Ziet mijn zwerver er biog in?

The answer, if you are in Holland, is unfortunately yes, your bum does look big in this. Huge, possibly.

Here in the world capital of telling it like it is, there is almost no garment in which you bum doesn’t look big, to be honest, and there is no softening of the blow when they tell you. Assertiveness is to the Dutch is what wayward charm is to the Italians and industriousness is to the Germans. It probably comes from years of saddle sores, telling the sea what it can do with itself, and putting up with the worst food on the Continent. 

‘Was that stampottI made for your dinner delicious, Luuk?’

‘No, mamma, it was complete shite. It is not your fault that you are an awful cook, but I am sure that you can improve with practise. And, of course, you must. Also, while we are on the subject, you are running to fat, and could do with losing some weight’.

‘You are right, Luuk’

And on it goes.

For many reasons, Holland turned out to be the perfect country to spend a few days in a few weeks before Brexit, whatever that word means these days. Where the suits in Brussels are ramping up the pressure by a cascade of passive aggressive tweets, the Dutch just say what they really think to be the truth.

‘It’s a club,’ someone said to me in a bar in Scheveningen the other night. ‘You can join; then you can leave. No one will die. It is a decision that we don’t really understand, but it doesn’t suddenly make you the bad guys. We were friends before, and we will be friends after,’

It was late, and the barman took up the theme.

‘You are a little bit mad, but you are a good country, and you do good things. You always have. Not so very bad at all.’ I found myself praying that he didn’t produce, as people tended to when extolling the virtues of Britain, a list of ‘good things’ that we did that included the Beatles, Manchester United or Monty Python.

But somehow, I also found all this very comforting, and there is no other country in the Union in which I would rather spend time right now. Some of the others ramp up the emotion, or lecture, or gently prepare to shaft us. A few months after the vote, a retired Luxemburg school-teacher stood in a bar in the town square in Juncker’s home town of Redanges and told me, (ironically with the military graveyard just behind him), that our decision to leave had left us little better than war criminals. A month or so later at a trade show in Frankfurt, a Belgian bemoaned our ‘irrational and ungovernable country’. (That would be the Belgium that hasn’t really had a functioning government since the dawn of time). On the eve of the vote, Donald Tusk had said in all seriousness that if we left, we would be responsible for destabilising world peace. Verhofstadt says anything at all for a headline, most of it spiteful.

No one is saying that we aren’t muppets. We may be a temporary pain in the backside, and our actions may be for the moment governed by people who really don’t know what they want, or what they can reasonably have, but, as far as I know, we haven’t suddenly twinned with North Korea or Iran. For a start, I’m not sure either of them have a £13.9 billion annual overseas aid budget. Delinquents we may be, but not pariahs.

The Dutch, whose refreshing politics are so much less adversarial than our own, are maybe like this because they suffered more than any other country in the Continent during World War 2. The memory of the Rotterdam fireballs, the Westerbork Transit Camp, the stolen economy and all that human-induced hardship is around every corner. 

That’s why they’re allowed to tell me that my bum looks big in this whenever they like.


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