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 Liquorice Drop

There is something slightly sadistic about Dutch liquorish (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 liquorish 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 it out 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 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 liquorish 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!

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 liquorish 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.

30 May

Three Dutch Kisses

If you have a Dutch friend it is inevitable that at some point during your friendship they will try to kiss you. It’s a simple fact. They can’t control themselves. However, when this does happen it is important to not get to excited (or scared). It is not necessarily a sign that they have finally given into your animal magnetism and wish to take your friendship to the next level. No. You have probably just encountered the Dutch three kiss rule.

In the Netherlands it is considered quite normal for Dutch people to greet each other with three kisses on the cheek. It is also custom to do the same again when saying good bye. It’s just a friendly way of saying hello and farewell. It’s not limited to the Dutch either. As part of your inburgering process you might be expected to join in too. This can seem rather shocking if you come from a country such as England where shaking hands before the third date is sometimes considered being quite forward. Luckily there are a few unwritten rules to help guide you and stop things becoming too socially awkward.

Who Should I Be Kissing?
Sometimes it is hard to know just how familiar you have to be with someone before you should start kissing them on the cheeks every time you see them. I see my dentist on a regular occasion but should I start kissing him on the cheeks three times before he starts my six month check up? What about the people on the train that I see every day but don’t actually know the names of yet? Should I be working my way down the train carriage, kissing each of them three times on the cheeks as I go? Probably not. It would seem that it is best to only use the three kiss greeting with close friends and family (unless you want to course a scene or be forced to find a new dentist).

But Who Kisses Who?
Depending on how you look at it, it would seem that the ladies have drawn the short straw when it comes to cheek kissing. They are expected to kiss and get kissed by everyone. Men, women, children… house hold pets if they are really unlucky. However, men are only expected to cheek kiss women. This seems to be an unwritten rule that they might have had some involvement in the writing of (if it had been written down).

Real vs. Fake
There is some debate over whether the kisses given should be real kisses or fake air kisses. There seem to be variations on the rule. However, all parties involved tend to agree that it is not good etiquette to lick your lips and proceed to make the other person cheeks very wet.

Left, Right, Left or Right, Left, Right?
It is a good idea to have some kind of signal worked out beforehand for who is going to go which way first. Get it wrong and there is a high risk that your friendship will suddenly become far more intimate than before or (if at a family gathering) you will never hear the end of the story about the time you tried to make out with your Grandmother (Oma).

Kissing Like An Expat
Equally confusing is what happens when neither of you are Dutch. Do you still follow the Dutch three kiss rule or do the greeting rules of your own country apply? What if you are both from different countries with different rules? What then? Which rule overrides which? One kiss? Two kisses? Three? Four?! FIVE??!!

And what about the extremely awkward moments where one of you goes in for a kiss but the other goes in for a hug (and you end up accidently kissing their neck) or a handshake (and you end up randomly kissing the air in front of their face)?

And even the Dutch don’t know what to do sometimes. It can be very confusing. What are you supposed to do as a Dutch person when faced with a group of expats? Kiss? Hug? Shake hands? Nod? Give them a friendly punch on the arm? Rub noses? The whole thing can be very distressing.

Birthday Cheek Kissing
If you are attending someone’s birthday it is often expected split up the word ‘gefeliciteerd’ while kissing them on the cheek three times as if attempting some kind of ventriloquist trick.

Ge… *kiss* …felic… *kiss* …iteerd *kiss*

And finally… A Word of Warning
Be careful when dealing with the elderly. They have become extremely cheeky in their old age and will try to bend the rules of the three kiss system. They have gone rouge.

Maybe you notice that their first cheek kiss was dangerously close to the corner of your mouth. It could have been an accident. Maybe their eye sight is not so good any more. So you take extra precaution on the second kiss and try to steer them more towards the cheek area with an extra turn of your head. However, they seem to resist your attempts and the second kiss lands right on the corner of your mouth. You feel part of their lips on yours! With a sudden horror you realize there is still one more kiss to go and it was not an accident. They are zeroing in, getting closer and closer. They are actually attempting to kiss you! There is only one terrifying question that fills your mind at that point. What do I do? What do I do?!

For that I have no answer. You are on your own!

23 May
Cycling Like a Dutchman

This cartoon first appeared in the May/June edition of DUTCH:The Magazine, a bi-monthly magazine for Dutch descendants and expats living in Canada.

16 May

Growing up in Holland

On my way back from having a few beers with friends I decided to pass by my old Amsterdam apartment. I’d been curious to see it again for a while.

As I cycled through the old neighbourhood and saw that much of the area had been torn down, rebuilt and renovated I suddenly felt myself getting nervous that my old apartment might no longer be there. What if it was gone?

But it was still there, looking as old and run down as ever. I was surprised by the level of nostalgia that hit me upon seeing it. I certainly had not lived there for long. Only three months in fact, back when I first arrived in the country 13 years ago.

It had not been an amazing apartment either. In fact it was badly run down and in desperate need of repair even back then but seeing it again made me feel happy as a flood of memories came back.

As I cycle back to the station I began to looked around me and suddenly noticed just how much Amsterdam had changed. There were parts that I couldn’t even remember how they used to look and some that I was happy to see had not changed at all.

Once again I was surprised by the nostalgia that this made me feel. Not because the nostalgia itself felt strange but because, in that moment, I suddenly felt more nostalgia here, in this city I had moved to when I was 21, than I sometimes feel when I return to my home country of England.

At first I wondered why I would feel this way but it did not take long for the answer to come to me.

I was 21 when I moved to Holland. I had not yet fully worked out who I was and what I was going to do with my life. I was taking my first steps of independence in a country I didn’t even know and of course I made a few mistakes and had to find my way.

I am 35 now. I have a wife and a child of my own. My goal and meaning in life are clear now.

I might have grown up in England but I ‘grew up’ in Holland. I became my own person in Holland. I think that tonight I suddenly realized, in some ways, Holland is now more my home than England. And I’m strangely ok with that.

Not because I have anything against England or that it has less of a place in my heart. It will always be my true home, I will always love it and I will always miss my parents. But Holland is the place where I really figured out who I am and grew into the person I am now.

And that is why the places along that personal journey, like that old run down apartment that I only lived in for those first three months feel so important to me.

That is why I felt so happy to see the old place still standing and looking as run down as ever.


This post was originally written sentence by sentence on Twitter. Only a few alterations and fixes have been made. At the time I was thinking about writing it down on paper first to get it just right but I knew that I had to get it committed somewhere (twitter) before I tried to put too much thought into it and analyse what I was feeling. Thanks for reading. I know it’s a big departure from my normal writing.