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Last week hundreds of Dutch football supporters landed in Brazil, where they swiftly transformed an entire campsite into an “Orange Fortress.” But what do the Brazilians, and indeed other foreigners, really think about the Dutch?
Thanks to the humorous observations and anecdotes penned by foreigners living in the Netherlands in best-selling guides, such as The Undutchables, almost everyone is familiar with some of the more stereotypical Dutch traits: The Dutch are straightforward (read – they say what they mean!), they are notoriously difficult to part from their cash, and they don’t appreciate unannounced visitors, for example. But if you want to gain a much deeper insight into what foreigners really think of the Dutch, both now and through the ages, then it’s better to peruse the theses of scientists, such as Madeleine van Strien-Chardonneau and Margarethe of Ackeren, who scoured French travel journals from the eighteenth-century, and German Romantic literature from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries respectively, for a better understanding.
What is particularly striking, is that the descriptions of eighteenth-century Holland contained in the French travel journals don’t differ much from today: the writers consistently comment on the pretty Dutch houses, clean streets, convivial atmosphere, and the Dutch care and compassion for the poor and infirm. Their descriptions of typical Dutch food are also recognisable: they describe it as rich and varied, but neither exceptional nor especially well prepared. The articles also scrutinise Dutch people themselves. Indeed, French travellers noted a Dutch fondness for alcohol and tobacco, and considered them less impassioned than themselves. On the positive side, they did find Dutch people fairly pragmatic, modest and homely!
Eighteenth and nineteenth century German literature was less kind and routinely depicted the Dutch as set in their ways and narrow minded. This should, however, be placed in the proper historical context, as after the prosperity of the seventeenth century, the Netherlands was somewhat in decline, and the Italian romanticism that was very much in vogue elsewhere, thus eluded the Dutch. Yet it was not all doom and gloom in the Netherlands, and many German writers openly marvelled at the apparent Dutch domestic bliss, their tenderness towards their children, their penchant for tea, their beautiful gardens bristling with colourful tulips, as well as their economic and social security.
And both the French travel journals and German literature pick up on the community spirit of Dutch society, where equality, consideration for others, personal freedom, in addition to ‘schuitje varen, theetje drinken’ (‘sailing boats, tea drinking’ – title of an old Dutch children’s song) are absolutely central.
Prefer to read this article in Dutch? Then why not visit our sister blog, Heimwee.info, specifically intended for Dutch emigrants abroad?