I used to enjoy reading tarot cards for friends and acquaintances but stopped some years ago; exhausted by people taking it for granted. It is a double-edged blade admitting you know how to read tarot. Either people categorise you as looney and credulous – making no bones they think you probably believe you are a witch – or they immediately manifest as needy and demanding of having the cards read. The latter are often worse. Over the years many tried to figure out what trick I was playing or catch me out or blame me when they didn’t like what the reading said. All this for taking the time to do a favour to someone who purported friendship or was a friend of a friend. I have never charged for it; although invariably when I do a reading I am told by the beneficiary they pay significant sums to others for such readings. The needy disdain of demanding ungrateful people I read for tainted my enjoyment of something that I used to consider myself pretty good at.
A lot of reading cards has to do with introspection; self-knowledge; awareness of human nature; and knowing how to weave the connections between loose threads of ideas. It is telling a story from a few indicators. After time away from it I figured now is as good a time as any to see if it can help me out of a philosophical impasse I have been stuck in for quite some time. For over a decade before I stopped I would often get cards indicating my life would turn around through the influence of the King of Pentacles (whoever or wherever the King may be). And while my cards for the year 2023 seem to tell me clearly to leave drudgery behind and write write write; I should be done with long days of worker ant like repetitive tasks and move to greater expression; the bloody King of Pentacles popped out again just to muddy the water and say if I win I lose. If I advance I fall.
The cards really are very pretty though. Don’t you think?
For starters; if any Dutch person whatsoever were to read the above statement, I would soon be inundated with shouts to go back where I came from as even the slightest criticism of Dutch culture or society elicits a defensive and seemingly autonomic response from deep in the Dutch psyche. Even criticisms from within Dutch society are often discounted as anti-Dutch pandering to non-Dutch interests; like the complaints about black-Piet that only after decades of protests have led to a reduction in the amount of black face worn seasonally but not an elimination as ¨true¨ Dutchies refuse to see any ties to their country´s slave trading past or colonialism and insist it is important for children to experience the belief that Saint Nick has a black manservant as opposed to an elf. The lack of empathy for the people that have been protesting and the refusal to listen to why blackface is racist is truly typically Dutch. Is it exclusively Dutch though? I don’t think so. There was a very marked lack of empathy for Black Lives Matter when I lived in the UK – and I remember quite a few LBC morning shows where Kaepernick´s knee taking was vociferously denounced as anti-patriotic by slavering British people with zero empathy for USA Black history or understanding of current USA social structures.
But there are many examples of the broken Dutch soul in Christmas advertising:
Jumbo: a supermarket chain locks dad outside in the garden and the family has a peaceful dinner as no one thinks to look where he´s got to;
BOL: a girl spends a year pretending a soccer ball is a doll because her parents didn’t get her the doll she wanted; then when they do give her a doll, she trashes the ball without any remorse. Aside from feeling overtly sexist, I find the advert disturbing. Either it was a year long psychotic manipulation of her parents, or she truly has zero feelings of attachment to the thing she visibly played with yearlong. Either way what to Dutch people apparently must be amusing is truly disturbing in the portrayal of heartless detachment the child exhibits.; and this year
HEMA: a kid loses her toy dog at the beach (the irresponsible baggage handlers of a foreign country didn’t load her bag on the plane) so to get back to her the toy dog has to swim the Mediterranean then run past angry guards in what looks like an eastern European border control to drag itself back to holland; where luckily the girl is buying a replacement dog and can pick it out at the shop. This one is disturbing on so many levels. An off the cuff down the nose look at the countries where Dutchies spend their luxury cash; then a journey reminiscent of Syrian or African refugees followed by the thoughtless replaceability of items left behind… and despite the fact that the bloody toy dog had a hell of a struggle to get to the town where he was looking for his owner, she´s out shopping for a new one. Lucky toy dog that she buys him back.
