31 Jul

Dutch Camping

During the summer months (or at least the part of summer that has good weather) the highways of Holland become filled with caravans as Dutch people make their way to camp sites all over the country (and nearby countries if they have enough patience and petrol). The Dutch love to go camping but it is not camping as most of us might know it.

For the Dutch, camping does not mean roughing it in the woods, fighting against nature, scavenging for bugs and trying to start a fire by rubbing two sticks together. No, when the Dutch go camping they go camping on their own terms. Being away from home does not mean that you have to miss any of the luxuries of home. Gas cookers, refrigerators, washing machines, televisions and DVD players are just a few of the things considered essential camping equipment by the Dutch.

Likewise, having a caravan, which by its very nature is mobile, does not mean that you actually have to be able to travel anywhere with it. Dutch campsite spots can be rented for as long as you like. Once they have found a camping site they like the Dutch will settle down and start the process of turning their caravan into a permanent, non-moving summer home/bungalow, complete with a conservatory (front tent), heating, indoor plumbing, outdoor kitchen station and a garden (which in itself will include a garden shed, garden furniture and several garden ornaments).

However, there are a few things that are out of the Dutch’s control.

Most camp sites only have one spot where the mobile network and/or wi-fi is any good. This spot will often be out in the middle of a random field somewhere next to a cow. That’s why most phone calls usually involves a five minutes hike first.

The weather rarely acts as expected (or desired) either. Beautiful sunny weather will often be interrupted by a sudden hurricane or rain storm. When this happens everyone seems to enter a strange state of denial. During the most extreme weather there will still be someone swimming in the outdoor swimming pool, someone will still be attempting to have a barbeque and someone will be chasing a runaway sun umbrella across the campsite because they didn’t think it was ‘that’ windy.

If you have children things will be extra busy as you either try to keep them entertained or keep them out of trouble (or both). People often underestimate how much work this is. That is why you will often find a group of exhausted and stressed parents who mistakenly thought it was a good idea to hold a children’s birthday party on the campsite.

Despite the few things that are out of their control the Dutch still love camping and once everything is set up, the weather is good and the children have settled down (or gone off exploring) it is time to relax…… after you’ve mowed the lawn, washed the caravan/tent windows and done all the other little maintenance and upgrade tasks that you suddenly realized needed doing.

I know all of this because I have a caravan… A caravan with heating, indoor plumbing, an outdoor kitchen station, a garden and many other things.

24 Feb

Dutch Queue

As a stereotypical Englishman I have a particular (and some would say unhealthy) interest in queuing. Most English people do. It is a natural instinct for us to wait in lines. We might complain about the amount of time it takes to reach the front of the line once we are in it but this is just all part of the tradition. We like the queue. We don’t like the waiting. We like the sense of order, of rules, the idea that even if we have to wait an annoyingly long time at least there is a system.

This is why (as an Englishman) queuing in Holland has taken some time to get used to (putting it mildly). In Holland queuing is an extreme sport. There are no rules, only survivors. The most extreme cases of this can be observed when attempting to board a busy train in Holland. This is something that I have to do daily so I have had a lot of time to analyse it scientifically and take notes. There are several steps to what can be loosely termed ‘queuing for the train’ in Holland.

Step 1: The Cluster

Preparations begin the moment the train is spotted in the distance. The Dutch start moving towards the edge of the platform, trying to predict the best place to stand in the hope that they will end up near a door once the train has stopped. This causes small clusters of people to form around the predicted door locations. However, since they never get it right these small clusters end up shuffling along the platform with the slowing train as they try to keep up with their chosen door. This often causes them to walk backwards into other people, swallowing them up into their group.

Step 2: The Gap

Once the train has come to a full stopped the cluster of people (that have gathered around each entrance) will reform slightly to create a narrow gap leading away from the door. This gap is for the people exiting the train, however it is more of a gesture than a practical exit route. It is kept as narrow as possible just in case anyone at the back of the cluster tries to use it to gain ground.

Step 3: Hold The Line

As passengers exit the train the people on the outer edges of the cluster already start to get restless. They shuffle and move around, trying to see how much longer they have to wait and if there is any weakness in the group that they can exploit. Always be on your guard.

Step 4: The Collapse

As the last person exits the train the cluster of eager Dutch people will immediately collapse in on itself as everyone tries to rush forward through the doors at once. Arms, elbows, bags, large suitcases, hot cups of tea or coffee and body mass are all legitimate strategies to keep people back and gain ground on others. A battle cry is optional.

