A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
When people tell you about Holland, what do you think of? There are so many stereotypes about this tiny country that you could name instantly: bikes and brickwork, narrow houses with steep rooves*, pretty fields filled with flowers, clogs, plodders, dikes, canals and the bright colour orange. Let’s face it, stereotypes are great, our culture couldn’t exist without them, and I’m glad we’re all on the same page when it comes to Holland in the eyes of those who haven’t been here. It’s a fantastic fairy wonderland where tall, attractive Dutch people run around in the countryside picking tulips up in their clogs and placing them in adorable wicker baskets attached to their vintage bicycles, I get the story…
But, dear readers, as lovely as the dream is, my mind doesn’t work that way. Holland has changed me, for good or for bad, and I am now, it seems, a far-too rational man. It is not enough to go on believing in these old truths I held so dear. I am in search of a higher truth, a quintessential element that ties all these bizarre facets of culture together. I need to bite from the sweet stroopwafel of reason and fill my tummy with the transfats of roombotter knowledge. There must be something, something darn it, that crystalises this artificial miscellany into one big stamppot of cultural understanding. It has been a long and weary toil, my friends, but I am glad to say my labour has not been in vain!
In my search I have come to a juncture of dire and impossible proportions, a juncture I wish to share with you now, for the sake of history and posterity alike. Friends, romans, countrymen, lend me your ears, my thesis is as follows: it all comes down to rain.
Whoah, even as you read that, I felt a shimmer of revolution peel through my fingers, still attached as they are to my keyboard. Did he just say it rains in Holland? How dare he? That’s sacrilege! We will not have the weather blasphemers hold us to meteorological ransom! How can we go and collect our tulips if the rain is lashing our funny costumes all day? IT SIMPLY CAN’T BE. Tourism will suffer, we won’t get our drying done! What if they cancel Boer Zoekt Vrouw?! You will pay for this, you evil international student. You will pay and you will never see your precious sunlight again.
But I want to break it to you and Holland softly, so that none of us go out and judge this national book by its cover. Let’s go back to the beginning and have a look at those stereotypes we were talking about, trust me, you’ll see:
Bikes: OK, possibly a little spurious to start with, but the alliteration was good in the intro (don’t you think?), so we’re running with it. Bikes are the quickest way to get from A to B in little cobbled laneways in the rain, thus minimising a) your complete saturation upon arrival and b) the turnover of a large number of incredibly expensive shoes.
Brickwork: There are a few reasons for this, but the main one is rain. Wooden houses are prone to rotting with prolonged exposure to rain, especially when you run out of hardwoods. Fire is also a fairly strong reason for making a lot of buildings out of bricks, and from our cavemen days we all know the only reason you would ever really need fire is if it’s raining…
Narrow houses with steep rooves: This speaks for itself. Narrow houses with fewer external walls obviously decrease the total area of each house being covered by rain, similarly decreasing guttering expenditure per house. Steep rooves also accommodate the endless runoff of you guessed it, rain. NB. Dutch people are tall and not wide, and wear pointy hats for the same reasons.
Pretty fields with flowers: My knowledge of botany is admittedly poor, but I’m just going to put it out there that there’s an endemic amount of photosynthesis going on to get those petals look fab. The culprit: rain.
Clogs: A national cover-up, literally… what kind of nation makes shoes out of hardwood to save their feet from slogging through the muddy trenches of history, and then passes them off as some adorable collectors item for tourists in modern times? I know your sober rationality too well to know you make colourful clogs for fun, dutchie.
Plodders, dikes and canals: Just think of these as parts of an elaborate system of gigantic inverse umbrellas used to keep rain off your feet, knees, shoulders, and head, and you from being 5 meters under the North Sea.
The bright colour orange: It’s a long shot, but really, orange isn’t everyone’s favourite colour, and although William of the same name, founder of this great nation, would beg to differ, as well as the protestant liberals who made this colour their own, it doesn’t go particularly well day-to-day with the pasty pallour of those poor natives living under gallons of water each year. The fact is, people like orange because it reminds them of the hues of warmth, fire and dryness, the likes of which can only be seen on the windswept dusky dunes of equatorial deserts. It is not just a national colour, it is a national dream. Frankly, the dutch love it because it is a colour forthrightly antithetical to rain.
So there it is, without further allusions to other ways the Dutch deal with rain, particularly in some licentious districts of Amsterdam where at least a few more of the 50 shades reside, I think you get my point. It rains in Holland, and we wouldn’t be able to thank the Dutch for all their wonderful cultural icons without it!
So goodnight Holland, sweet dreams, and I’ll see you in the awning.
*forgive my antiquated, antipodean spelling, I am but a creature of habit.