Well; that´s a highlight of Christmas advertising, that in other cultures is meant to pull at heartstrings and inspire a longing for togetherness. The closest I saw on Dutch TV was an over-the-top number where a 20-year-old boy living with his mother is put out that his mother is dating; but breaks into tears when mom´s new boyfriend repairs a framed picture of the 20-year-old and his dad. Really… It takes a critical mass of advertisers and consumers to reach a point where all of this is considered normal for the purportedly most emotionally or religiously important holiday of the year. I don’t think even most atheists would think portraying the plight of refugees in toy dog form is particularly relevant to Christmas or positive in any way; unless the aim is to fictionalise such experiences so that Dutch children don’t think to hard about real life in other parts of the world? But it is probably fair to say that it isn’t too far off from some of the crass right-wing comedy on USA television networks; where charity is ridiculed and people in need are blamed for their situation (Last Man Standing). And of course; there was the incident where seasonal Dutch culture themed porcelain sold at the AH supermarket chain featured a carefree smiley Anne Frank. There was an apology for that; but I suppose this again falls under fictionalising the past so people don’t have to think hard about the role of the Dutch in Anne´s plight? People all over Europe were responsible for the plight of millions like Anne through omission or silence; but the key to it never happening again is making sure the truth is remembered not glossed over. Don’t you think?
There was also the other advert for the world cup football that featured happy construction workers doing a conga despite the reports of slavery conditions for the world cup construction workers over the past years and in the months leading up to the period when the Jumbo advert was launched. So, is all of this just a crass nature? Is it representative of a people that just don’t want to have to think too hard about the part they play in the hardship of others? Or is it just a bunch of stupid Douglas Adams worthy marketeers that are oblivious to the world around them? To be fair; most of the world glossed over the world cup construction workers and chose to put it to one side in their minds so they could enjoy the footie. Or maybe no one in the world who really loves football cares about anything but the game…
But there are the occasional beacons of light that can make you think there is intelligence in the Netherlands – it just hasn’t reached critical mass yet to pull the rest of the Dutchies along. Example NYE fireworks: every year a vast number of people are maimed; quite a lot of them children, or otherwise injured by the use of uncontrolled massive fireworks displays on every town corner. It starts in late november with nightly bangs; leading up to a warzone like frenzy on December 31st. The first year I was here for NYE – after a night worrying my dogs literally might die from their fright as the noise was continual for over ten hours and myself, I was afraid to go outside lest I be targeted – when I opened my front door in the morning there was a wake in a two-inch-high blanket of ash. My back garden was actually carpeted in spent cartridges despite the fact that I had not set off a single firework. Every year since then has been worse than the last. Despite what the authorities say about bans during corona – where I live the ban inspired larger and larger fireworks brought in from abroad. Putting a sign in the window that I had animals who are afraid of fireworks made the house a target for more. A national charity that cares for abandoned animals published photos of animals harmed by fireworks and reported children had shoved them up cats’ bums before lighting. Is that particularly Dutch? Psychopaths exist in all nations I am sure; but in other countries such behaviour is criminal or would at least lead to a ban on owning animals.
Last year the house actually shook on its foundations and then the neighbourhood electricity was cut for several hours after something was blown up. Blowing up bins, post boxes, bus stops, and anything else blow-uppable is part of their fun. So this year I spent NYE in another country as is apparently a common custom for many. And this despite calls from emergency services and hospitals to control the fireworks; despite police arresting people who bring in ¨banned¨ too large charges. Maybe the critical mass will be achieved in coming years; but in the meantime, children continue to lose their eyes, fingers, hands… I suppose at least this isn’t the USA – I mean at least this isn’t an argument about banning deadly firearms or in some way controlling the use of them. The entire globe knows that the USA is a lost cause when it comes to common sense about guns. But in the Netherlands there is at least a possibility that at some point fireworks may be controlled. Exhibit A for the initiation of the move toward building the required critical mass:
In immense physical pain from blisters in my brain, throat, ear and nose. Headache, tired, stretched stomach from pouring things down my throat to try and numb the pain as paracetamols aren’t doing anything… I´ve just rifled through a load of old idea notes and realised that the most important ones from this last year have gone missing. There was one about the expulsion of three massive spiders from the back garden; that could have been a short story, and several other brilliant woken in the middle of the night from a deep sleep quality ideas that are apparently now lost to eternity or the ether or swallowed back by the muse that must resent my having ignored them for such a long time before getting around to doing anything about them.
