As Punch Bowl’s foreign correspondent, I feel that it is my duty to garner information on foreign nations and relay this information back to our esteemed readers. I’m going to be studying abroad from now until sometime in June, and I hope to be able to visit many countries in and around Europe. This column is the first in what I hope will be a series of pieces that attempt to encapsulate in a few hundred words the history and culture of an entire nation, as well as offer my opinions and practical advice.
I am unsure of exactly what I will offer that, say, guides from “Let’s Go” or “Lonely Planet” wouldn’t. Rick Steves’ highly informative “Europe through the Back Door,” gives rather too much information. Suffice it to say that if Rick Steves finds that he needs to enjoy “Europe through the Back Door,” to be interested, I, as a first-time traveler, will be penetrating its wonders in an equally enjoyable, if less orthodox manner.
I began my odyssey in mid-September in the beautiful Netherlands. Though I played hours of Fodor’s Mortal Kombat Guide to Europe in preparation for my trip here, I was pleased to find that the tyrannical Shao Khan and his armies have been ousted, and the region is quite safe and pleasant. In his place are droves of happy school children and Johnny Cages running duty-free shops by the airport.
In considering the differences between American and Dutch culture, I am first struck by how many things that are gay to Americans appear to make no particular statement about sexual orientation to the Dutch. For instance: if two straight guys want to get somewhere by bicycle in America, you’d need two bikes. Not so in the Netherlands. One of the sojourners simply hops on the rear rack, grabs firm hold of his fellow’s waist, and off they go. Also, straight Dutch guys seem absolutely comfortable enjoying techno music and smoking, both activities that would definitely trigger the American gaydar, not to mention the restrictive leather masks. How do they see in those things? I shouldn’t judge. They probably have eye-slits somewhere.
Another important feature of the Netherlands of which the tourist must be aware is pervasive multilingualism: Dutch, English, German, French, Frisian, Klingon, and Elvish are all spoken in the Netherlands with a great deal of frequency. The linguistic diversity, however, is only a symptom of a broader cultural diversity. The Netherlands is a rich mélange of hookers, potheads, dykes, flying ghost ship captains, and mounted archers (both sexual and military connotations). And yet they all live together in peace and harmony. Is there, perhaps, a lesson to be learned from this? No…that question was rhetorical.
In addition to the pleasures of Dutch culture, the visitor must consider the wealth of artistic and intellectual attractions that the Netherlands offer: museums dedicated to Vermeer, Van Gogh, and deviant sexual acts all offer profound insight into the Dutch artistic experience. Philosophers are sure to be inspired by the Netherlands, as it was home to Erasmus of Rotterdam, Spinoza, and Erasmus of Hertogenbosch.
In conclusion, whether judged by quality of its cheese, efficiency of windmills, profusion of tulips, or general moral laxity, the Netherlands is foremost among our world’s nations. I would highly recommend it to anyone looking to travel. In the words of Scorpion, the Netherlands’ most Dutch ninja, “GET OVER HERE!”