Leave My Stroopwafel Alone: On Being a Dutchie Abroad

One of the perks of hanging out with non-Dutch people is introducing them to our under-appreciated food. Granted, Dutch cuisine is unlikely to transform the world’s culinary landscape anytime soon, but we do have some good grub to offer, especially in the sweets and snacks department. I recall bringing in some stroopwafels (biscuits) to the office where I was working at the time to cheer up my colleagues during a particularly dreary winter. And then something odd happened.

“I’ve heard about these,” the Guy From Accounts said. “You’re supposed to put them on top of your teacup so the caramel melts.”
“I’ve never seen anyone do that,” I said.

My colleague was joined by several other coworkers who ensured me that this was indeed the correct way to consume stroopwafels and proceeded to demonstrate the benefits of this approach. I sat back and watched, knowing why Dutch people don’t actually do this: the hot tea causes your biscuit to go limp and fall into your beverage, turning it into an undrinkable and inedible mug of mush. Which is exactly what happened.

It’s rather disturbing to hear people explain to you how your culture works. Sure, stroopwafels are (though massively important) hardly on a par with politics and religion. But the stroopwafel-eating-situation did make me think about cultural myths, and how prejudice, however innocent, shapes the way we view other cultures and their representatives.

Therefore, for the benefit of everyone, allow me to debunk some common Dutch myths. You may thank me later.

1. You Do Drugs. A Lot. All of You
For many, my country is today’s Sodom and Gomorrah: a place where getting high is as normal as drinking your morning coffee. Depending on the person who’s telling me this, this is either a very good or a very bad thing.

Hate to break the news, but I’ve been offered (and have declined) drugs more often while travelling abroad than while hanging out in the Netherlands. Drugs, particularly cannabis, are highly visible in the Netherlands because we have a habit of selling them in designated shops. In most other countries, everyone knows a friend of a friend who can get you what you want. Same principle, different implementation. I actually prefer the Dutch approach because I’ve been told it beats meeting people in parking lots, in the rain, to get your hands on some mediocre herbs that turn out to be oregano.

2. You’re a Bunch of Rude Assholes
“You’re all so rude!” foreigners will helpfully tell me. They’re not entirely wrong. The Dutch’s favoured direct approach can seem offensive if you’re not used to it. And to be honest, I’ve come to appreciate the British fetishization of politeness. At least no one in the UK will tell you that your beloved new dress makes your ass look massive, as Dutch people are prone to do. Unless you’re a celebrity and your ass is on the cover of Heat.

That said, there’s an upside to Dutch rudeness. Particularly in cities like Amsterdam, being picked on means that people like you. For native Amsterdammers, its totally normal to tell a friend that you’re delighted to “see their ugly face again”. If you’re on the receiving end of this remark, and the person you’re looking at is smiling, rejoice. You’ve just been accepted as one of the guys (or gals).

3. You All Speak English
It’s true, most Dutch people speak English (and perhaps one or two other languages), unless they’re very old or very young. I’ve often been praised for my ability to communicate with non-Dutch speakers, and it’s much appreciated, but let’s be honest: it’s a necessity. For whatever reason no one bothers to learn Dutch, so we need to learn other languages if we want to get anything done.

Although our English tends to be better than other people’s Dutch, don’t overestimate us. Most Dutch people have a basic grasp of English but will revert, as people across the globe are bound to do, to pointing and shouting whenever their vocabulary lets them down. And contrary to our reputation of rudeness, most Dutch people are anxious when attempting to speak English, so praise us as often as you can.

4. Your Food Is Shite
Coming from a British person, this comment always makes me retort with the words pot, kettle and mirror. Dutch food can indeed be boring or downright awful (salted raw herring with chopped raw onions, anyone?). But it’s not more awful that any other country’s awful food. The sight of someone eating chips with gravy and mushy peas actually makes me gag.

That said, some of our food is okay if not downright yummy. One of my friends at uni developed a severe poffertjes (“puffies”) addiction and got through a bag of these mini-pancakes a day. Other sweet treats (tompoezen, slagroomtaart, appeltaart, and aforementioned stroopwafels) are also worth a try. Skip drop (I’ve never met a non-Dutch person who enjoyed the sticky black gunk) and try some patat with mayonaise and a kroket with mustard instead. Bliss.

5. You Ride Bicycles
We do. Sometimes aggressively so, and I apologise. You’ve not been to Amsterdam if you haven’t nearly (or actually) been run over, then shouted at, by an infuriated local. Generally though, we do cycling well, partially because our government gives cyclists their own cycling lanes and traffic lights. And our country is as flat as a pancake, which helps.

The presence of decent cycling conditions means Dutch people find foreigners on bicycles a funny, if not endearing, sight. We only wear helmets when we’re riding a mountainbike (if a bus decides to crush you, it will do so whether you wear a helmet or not), we don’t tend to bother with fluorescent jackets, and lights are (though a legal requirement) widely considered optional. We’re generally delighted that other nations have decided to adopt our cycling habits in the name of saving the planet and improving public health, but we like to feel smug about your amateurish execution.

I could go on, but make no mistake about this: I still love you. Contrary to fellow Dutchies who bring a three-week supply of home-cooked food in their campervan freezer when they go on holiday (yes, some people actually do this), I find cultural differences intriguing and entertaining. But before I go, there’s one thing I need to get off my chest. Don’t put your stroopwafel on your teacup. It’s wrong. Wolf it down in three bites, then have another one, like a normal person. Thank you very much.

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