Is it my fault I have to work to pay bills? If I could afford to just drop everything and write for the sake of writing, I wouldn’t have a day job at all. It is immensely disappointing to live in a world where even professional working adults don’t seem to grasp that not everyone has the luxury to do what they want in life. My boss thinks if I don’t move home, it is because I choose one country or culture over another; whereas, in reality I am simply proactively grifting to stay employed (and thus able to pay for my living space month to month). Grifting because I swindle my own soul working in environments where no one seems to grasp sarcasm or care to discuss philosophy or cinema or art or literature or even common societal issues or current events. My cousins think I don’t love my country anymore; but don’t seem to listen when I say in over ten years of applying for jobs there I have not had one single offer while I get spontaneous calls and offers in a foreign country whose language I can barely speak that pay me three times what anyone back home would make doing the same. My frustrated life goals and ambitions mean that watching Oprah Master Classes just depresses me because all those other people´s stories turned around after they hit a bottom but mine seems to be snagged on the jagged edge of a below bottom crevice and won´t ever come lose no matter how many times its swept over, scraped, brushed or pulled at.
I was trying to think what would I wish for if I could wish one thing and it come true. World peace, ecological recovery and educated discussions in politics are obviously all impossibilities even for fairies to grant as they would involve the cooperation of masses of truculent humans. Reshaping humanity in the blink of an eye seems a bit much to ask. I mean we´ve been talking about the environmental impact of fossil fuels at least since the 1970´s and we´re all still putting petrol in our motors… So, thinking in the most purely selfish of terms… I am still stuck. Ideally it would be to make a living from writing; but I tried that and was on the brink of starvation until I gave in and took a full-time job with responsibilities. I tried doing it as a side-line and ended up having a stroke from working 60 to 80 hour weeks. So, my dreams are no longer my dreams as those died a long time ago. Wishing a publisher will take you seriously only gets a person so far. It actually is more likely to make you the target of small-time frauds that sell promotion to nowhere or contacts to no one or inclusion in inexistant respected circulars.
I said wish. At this time of year, I should be talking about new year´s resolutions but; they are really just wishes, aren’t they? Whether they come true or not depends on your own impetus because fairies don’t actually exist but if they did, they would not care what happens to humans. They´d sit and eat popcorn watching the psyches of people taught to aspire to more ripped apart by nepotism, glass ceilings, sexism, circumstance and exhaustion. In my case exhaustion is starting to have quite a bit to do with old age; but it is also the intellectual exhaustion of speaking into the void knowing that no one listens.
Many people say it should not matter to me if it doesn’t hurt me. What they don’t understand is that this is actually quite damaging to women´s rights, the women´s movement, feminism or however you like to think about the idea that women are beings of equal value to men and deserve to be treated as such.
At a time when women in Iran are fighting to be allowed to speak their own minds and not be randomly murdered for showing cranial hair in public; when girls in Afghanistan are being sold by their fathers as brides for the Taliban or beaten for smiling in public; when women in Saudi can still be accused of adultery if they report a rape (which still has a possible stoning offence); when girls in Nepal are still ostracised from their homes during their monthly cycle; when in China the son-bias still drives a ratio of 8 girls to every 10 boys; when women in Europe, Africa and Asia continue to be enslaved by the sex trade; when women in Qatar cannot enjoy basic freedoms without the permission of their male guardian; when lesbian women in South Africa are still subjected to ¨corrective¨ rape, when female genital mutilation is still common in some African countries and honour killing still exists as a concept in some Eastern ones; and while globally women are still getting paid less while performing the same work as a man despite what is still (generally speaking) a greater burden of responsibility at home and with offspring: I feel there is still a very long way to go before anyone can seriously say we have reached a point where women have enough privilege or should move over to stop pulling focus from other causes. If another cause means taking away from the fight for women’s genuine equality, then it damages women’s rights. People in the USA make it all about having a choice to have an abortion; but it is about so much more than that choice or women being the decisionmakers of their own health care.
