The soccer game between Germany and the Netherlands has just started, so I am going to write a bit about how I have experienced those two countries, that I both like and dislike. Maybe this will help me who to root for. The British commentor just dryly stated: “They absolutely hate each other.”
I don’t think that is entirely true. The relationship between the two countries is is more of a love-hate relationship: The Germans love the Dutch (in a slightly condescening way) and the Dutch love the Germans (in a slightly admiring way).
It is probably no surprise that the Dutch do not especially like a country who invaded them and caused the terrible 1945 hunger winter. On the other hand, it is also a little annoying how attached they are to their dislike towards the Germans. People here often mistake me for being German, and it is absolutely stunning to me how embarrassed they are if they find out that I am not. This means that they apparently think it is shameful to be German and they feel they have deeply offended me.
The Dutch, on the other hand, love the Dutch, actually come for their summer holidays to the Netherlands (which noone else, I think, would even think of) and generally think the Netherlands is a paradise of tolerance and relaxedness.
Having lived in Germany for three years and in the Netherlands for two, I find it interesting to think about the differences between the two countries. I notice that it is a little easier for me to support Germany than the Netherlands in the European Cup; perhaps because I was in Germany during the last World Cup. But maybe it is also that, on the whole, living in Germany was a somewhat more pleasant experience than living in the Netherlands.
What do I really perceive as the biggest difference between the two countries?
1. Nationalism and righteousness:
The Dutch are much more nationalistic than the Germans, of course. Small wonder. They are extremely proud of everything Dutch; they celebrate their national holidays religiously. Some Dutch people earnestly claim that Santa Claus is a Dutch invention.
They also think they have all the right to hate Germans; I understand that for the older generation, but I find it ridiculous if someone my age dislikes someone my age because of their nationality.
The Dutch have a very active and aggressive right-wing party, whose leader does one outrageous thing after the other, like installing a website where Dutch can complain about Eastern European immigrants. The Dutch call the foreigners ‘allochthonen’, a word so ugly that it makes me want to leave this place immediately.
Going to a Dutch class, I was absolutely amazed how the textbooks tried to teach us ‘proper Dutch behaviour’, teaching us that we foreigners go to the doctor too often, and that 39 degrees of fever is not reason to exploit the Dutch health care system.
In Germany, on the other hand, the influence on right wing politicians on the society in absolutely minor compared to every other European country I know well. Newspapers are extremely sensible and careful in what they say.
I find it a huge relief to read the mostly intelligent and interesting German newspapers, compared to the newspapers in my own country or even in Holland, Sweden or the UK.
2 Rules vs. personal relationships
The Germans are crazy about rules. They love almost nothing like a good rule, and they will not allow any exception, even if it hurts them as much as the rulebreaker. This can be extremely annoying.
The Dutch, on the other hand, are more relaxed. Too relaxed, perhaps.
Leaving my institute Germany I had to get about 30 signatures from totally obscure offices, like testifying I had returned all used radioactive material. Of course, noone in my field or my institute would ever dream of using radioactive material for anything.
Arriving in Holland from Germany, I was quite shocked. Garbage is lying around on the street everywhere (and not because of the foreigners; this is because of the sea gulls ripping open the garbage and the fact that the Dutch don’t manage to install garbage containers). Things didn’t work. I did not get an office for a few months.
In Holland apparently personal relationships are more important than rules, something I did not expect so far North. For everything you need a personal appointment which I found total annoying. For example, to get a bank account in Holland, you let some bank employee stare into your eyes wihtout blinking for 20 minutes and tell you every detail about your account you never wanted to know.
The humour in Holland is very dry and mainly consists of complaining and critizicing each other in a sharp and funny way. It is underlaid with pessismism. Of course, the Dutch team will play extremely well and still lose. Of course, all big projects will spectacularly fail.
The German humour is, of course, more organized and only rarely occurs spontaneously. Organized humor falls into three categories.
- Failed humour: trying to make fun of someone and just being spectacularly rude. Usually happens at office parties when someone tries to give a witty speech.
- Stupid humour: childish jokes about sex, puking, alcohol, minorities. This is the usual TV comedy. Can be funny.
- Making fun of themselves: there is a entire subcategory of German comedy making fun of being German, which is of course indeed quite funny. See here for my favourite example, which is actually from the US.
Both the Germans and the Dutch are convinced that the Dutch are more relaxed. I am not sure if that is true. The Dutch do seem more relaxed at first sight, more social. The Dutch are supposedly extremely tolerant, too.
But somehow, my feeling is that the Dutch are in the end more closed-minded than the Germans. Their tolerance does not mean that they accept foreigners or gays more than other countries too. It just means that they leave them alone as long as they do not bother them. This is already great, I know, and I think many more countries should be more like Holland.
However, it is wrong to think that the Duch have less prejudices than other countries. Perhaps they even have more, somehow protected by the knowledge that their country is tolerant by definition.
It is hard to explain since this is just a feeling and maybe very random, based on the people I got to know. I found the Germans to be more welcoming to foreigners and more curious about them. I also found just somehow the atmosphere more peaceful in Germany than in Holland. In Holland, you can get stared at very rudely and mockingly if someone decides to dislike your face or finds something that you do odd. In Germany, somehow, people seem to have better things to do than staring. Maybe there is less social control in Germany. Somehow, I feel, there is more space there, and I miss this.
And now the game starts! I think I am hoping for a draw. But with some goals, please.