Created: 02-05-2004
Last update: 02-05-2004

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Old Photos 2

The Netherlands, suburbs and villages

This page continues where Old photos left off, showing those localities where the typical Dutch smallness is best experienced. Needless to say, I hate, fear, and shun them. They are little man-made hells-on-earth, and foreigners (including those from countries with repressive regimes) who want to live in the Netherlands because they feel "free" there, have probably never been outside Amsterdam. This oh so liberated country has charming rural areas where time has stood still and where, consequently, yokels will run pitchforks through anyone who doesn't observe the holy Sabbath. (This is not completely exaggerated; someone who grew up in such an area told me of the time when a farmer on a tractor tried to bulldoze him because he was cycling on a Sunday.)

Such areas are not the ones that marred me for life; their unfreedom is still blatantly visible. The average modern village/suburb - nary a difference, except the latter has more and uglier buildings, bigger shopping centres and a choice of snackbars - is much less obviously repressive. The Dutch pride themselves on their tolerance in the same way as US Americans pride themselves on their freedom of speech, and in both cases, it's eyewash. The Dutch are intrinsically rude and offensive, even when demonstrating their idea of "manners"; what they call "respect" is really fear; their "tolerance" means either indifference or fear of getting hurt if they meddle; they think they own each other, and can run each other's lives; and they have remarked on, that is to say, mis-tolerated, the make of my glasses, the colour of my trousers, the shape of the hood attached to my jacket, the expression on my face, my social life (or lack of it), my posture when cycling, and the way I handle a shopping basket. And it's not just me; when I still worked at the greenhouse, I heard of secondary school pupils checking and approving, or disapproving, the contents of each other's lunchboxes.

Dutch disapproval is not a matter of personal opinion; not in a country which boasts individualism, but in which a person's greatest fear is to stand out. It is social pressure, deliberately applied for lack of something more effective but also more obvious like a gun against the head, so that the person exerting pressure can always get away with it by saying "well, I'm not putting a gun against your head, am I?" but used for the same effect. That this is the desired effect is obvious from the cloggie rage when the intended victim fails to submit; for instance, the remarks I get from cloggies when I don't respond to their "good morning" routine clearly show that they weren't wishing me a good anything to begin with. On sunny days they sit in their front gardens like little tollbooths, demanding tribute from total strangers passing by ("Did you see that? She didn't even stop to say hello") and although they are much too cowardly to openly admit it, the aware observer can see how they are constantly dominating each other, whittling each other down, giving each other the doormat treatment, all under the cloak of guffawy Dutch affability. And nowhere is this repression more strangling than in those fluffy cute villages where no one openly wants to pick fights, but everyone knows where you live.

Suburbs have an added dimension of hellishness; coupled with the village idea of "I know where you live" is the sense of anonymity which comes with living in large concentrations and which encourages vandalism, both as a defiant act of individualism and as opportunism in the sense of "nobody knows I did it because nobody knows I exist". Alongside vandalism, crime also thrives in those beautifully laid-out suburbs. If you want your garden despoiled, your pets tortured by local youths and your house burgled on average once every two years, I recommend living in a respectable Dutch suburb. The houses are in a price range that requires a double income, but no one living there would want to spend the whole day at home anyway; it's amazing how a neat block of houses with trimmed gardens can evoke a prison atmosphere without guards and barred windows. With hate, fear and denial so thick in the air, the Dutch monitor each other even more closely ("I noticed your curtains are never open, what are you hiding?") while employing the famed Dutch tolerance to turn a blind eye to any actual nastiness going on.

(Incidentally, I'm aware that these modes of behaviour are common to any overpopulated area where the inhabitants find it necessary to regulate each other. But the Dutch, while wholeheartedly embracing them, also cherish the notion that they are more open-minded, rational and ethical than other nations, a notion based on the very thin social stratum of intellectuals who are barely tolerated in their own country. I'm also aware of the large but invisible group of unpersons who don't participate in such behaviour, whose only claim to Dutchness is the nationality in their passport, and who risk being thrown out of the country for their lack of cultural integration.)

The modern Western habit of spending the holiday away from home, quite a strange habit if you think about it, may simply be a disguised need to escape Dutchness. The holiday snapshots are in any case included as counterbalance to the exhibition of Dutchness below; as are the almost-eclipse snapshots and the "slightly strange" snapshots. May they comfort and reassure those who wonder if there really is more to life than surviving the neighbours.

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