A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
So you’re new to Leiden.
If you’re anything like most people who work their way here, you probably haven’t done much in the way of sleeping. Your local supermarket knowledge is on the increase, your new bike has become a pivotal part of your life, and you’ve been to Einstein’s more times than you can either hope to remember or admit. At the supermarket, you’re probably getting to know that roombotter stroopwafels are taking over your life. On your bike, you’ve probably been yelled at once or twice. At Einstein’s, you obviously know that Wednesday night is international student night, but one thing you surely don’t understand, just like me, is the obsession of the local Dutch men with hair-gel.
Now some of you may be thinking what is a young man like me doing commenting on other men’s hair? Surely what the Dutch get up to in front of the mirrors in their mysterious fraternity houses is up to them? Some of you, dare I say it, are probably entirely OK with the “wet mop” look on men in pubs and clubs, where you may cite its shine, its formation, or the way it frames a man’s face to show that it’s really not that bad. From the outset, I have no motive other than a peaceful one. I am just trying to bring people together; to try and get over this hurdle and make a cross-cultural statement. If I don’t, who else will start this conversation? My mission here my friends is not to critique but to merely offer some tips, for the benefits of those who have not yet taken their stand in the witness box, on how to deal with bad Dutch hair:
1. Don’t laugh.
It’s important that even though you may have just been introduced to Japp, and his hair looks like he just walked his leather jacket out of an American diner in the 1960s, that you keep a straight face. The Dutch are not really not OK with unsolicited judgement on their appearance (who is?), and you’ll find it even more awkward if you laugh, because you will probably have to explain yourself. Let me break it down for you very simply:
Japp: Pleased to meet you *wink*
You: *chuckle* (at bad hair)
Japp: *chuckle* Actually, what are we laughing about?
You: *tumbleweed* *awkwardturtle*
2. Don’t ask about it.
For some reason, it is incredibly difficult to engage in a debate about hairstyling with a Dutchman. I have tried at least twice, and found inroads incredibly hard to come by. For one reason or another, the Dutch treat this debate, unlike their hair itself, as a non-issue. Are they embarrassed by their national tradition? No. Are they concious that their hair looks as if they have just drawn it out of a canal? No. They are seemingly completely oblivious to any form of aesthetic wrongdoing. Any attempt at reform is considered scandalous: “Girls would think I am some kind of junkie if I didn’t wear gel” is a standard response. It is definitely best not to mention it, trust in the fact that as rational Dutch men, these guys have considered every possible variable and every possible outcome of their actions, and have come down on the side of the gel.
3. See past it.
Although it can be difficult to separate your feelings about someone from the sheer ridiculousness of their hair, you may in fact find out that behind the oily spaghetti, there is a really interesting and well-meaning person. You may not be able to talk to them about everything (including their haircut), but give them time to open up, and you may get into their psyche a bit more, their Dutch love of having a certain order in their life, their football idols, the TV they watch. Maybe in this crazy whirlwind of information, you will be able to pick out what motivates them to make their hair so bizarrely unfashionable.
The frankly obscene amount of hair gel that young men go in for in Holland is something that can only be seen to be believed. The struggle will indeed go on, but acceptance is the first step. I hope that you can take something away from these tips and apply them in your everyday dealings with the Dutch, wherever you may be. Let’s face it, it’s just not that easy to brush off…
Since writing this, Eric has determined to apply gel to his hair regularly.