If a passenger is too slow getting off the train before this happens they are doomed. They will be swept back up onto the train by the unstoppable current of oncoming passengers and find themselves at the next station before they realize what has happened.

In Conclusion:

If you survive and are able to board the train you are one of the lucky ones. Many people have not been so lucky. Dutch queues take no prisoners and should not be taken likely… Of course, if you have made it on to the train there is still one challenge that awaits you; The race to find a seat.

Good luck.

17 Dec


If you’ve ever been shopping anywhere in The Netherlands you have probably been asked the question, “Is het een kadootje?” It’s a common question, especially during the months leading up to Sinterklaas and Christmas. In fact, I hear it so often that I sometimes expect the checkout girl to ask me it as I do my weekly food shopping.

“Is deze melk een kadootje?”
“Ya, als kadootje alsjeblieft.”

If I were to translate “Is het een kadootje,” word for word it basically means, “Is it a gift?”. However, I have learned that it is a mistake to take this question at face value or to even assume that it is the question that is really being asked. It is not a question asked out of idle curiosity about your gift shopping habits. It has a double meaning, a silent question that is never asked but always understood (by the Dutch at least). “Is het een kadootje?” really means, “Would you like this wrapped?”

Once you are aware of this double meaning it probably sounds pretty easy to deal with the situation. However, the difference between the question that is asked and the question that is meant creates some problems.

Is het een kadootje voor uzelf?

Imagine that you are buying something for yourself and when you approach the counter to pay for it you are asked the question, “is het een kadootje?” You now have two options:

1) You can say no and admit that the My Little Pony action figure that you just bought is actually for yourself and it does not need wrapping or…

2) You let them wrap it anyway and have your own private gift unwrapping moment at home later.

Is het een kadootje voor iemand anders?

It does not get any easier when you are buying a gift for someone else either, especially if you want to wrap it in your own fancy wrapping paper (that compliments the Christmas tree decorations so well). This time when they ask, “is het een kadootje?” you now have three options:

1) You could keep it simple, lie a little and say no just so that they will leave it unwrapped, thus making it easier for you to wrap it later. However, this will now lead to them believing that the ‘Little Princess Tea Party Play Set’ you just bought is for yourself.

2) Alternatively, you could be honest, tell them it is a gift but that you would like them to leave it unwrapped so that can wrap it yourself later. However, this response first leads to a moment of confusion as they automatically reach for the wrapping paper upon hearing the word, “yes,” and then hurt feelings by what they believe is an insult to their gift wrapping skills.

3) Finally, it might just be easier to let them wrap it so that you can unwrap and re-wrap it later. However, while doing this you might discover that their gift wrapping skills were in fact better than yours all along and never be able to look them in the eye again.

It is a dilemma that never gets any easier.

Is het een kadootje van ons winkle?

Sometimes when picking the last option you might be lucky and discover that the wrapping paper the shop is using is actually quite nice. Maybe you don’t have to worry about re-wrapping it after all. Unfortunately they then place a great big sticker on the freshly wrapped gift, clearly advertising the shop’s name and showing everyone that you obviously did not bother to wrap the gift yourself.

If you are anything like me you might try to carefully peel the sticker off as soon as you exit the shop. This is probably why they make sure they press it on so hard. It’s impossible to get it off without ripping the paper.

If you’re quick enough you might just be able to stop them stamping it on but be prepared for some annoyed looks. Refusing the sticker is akin to refusing to acknowledge the selfless free gift wrapping service the shop provides (and that you just took advantage of). A better solution might be to put a bigger sticker of your own over their sticker.

Is het een kadootje?

Either way, answering the question, “is het een kadootje?” is not as easy as it might first seem. It’s possible that there is no correct answer. The best option is whatever you are most comfortable with doing… or shopping online. That way you avoid the question all together.

30 Jun

Dutch Celebration

1) The country’s economy gets a sudden boost from the sales of any product containing the colour orange.

2) All products that can be make orange, will be orange.

3) In addition, food that really should not be orange suddenly becomes orange anyway.

4) As the special event draws closer the amount of orange increases until it reaches critical mass. This makes the use of orange camouflage a realistic and necessary tactic for any foreign country planning to invade during the celebrations.

5) There is no alcohol left anywhere in Holland. The only option is to cross the border to Belgium if you want a drink.

6) You suddenly become aware of Dutch music being played ever where you go (and a lot of Dutch people singing along to it very, very loudly).

