  1. He, I like your posts so much. To read how you sees our habbits and words. Thanks for the tip to create a new accoun, I did it