It is taking a lot longer than I anticipated to bring my accommodation situation to a satisfying post-worthy conclusion. So in the meantime, I’ve been chucking a David Attenborough and observing the natives of my new country.
There are some nationalities that when mentioned instantly bring stereotypes to mind. For instance: Americans are all ignorant and stupid. Brits all have bad teeth. Germans are all humourless robots. French men are all arrogant bastards who smoke and drink too much. Canadians are all awesome and are welcome to crash at my place anytime. Okay, maybe that last one isn’t quite universal.
Despite the Dutch being the first Europeans to discover Australia, I have to confess that prior to moving here, when the Dutch were mentioned it would first take some thought to figure out what country the Dutch were associated with, and even after that my brain wouldn’t form complete sentences. What came to mind was a stream of consciousness that went a little something like this:
Weed. Red light district. Tulips. Bicycles. Windmills. Dykes (hehehe).
Then if I really strained my mental capacity, I’d come up with:
Clogs. Dutch East India Company. Van Gogh. Anne Frank. Rembrandt?
And that’s pretty much as far as I’d get.
Now, I could turn this post into a deep cross-cultural exploration, and expound on how stereotypes merely inhibit the free exchange of ideas and experiences that is so essential to fostering understanding in a multicultural society. But to be perfectly honest, I am many levels of unqualified to make such arguments, as my interactions with native Dutch people thus far have been limited to “I’m sorry, I don’t speak Dutch” and “No, thank you, I don’t need a bag, the cotton buds can fit in my satchel.” So I’m going to give you a list of my initial impressions of the Dutch nationals.
1. The Dutch are all bike riding champions.
If we consider bikes as the modern day horse, then the Dutch are centaurs. They can ride a bike while on the phone. They can ride a bike while smoking. They can ride a bike while eating or drinking. They can ride a bike while turning backwards to look at you and call out incomprehensible comments as they pass you walking on the street (yep, I got cat called by a guy on a bike). Their skills are truly impressive, intimidating and a little irritating for someone who never mastered riding a bike with no hands.
2. The Dutch are all giants.
Now, we all know that in comparison to me, even an average-to-tall person looks like a colossus. And while I have certainly noticed an increase in the number of times I have said “How did s/he get so tall?” to myself while walking past people on the street, I certainly haven’t felt like Gulliver in Brobdingnag. Apparently I must have some form of body dysmorphia where I don’t feel like an ankle biter, because my height disadvantage was illustrated to me in a most amusing manner at the Spui Bilbliotheek. I went to the bathroom, and as I was washing my hands, I looked up to check myself out in the mirror and ensure that I wasn’t stashing lettuce away for later between my teeth. And as I looked up, it was painfully evident that the average height here is much greater, as the top of head didn’t even show in the bottom of the mirror.
3. The Dutch are all linguistic geniuses.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that any Australian in possession of a normal upbringing must be in want of a second language. Nothing has ever made me feel quite as stupid, ignorant and frankly inconsiderate as travelling through Europe and requiring everyone to engage and communicate with me in my native language. So I’ve done my darndest to develop some sort of ability in French and, while my application is still a bit hit and miss, I can at least travel by myself in French-speaking places and not feel like a total twit. Here, however, it’s back to square one. So I face a flurry of incomprehensible sounds like a stunned mullet, blurt out the customary “I’m so sorry, I don’t speak Dutch” and they reply to me in perfect English. Not even mistakes in prepositions. How annoying. Maybe next time I have to buy something I’ll reply with “Je suis désolée, je ne parle pas le Néerlandais”. But their French will probably be perfect as well, and I’ll be exposed as a fraud.
4. The Dutch are all hipsters.
Okay, maybe not all. But with the bike riding, and the number of chinos, male side-parts, glasses, canvas shoes, hair scarves and second hand chic skirts, I can’t help but feel that the Dutch were hipster before hipster was cool.
5. The Dutch have no inhibitions.
Again, probably not categorically true. But there seems to be a lot more spontaneous singing and whistling along to music in shops, a lot more random interaction between groups of people in cafés. And you know when you see someone wearing a really cool dress, or shoes or bag, you just want to go up to them and say “Hey, your dress/shoes/bag is really awesome, keep up the good work”? And you never do, because it might get uncomfortable, so you just try to stare surreptitiously and look away awkwardly if they catch you? Well, not here. How do I know? A lady came up to me the other day to tell me how nice my dress was. Winning.
So I propose a new stereotype.
The Dutch are all uninhibited multilingual bicycle riding hipster giants.