It is about men worldwide interiorising that women have equal value to men; intrinsically as human beings. It is about relationships with women being based in respect for a person with vital value rather than a hole, other, mystery, image for gratification, servant, cook or punching bag for venting frustrations. I recently saw Elisabeth Banks in an interview express eloquently that people still see women as second-class citizens and that is why they continue to diminish women´s achievements as lucky rather than deserved or the result of work and talent. In my own work life, I once had a boss tell me I had an uncanny knack for <<stumbling on>> the best solutions to issues that needed fixing; rather than acknowledge my capability for doing my job or my MBA or decade plus of experience. I´m quite sure I am not the only woman to have had their ideas dismissed in meetings only to hear them praised when they were parroted out of a male mouth minutes later as though they were a new take.
Men don’t generally think about any of the aforementioned unless you bring it up in a discussion. I once commented to a colleague at work I did not want to have to travel to Saudi Arabia and he was perplexed as to why. I spelled out women´s rights in Saudi and he said ¨oh yeah, I didn’t even think about that¨. I´m quite sure no woman on earth that hadn’t been living under a rock or that was otherwise completely ignorant of the existence of Middle Eastern cultures could ever discuss potential travel to Saudi without having the treatment of women in mind. It makes me angry when I see paid advertising on international news networks that showcase business opportunities in Dubai, Qatar, and Saudi with no thought to the fact that they are ostensibly indicating a return on investment is more important than the values of the country you might sink your money into. I despair that climate conferences have not driven more tangible actions from western civilizations that are happy to criticise the practices of China as violating human rights while simultaneously they kowtow to Saudi Arabia. But of course, these governments are still mostly driven and run by patriarchal groups that don’t truly believe that women’s rights are human rights. If they did then they would have invested more in alternative energy sources decades ago whether or not they believed in the imminence of the climate crisis; simply in order to advance human rights. But of course, women’s rights take a back seat whenever decision makers don’t have them front and centre in their minds or written objectives. So, when a man comes to Europe and ignores the female leader in a meeting with the EU no one in the room calls it out. So when Sweden drops equality from foreign policy requirements people say it wasn’t getting anywhere anyway. So the world cup was awarded to a country where women are treated like possesions or children; but it isn’t until years and numerous migrant worker deaths later that anyone thinks really it was not a good idea to award the cup to Qatar, and even then women’s rights seem to be an afterthought behind freedoms for gay men. By the way; I am not in any way intending to diminish the importance of LGBT rights. I mean only to say that women’s right are not less important and should not be considered less (or an afterthought) because of a patriarchal worldview. I mean, did you see the Australian team’s video? No mention of women at all… Which is my point.
Feminism has not achieved its aims; indeed, has had to fight not just against the patriarchy but in recent years also against European women and men claiming feminazis want too much. In my personal experience that idea generally comes from a place of ignorance regarding the definition of feminism: the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.
But it is true many women don’t want to be equal. Many women don’t want to be subject to any potential draft in any form whatsoever. I am sure quite a lot of men would rather never be subject to any draft either. It is not about women vs men it’s more a question of conscientious objection to my mind; and incorporating non-front-line services for those who prefer not to hold a gun. Although Ukraine and Israel show quite well; if history wasn’t enough, that women are quite capable soldiers if needed. Many women don’t want to lose preferential consideration in child custody hearings; which personally isn’t thinking about the best for the child but just being selfish.
Many women don’t want to hear that having your period isn’t a valid reason for calling in sick to work in the age of over-the-counter pain relief and other freely available treatments. But equality is the goal and to achieve it means benefits as well as responsibilities. Can you imagine any argument justifying equal pay at the same time as government approved menstruation days? It´s absurd. No one is saying that there aren’t some women with heavy flows that require extra care. I myself had to take the pill to reduce my 15-day long periods to a manageable 3 and still had cramps and other symptoms but dragged my ass to work. When I was studying for my MBA, another woman once said in a group exercise that she didn’t feel capable of decision making while having her period because she got hormonal mood swings. I asked her; do you realise you’ve just said in front of a class of men that women should not hold managerial positions and that made her angry for sure but not as much as the pusillanimous idea that periods make women inadequate for leadership positions. Did she think men aren’t hormonal and distracted most of most days? Some of the male MBA students actively watched porn while we were in work groups; and judging by how often an average man fails to look a woman in the face until after he´s looked at the rest of her I am fairly convinced their hormonal impairments are month long every month of the year not merely coming to the surface cyclically.
