I visited Holland for the first time about 16 years ago. We traveled to Soest to meet Joost’s parents. It was my first time meeting them. Joost had told them about my existence about two weeks earlier, he also mentioned that we would be getting married in a few months. Though we had been friends and colleagues for several years, we had only been dating for about 6 months. The whole thing was a bit sketchy considering Joost’s visa was about to run out and skepticism on other’s part could be understood so I was a bit nervous. I had no need to be, though I was not prepared for what I was about to experience.
We had rented a cabin in the woods near Joost’s parents. It sounded romantic. It was not. We arrived late and the manager had left the key for us. With good Dutch frugality, they had not preheated the cabin. There was snow on the ground and frost in the cabin. Never mind I thought, I’ll take a hot shower while the heater gets going. It was not to be. The water heater was kaput.
So the next morning, I met my future in-laws. They were kind and gracious to this woman who would take their son to America permanently. I got to take a hot shower and Mama gave me blankets to keep me warm. Immediately I fell for their warmth and directness. What they said is what they meant. It was not something I was used to. I was very much used to what you said and didn’t say could always be construed to mean something that you didn’t mean at all.
This I have learned to be a Dutch trait. Depending on how you see it, it can be considered refreshing or rude. Over the years, I have become used to it but every once in a while it can be a bit jarring. In the first weeks of school, Charlie made friends with a Dutch boy. I met him, he is lovely but after not hearing about him for a while, I asked Charlie about him. Charlie said he wasn’t really friends with him anymore because he had said some mean things. Apparently, the child did not want to practice piano with Charlie at school because he explained that since he was a higher level than Charlie, it would not be very beneficial for him. He also said Charlie’s drawings were not very good. These are true statements. In America, his words would cause a reprimand if overheard from a teacher. In Holland, the child was not mean as he did not intend to hurt, rather he just spoke the truth. Joost did a great job of explaining this to Charlie and Charlie understood but I think he would rather hang out with some kids that are a little less truthful.
The Dutch are also direct and uncomplicated in their food. Once again, I was not used to that. From my French background, I have learned that food has meaning. What you serve someone reflects what you think of them. Menus are discussed and pondered over. The correct champagne or wine needs to match the event. Before visiting my aunt in France she would always ask me not what do you want to do, but what do you want to eat. One goes to France already salivating thinking about the forecoming delicasies. The same does not happen before a trip to Holland unless you are an eleven year old boy.
That does not mean there are not nice things to eat. The cheese of course is nice. There are yummy french fries and pancakes and stroopwafels which are thin, waffle like cookies with caramel inside. There are plently of things that are tasty but will probably kill you. Charlie’s uncle introduced him to croquettes (think Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup, not cooked, with a fried crust over it) and frikandel, which is some processed meat with a sauce and onions on it. For the sake of convenience, one can buy these at the corner snack shack or street-side vending machines.
I think the Dutch do not make time for food because there is so much more they want to do. They want to walk on the plentiful walking paths through forests and dunes and flatlands. They want to ride their bikes across the countryside dotted with windmills and canals. They want to sit out on terraces drinking coffee discussing and discussing till one person gives.
Sixteen years later, we are back in a cabin in winter. This time the water heater works. I have eaten french fries and stroopwafels. I have walked through sand dunes. I have sat and drank coffee with my mother in law and laughed with her. I have spent time with brothers and sisters in law who are kind and good people. It’s very funny that this country that was so foreign to me in many ways has become like a second home.