Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Apples and oranges

Look closely at this image, click again and you may see what I see. It was taken recently in Eindhoven in the south of The Netherlands a few hours prior to a football match. For me, two things jump out. A state of casual ease coupled with an undercurrent tension.

The abundant draping of orange by a broad section of society for a relatively minor football match (San Marino was the intended victim) is indicative of the nationalistic fervor the Dutch exude. The score was equally excessive,11-0, no prizes for guessing who won.

In Holland everyone wears a uniform, it's usually a, "look at me, I'm not wearing a uniform - uniform". Conformity is king and the 'casual look' is the fashion at court. They have 'oh' so many uniforms. Businessmen are sometimes referred to as "Blue Blazers", wearing cargo pants with suede shoes and god forbid, "Don't ever wear a tie"! Whole platoons of them will be seen, all wearing their uniforms together with 'casual' screamed loudly like a Sargeant Major.

This easy way of being, at first sight, greatly impresses the foreign observer but as truth dawns, you see a tense underlay. The Dutch are relaxed and casual because they have a practical society that takes care of most problems. But a tension comes from an unspoken pressure to be always normal. It's all very tiring. "We are here because we want to be, we are this way because it's a good way to be, we like it, nobody tells us how to be".

Not so unfortunately. There is a vicious collective rumour telling the Dutch how to be Dutch, and it assures them that it's really a way that they choose to be as independent individuals. And they believe this, they believe it so strongly that it can only be the surest form of denial. To be like everyone else and totally independent at the same time - is their greatest paradox.