7) It seems as if every man, woman and child living within the Netherlands is trying to fit into the same public space because it has a television providing live coverage.

8) Car horns can suddenly be heard sounding over the entire country despite a lack of traffic jams.

9) The Dutch let go of the fact that their country is called The Netherlands simply so that they can say ‘Hup Holland Hup’ (unless they really are only supporting the West province of the country).

11 Jun

Dutch Drop Liquorice

There is something slightly sadistic about Dutch liquorice (otherwise known as Dutch drop). If you’ve never experienced its unique taste it can look quite innocent. After all, what reason would you have to suspect that it would taste any different from the liquorice you are familiar with in your own country.

The Dutch seem to like it too. In fact, they consume more liquorice per year (2000 grams each) than any other country in the world. How bad can it be?

But this is why Dutch drop is evil. It subtlety lulls you into a false sense of security that it might taste quite nice.

And maybe, just maybe, you get lucky. Maybe you get one of the nice flavours of Dutch Drop… But probably not, because when you encounter it for the first time it’s probably because you’ve just been offered one of the more ‘popular’ flavours by a Dutch person.

For a brief moment, just before the flavour hits you, you might notice the slightly odd way the Dutch person seems to be ‘observing’ you, the way they seem to be studying your every expression as if they are planning to take scientific notes. By the time you realize this means something is wrong it is already too late.

Suddenly the taste takes hold…

Everything in your being tells you that this taste is wrong. That it should not be. What mad man would have created such a thing? Your taste buds cry out in objection or fear (or both) as the taste spreads father around your mouth. Suddenly you just want it to end, for the flavour to go away. But even when you spit out the Dutch drop the flavour still remains. It won’t go away. Will it ever go away? Why is this happening? Why? Oh god why?

Suddenly you realize with horror that this was done to you on purpose. You were offered this god forsaken taste for the amusement of the Dutch person sitting across from you. They wanted to see your reaction to it. They knew you would not be able to handle it. No foreigner can. Perhaps the fact that they started filming you with their phone should have been a warning. The Dutch can be sadistic sometimes too.

Taste – The Good, The Bad & The Ugly:

Taste wise the salty Dutch drop is one of the worst offenders. It has a very extreme taste. In fact, it is as if the makers of salty Dutch drop had a bet to see how much salt they could add to the recipe before someone died (and then reduced it only slightly when someone finally did). They are probably the same people who thought mint and salt would make a good liquorice combination too.

It is true that there is nice tasting drop (I know this because my Dutch wife once forced it upon me to make a point). Drop comes in many varieties. There is hard drop, soft drop, chewy drop, sweet drop, salty drop, powered drop, Engelse drop (English), honingdrop (honey), muntdrop (mint) and much more. However, this only makes things worse. If there was only the extreme tasting drop like Dubbel Zout (double salt) expats would only be caught out the once and know to stay away forever. However, since there is nice tasting drop out there it creates false hope that the little black sweet you are about to put in your mouth might be ok. It might be one of the nice ones. Then before you know it you’ve let your guard down and… *BAM* You’ve been caught out again!

Dutch Drop in Disguise:

Perhaps this is also why the Dutch have attempted to make drop look more friendly by disguising it in a variety of shapes from simple squares, circles and diamonds to coins, windmills, cats, little cars, bee hives and beyond. Anything to make them look more ‘fun’ and less like committing taste bud suicide.

And as if to disguise them even further the makers of Dutch Drop will often mix their product in with a bag of other sweets. Many expats and tourists have been caught out by this when they were buying what they thought was an innocent bag of wine gums. Usually they solve this problem by only eating the wine gums and then ‘giving’ the remaining bag of drop to their partner (as I often do with my wife).

Maybe this is why the Dutch took it one step farther. Wine gum and liquorice combined!! Half drop! Half wine gum! The Frankenstein’s monster of the confectionery world.

Dutch Fruit Drop Duo

This has not deterred those desperate for wine gums from only eating half of each sweet. However, this is very risky as it brings with it a high risk of ‘contamination’. Plus, your partner will appreciate it even less when you try to give them the bag of leftovers.

A Final Warning:

So, in closing, always approach Dutch drop with caution. Always identify the type of drop before putting it in your mouth. Always avoid anything with the word ‘zout’ in the title. Only accept drop from trusted family and friends (after you have done a full background check on them).

And finally, never, ever accept drop from a grinning Dutch person. It’s a trap.