So given that women are divided on how much equality is needed or wanted and a lot of women vote against their own interests; like trees voting for an axe because the axe has a wooden handle, it is easy for other groups to demand women move aside or shut up because they feel more important than women´s liberation or equality. But truly we are considering 49,5% of the global population. How can any other group be more important than the interests of basically one of every two people on earth? And if we fight for women’s rights isn’t this defacto fighting for all the other equalities of all the demographics that those women belong to?
Primero fue La Hija Oscura en Netflix: una película que para mi fue algo aburrida de ver a pesar de la presencia de Olivia Coleman. Trataba de una mujer que había elegido para ella misma vivir su propia vida; por encima de dedicarla a cuidar o criar a su hija. Ese tabú le aísla del resto de la sociedad, exige que la reflejen en pantalla de la manera más egoísta y emocionalmente analfabeta viable y al final juegan con la idea de que sea una mujer al borde del suicidio hasta que oiga la voz de esa hija abandonada. La curiosidad para mí al ver la película no tuvo en absoluto que ver con la trama; sino con la presunción que a esta mujer hay que juzgarla de alguna manera como mujer, a pesar de que en la vida real haya millones de hombres pululando por el mundo ajenos a sus hijos y nadie clama al cielo que son hombres malos sino como mucho malos padres. ¿Es tan inconcebible para el mundo que una mujer quiera algo más allá de la maternidad? ¿De veras? ¿Aún en 2022? En mi propia vida no tuve la oportunidad de elegir, pero no pienso que me toque juzgar a otra persona por no querer ser madre. Además, pienso que si un personaje tiene tan poco interés en criar un/a nin@ seguramente ese/a nin@ tendrá mejor vida con otra persona de guardián. Alguien que de veras quiera sacrificar su carrera o amor o lo que sea porque formar a una mente joven y hacer de guardián le importa más.
Luego en el club de lectura al que me apunté hace poco, el primer libro que me tocó fue La Escuela de Las Buenas Madres; que trata de una mujer que me cayó mal y lo que le sucede después de abandonar a su hija de apenas un año durante horas. En esta historia de ciencia ficción; que no dejó a nadie indiferente, la protagonista acaba en una cárcel a medio camino entre 1984 y el Cuento de la Criada. A la mujer le lavan el cerebro hasta que no conciba otro porvenir que ser madre; pero no simplemente una madre sino una madre programada a elegir y comportarse siempre de acuerdo con un canon dictado por asistentas sociales sin hijos. Algunas del grupo de lectura lloraban al hablar de los temas tratados y la auto examinación que provocó. No porque recriminaran su propia maternidad; sino porque agradecían el cuidado recibido por sus propios guardianes más al considerar en profundidad lo que pudiese conducir sus actitudes y comportamientos. La cultura, la formación, las circunstancias económicas y sociales, la red de soporte que tuvieran o no tuvieron, etc. Aunque se podría echarle mucha leña de análisis socio cultural y de clases y prejuicios; y de veras la discusión del grupo para mi gusto fue iluminada, el libro en sí no me gustó. En el fondo, a mí modo de ver, el núcleo de la historia sigue basándose en el rechazo de la sociedad hacía una mujer que no tenga instinto maternal. ¿Quién le da a la sociedad el derecho a decidir si el instinto maternal es suficiente o se ejerce de la manera correcta? Fuera de casos de abuso grave; con que vara se mide lo que es bueno o malo para un ser humano pequeño e indefenso. Lo cierto es que en la sociedad no hay consenso sobre esto. Sólo hace falta mirar hacia el hemiciclo político para recordar que nuestra sociedad es incapaz de ponerse de acuerdo siquiera para los asuntos más pusilánimes. Además; aún en sociedades que, si obran con bastante más harmonía política, los servicios de asistencia social no dan abasto para proteger a críos vulnerables (ejemplos espeluznantes abundaban en los periódicos del Reino Unido en la última década, y en los Países Bajos recientemente se emitió un informe dictaminando que l@s nin@s bajo protección social en muchos casos hubiesen sido menos perjudicados si hubiesen quedado con sus padres).
