Since a college trip of far too many years ago the hours that I have spent in Holland can be counted upon one hand, yet I still feel I know the place, hold an empathy and share their concerns although it would too far fetched to think of it as a second home. I am also of the notion that I would not feel out of place in the country, nor that I would go without company or good cheer should I ever find myself there for any length of time such is the feeling of fellowship I have enjoyed with the Dutch over the years, they are, I think, perhaps the most closely aligned to the sort of Englishness that I am familiar with than any other European nationality.
As one or two readers of this blog may have noticed I am rather keen on visiting France, and it is mainly because many Dutch also enjoy doing so that I have got to know them over the years. No self respecting French campsite could consider itself successful without a solid collection of camper vans bearing the letters NL on their number plates, nor would any ferry trip be complete without having at least one lengthy conversation with a Dutch family keen to practice their English, and so it is by degrees that the relationship with them has grown to a feeling of familiarity that I have yet to share with any other nationality, other than the Irish amongst whom I live.
Despite this it is not always an unbridled rapture I experience whenever I meet any one of their number, they too have their habits and peculiarities which they carry with them when they spill out of their tiny overcrowded country into the open air of rural France or wherever they are heading. Many a time I have seen a caravan pull up and almost the first item to be attended to is the satellite dish which is carefully pointed in the appropriate direction before being swiftly followed by the inhabitants withdrawing inside rarely to be spied again. Fair enough, if a holiday is watching the box within a different set of walls while a happier form of life goes on around you then so be it, but it is a rather sad state of affairs to see telly gazing raised to such prominence in anybody’s life.
On the other hand they can be immeasurably hospitable. One such occasion involved a vegetarian couple inviting an obviously lonely looking biker to a supper of salad and beans. Unfortunately the reaction was as catastrophic as it was predictable so I suppose it was kind of mother nature to ameliorate the situation with a gentle breeze that may have freshened the air but could hardly disguise the rumblings and eruptions emanating from their guest. The raven haired lady thought it was quite hilarious and could barely disguise her mirth which thankfully went some way to easing the embarrassment as well as demonstrating that other great Dutch trait, a rugged honesty that does not shirk from telling it as it is. As we said our farewells the next morning the laughter was still in her eyes and often since I have wondered whether it was a regular joke they played. But that aside it was an interesting evening with much intelligent conversation, banter and reaffirmation of a common bond that lies between the Dutch and many of the English.
I say many of the English for I cannot speak for all of them, let alone the whole gamut of ‘the British’. The Welsh I know for fact are more akin to the Bretons of France while the Scottish and Irish have always felt closer to each other than either to their past tormentors, which leaves the English somewhat alone except for the Dutch and some Nordic affiliation for those living at more northerly latitudes. Having been reared mainly in the southern counties the lands of Normandy never struck me as different or particularly foreign in appearance and I need to be beyond the region before I feel I have arrived in France for real. The people though, are delightfully French from the moment the ferry docks and that Frenchness is quite different from our Englishness and the Dutch’s Dutchness, yet when we are abroad the people from England and the Netherlands will tend to associate with each other far more readily than they will with other nationalities and many a pleasant memory is associated with their companionship. I really ought to get over there sometime and get to know them at home.
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