Saturday, February 11, 2012

They're Not Like Us, You Know ...

The Dutch, as opposed to the Belgians, are as a general rule sedentary by nature, leaving their putrid reeking polders to spread dismay and destruction amongst the neighbours only between the months of February and November. Their preferred means of locomotion are the camping car and the caravan, to the despair of those who wish simply to be able to drive from point A to their destination at point B: a convoy of Low Country caravans is certainly one of Nature's more impressive sights, but coming upon the wrong end of one on a twisty route nationale is hardly an uplifting experience. Even Genghis Khan might be deterred.

They are territorial and return religiously, year after year, to the same camp-sites - always those with the best view, which is odd given that they don't seem to enjoy it and in fact go to great lengths to avoid it, or to turn it into a rubbish tip. It has been known to happen that, during their absence, these have been taken over by the native campers: in such cases the Dutch become slyly passive-aggressive, and after a few days of petty sabotage and mean-spirited public drunkenness the presumptuous usurpers soon leave.

Sharlotka - should you be wondering
They tend to be large, blond, well-fed and smug, and their children as unpleasant as those anywhere else in the world: like the English they are susceptible to the watery rays of the feeble sun in the Nord Pas-du-Calais, and so are often sunburnt. In supermarkets they quickly become the dominant species, displacing all others and hogging the shopping trolleys as they lay waste to the rayon vin et alcools.

Agriculture is virtually unknown: in the place of fruit and vegetables they have developed technological marvels of tasteless plastic or cotton substitutes which are exported around Europe, as they have the advantage of never going rotten, no matter how long they lie at the bottom of the vegetable drawer. Their "tomatoes" are considered a particular success, having a bright cheery red colour but neither taste, scent, nor texture. They may safely be eaten, but with no great pleasure.

Although amongst other Protestant virtues the Dutch are thrifty they are not especially miserly, which leads one to wonder as to the origin of the phrase "going Dutch". Enlightened etymologists ascribe it to their sexual habits, which we'll not explore further, this being family entertainment. Basically both parties, even consenting, are supposed to pay for the privilege, which is remarkably egalitarian. The cash thus raised supposedly goes into trust funds for the eventual offspring, but is often spent on schnapps.

The Dutch are not considered comestible, mainly because of the disagreable taste which mixes tulips, pig-shit (the national industry), and the foetid water of the stagnant canals which constitute 90% of the country. This being said, there are those who affirm that the Dutch of Rotterdam are somewhat finer.

Is there, do you think, a market for anthropolophagic travel books? I feel one trying to come out. Just wait until I get on to the Germans.

And while we're more or less on the subject, there's been some interesting cross-cultural fertilisation going on over the last 25 years. One of the staple "entertainments" around here is Guignol, the traditional and very lyonnais version of Punch & Judy. Like its British counterpart, it lets kids get all excited and bothered at the sight of small people hitting one another on the heads with big sticks whilst uttering falsetto shrieks: the parents sit glumly in a stuffy tent through all this and wonder why the only drinks option is warm beer.

The interesting part is that it has now become, for some reason, Guignol and Winnie-the-Pooh. I really cannot figure that one out. Maybe French children just like seeing fluffy toys get beaten.

Headed off to Sorhéa at Lyon to get a bit of work done, and as I was sitting there doing it my phone rang. Rather to my surprise, someone in the lab - on hearing the dulcet Dalek "exterminate!" tones - turned round and said "oh, you like Dr Who too? I've tried to explain it, but no-one seems to understand". So apart from apparently having a policy of hiring only left-handers (something you notice in meetings, when everyone"s taking notes) they also hire sad geeks.

Anyway, Saturday at the market and even more frigid, if possible, than last weelend. It made for a quick trip around: there was virtually no-one outside - not surprising, most vegetables are probably frozen right now, apart from our old friend the leek, and possibly the parsnip - which meant a rapid pass through the inside for clementines and a few bits of greenery before heading off for the usual post-acopalypse glass with Bryan.

Then, of course, there was all the fun of getting home. I hit the voie rapide and sneered at all the poor twits trapped in a 10-km backup to get onto the autoroute for points north, carried on barrelling along and of course, it's always after the last possible escape point that they stick the little vans with the helpful signs saying "bouchon". (Which is indeed a cork, or if you happen to be in Lyon a restaurant, but also means traffic jam)

So ten minutes later, spent inching along in a seething mass of Dutch and Parisians, I made it to the Montmelian exit and took the nationale: I'm not certain that that was a good idea because I fairly quickly caught up with some old git in an Aixam who was doing all of 50 kph and no chance of overtaking him because of all the oncoming traffic, mostly - I assume - people who'd come down from the ski stations and who had - understandably - decided not to risk it on the autoroute.

My blood pressure was getting up when I finally made it back to the house, so it was probably a Good Thing that I'd bough some diots just before leaving the market: they fairly quickly got stuck in a frying pan with some sliced onion, carrots, herbs and white wine and left to simmer whilst I unpacked everything else from the car. They were just starting to get ripe when Margo turned up with Jeremy, who proceeded to hoover one up and stick it down the middle of a hunk of baguette (do not ask how he made the hole for it to go in, you really do not want to know and I can tell you it's not a pretty sight) for the Savoyard equivalent of a hot-dog.

All in all not the best of days because the Western Digital hard drive that has all the TV series on it decided to go titsup, which leaves us with unrecoverable unwatched episodes of various bits'n'pieces, then I dozed off in the comfy chair (diot overload) with a glass of wine wedged between my thighs and the cat decided that there would be a nice place to sleep. As it was, until she rearranged herself, dribbling red wine all down my legs.

Some days, one just should not get out of bed. I told myself that as I was heading in to Chambéry this morning: maybe next time I'll listen to my wiser self.

PS - for a more objective view of our Dutch friends, go look at this.


  1. Is there, do you think, a market for anthropolophagic travel books?
    I believe that Roald Dahl was there ahead of you in 'The BFG'.

    Some days, one just should not get out of bed.
    Can you persuade Margo to bring you wine there?

  2. Given that he wont bring me my morning coffee while I'm still in bed I wont be taking him his wine up to the bedroom on those days he stays in bed.