Poor Princess Maxima.
First she was named for a Nissan, then she married Dutch Crown Prince Willem Alexander and had a smile surgically implanted on her face.
Now she's gone and said "de nederlandse identiteit bestaat niet," or, "the Dutch identity doesn't exist," _ a remark that's got the country in an uproar.
Well, let's not overblow things. A very few people, mostly Royal House fans, have their panties in a bunch. A slightly wider group think it was a strange or stupid thing to say, and the media have been milking the story for a week now.
Most Dutch people I know have the same initial reaction: 'who does she think she is? telling us there's no such thing as Dutch identity'
Well, Maxima is, of course, a foreigner: she was born in Argentina.
What she probably meant is that this is a multicultural society, with recent immigrants from many places mixing together with 'native' Dutch (native as in Germanic/Scandinavian/Frisian/Spanish/Celt/Pict/Gaullic/Roman) _ who themselves are divided into many categories (Rich/Poor _ Catholic/Protestant/Secular _ Homosexual/Heterosexual _ Randstand/Countryside _ politically right or left: SGP/PVV/VVD/CDA/D66/PvdA/SP/GL/PvdD _ etc., etc.).
So it's impossible to pin down 'identity.' Actually, most universities these days have entire courses devoted to this kind of stuff. A lot of philosophers, especially French ones, are much-talked about. Derrida, Foucault and the ilk.
The trouble is, if you start talking that way, then people quickly point out what an intellectual, privileged, and generally elite viewpoint that is.
Getting back to basics, it's as easy to say what's Dutch as it is to say what's French.
(photo:eMotionBlogster. Maxima with some hoity-toity Dutch nobel who has less work dying her hair).
(bad hair day)
According to newspaper Algemeen Dagblad, the Dutch personality is:
"Thifty; with the famed trader's mentality; a tendency to be pedantic, lecturing with one finger in the air; a lack of respect for authority; and speaking plainly and directly." That's summed up by Thomas von der Dunk, 'culture historian and publicist.'
I like Von der Dunk (the rest of his argument is more subtle) but I disagree with him about the Dutch not respecting authority _ I think hoi polloi in the Netherlands obey institutional power very easily. In my opinion, the Dutch love rules, and trust their government way too much.
But of course, those are generalizations, just like all of Von der Dunks' generalizations. They are true of some Dutch, maybe of many, but certainly not of half, let alone all of them.
If we're going to call this "the Dutch identity," why don't we just throw in all the rest of the cliches, including cheese, clogs, bikes, dikes and windmills, as long as we're at it?
The reality is that, on reflection, Maxima was totally right.
Take Von der Dunk, for instance. I assume that he's 'white,' but he's certainly not immune to multicultural influences: Not many Dutch named their kids 'Thomas' before WWII; Von is German ("van Duytschen bloet," he); and 'der Dunk' _ well, my Dutch friends could probably explain it to me, but I think it points at some dialect, since 'Donk' is far more common.
Maybe he comes from a wealthy family, but I bet he's voting left, given the rest of his arguments made in Algemeen Dagblad, and non-religious.
He can feel free to correct me if I'm wrong. But what I'm getting at is that everybody comes from *somewhere*.
All Maxima really demonstrated is that this country is a little high strung about its identity right now; and she walked right into the tripwire.
If she had said _ "all Dutch should share the ethos that made this country one of the richest and most powerful in the world in the 1600s. Long live the VOC (Far East Indies Company) spirit!" _ a lot of people would have jumped down her throat too.
Namely, a lot of people with ancestors who were colonized by the Dutch, or exploited by the slave trade. Not to mention more than a few anti-capitalist, anti-globalist types.
How do I know? It happened to Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende a few months ago.
You can think of Dutch society as a "melting pot" or a "salad bowl," but either way the idea that it's some Aryan civilization is untenable. People resist it, but that's because they're dreaming of good old days that never existed, or chasing an illusion.
Non sua culpa Maxima est!
Tuesday, October 9, 2007