Tuesday, July 13, 2004

That's Dutch, Not Deutsch

When you're in the Netherlands, it is wise not to compare the Dutch with the Germans.

At a party in Holland on Saturday, while overly impressed with my own analysis, I told my hosts that the Dutch neatly combined the efficiency of the Germans, with a tolerance for nonconformity, and the self-deprecating humor of the British. As evidence, I cited that the Dutch trains ran on time past sidings sprayed with colorful graffitti, while conductors joked with the passengers.

I then remarked that I could understand a lot of Dutch based on my six years of studying German. With that last comment, I may have hit a nerve with my Dutch hosts.

"But we're nothing like the Germans," the Dutch responded, somewhat offended. A few countered that the Dutch language was more like a dialect of English. It is indeed true that if you count to thirty in Dutch, it almost sounds as if you're speaking old English.

So why do the Dutch resist comparison to the Germans? The reason may stem from the Second World War. Visiting the Dutch Resistance Museum last month, I learned that the German occupation army originally expected a warmer welcome from their Dutch cousins. However, while many Dutch collaborated, most did not. The Queen escaped the Netherlands and became a focal point of resistance. As the Dutch increasingly defied the occupation, the Germans became more and more brutal in suppressing the resistance. At the end of the war, the Allied liberation of the Netherlands was as festive and popular as that of France.

My friend, Gijs, had a grandfather who sheltered shot-down Allied airmen during the German occupation. Many Dutch proudly tell stories of their family's active resistance.

It's another reason why I like the Dutch and I love the Netherlands.

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