No por último menos importante; y hubo más ejemplos recientes en la tele, pero con tres me basta para esta exposición: Cinco Lobitos. Esta película española entrañable y lograda trata de los altibajos de una nueva madre y lo sola que se siente al criar a su hija con la pareja siempre de viaje. El sub-contexto de la película parece ser que un@ no puede comprender a sus padres hasta que tenga su propi@ hij@. En eso no estoy de acuerdo para nada. No hace falta procrear para madurar y no hace falta quemarse para poder apreciar el impacto que tiene ser quemado… Pero me sorprendió que en la charla post película del festival de cine obviaron una línea de dialogo muy significante. La hija/madre le pregunta a su madre porque no fue con su amante si no era feliz y la madre le responde que la niña tenía solo cuatro años y era muy pequeña para dejarla. Allí volvemos a reflejar lo que nadie quiere reconocer: que una mujer puede no tener instinto maternal y puede contemplar abandonar. Mismamente la hija en la peli al escuchar estas palabras de la boca de su propia madre no las comprende; y responde que podría haberla llevado con ella y solo haber abandonado al padre. Esa representación – ese cacho de dialogo – representa algo que sigue siendo muy difícil de reconocer como sociedad. Las mujeres son personas completas con deseos, gustos, filosofías de vida y trayectorias y no siempre procrear significa descerebrase por el bebe.
¿Por qué será que aun en el 2022 cuesta tantísimo aceptar que mujer no es necesariamente sinónimo con madre? Y ¿Por qué será que la sociedad sigue creyendo que la que no quiera ser madre es mala mujer?
Después de 16 meses viviendo sola en casa y teletrabajando; el año pasado
bajé a Madrid para ver a mi madre enferma de cáncer metastásico y con la
espalda rota. Seguí teletrabajando, pero volví a bajar en noviembre y comprobé
que de la espalda iba mejorando. Volví a bajar en febrero para verla cumplir
76, y volví a bajar el pasado mes de julio para pasar tres olas de calor en
compañía de mi madre bastante mejorada en salud, aunque; eso sí, aun con un cáncer
metastásico y dopada hasta las cejas de morfina.
En ésta última visita mis padres me pegaron el COVID que tanto había
intentado evitar. Eso sí, agradezco que me lo pegaran después de tres vacunas
porque con lo mal que lo pasé estoy convencida de si me hubiera tocado antes de
vacunarme yo había muerto antes de mi madre. Pasar el COVID en Madrid supongo
que ha sido la mejor forma de pasarlo; ya que cada ocho horas mi padre entraba
para ver si seguía con vida y comprobar mi saturación de oxígeno. Gracias a los
antihistamínicos, dos inhaladores, gotas y esteroides; seguí respirando durante
los cuatro días que me duró la fiebre de 39ºC. Me alegré de estar en Madrid y
poder reponer fuerzas a base de horchatas y flanes; que en otras partes no
Claro, gracias al COVID y las fechas; no pude ver a casi nadie aparte de mis
padres sedentarios. A pesar de eso simplemente poder pasear por el río a diario
fue un gran alivio; aunque significara sudar y sufrir bajadas de tensión por
los grados de temperatura. Los perros vieron necesario bañarse en cada fuente o
beber del mismo río en cada oportunidad que se presentara y la gente les admiró
y los elogió por ser tán buenísimos (algo diametralmente opuesta a la actitud
de los holandeses que a diario me gruñen que mis perros no deben socializarse
con los suyos).
Y ahora de vuelta en los países bajos me encuentro con un jardín salvaje en
el que todo ha crecido de una manera tan exagerada en unas semanas de sequía
que asusta pensar en lo que podría llegar a pasar si me ausentara más tiempo.
y bueno, no tenía pensado escribir nada especial sino simplemente dejar algo
aquí como muestra de mi existencia continuada a pesar de las ausencias largas.
un abrazo a cualquier persona que se interese en leer esto.
After two months of staring at the ceiling in the wee hours wondering if my blog would be lost in the server transfer I can FINALLY relax seeing that the extremely helpful and VERY patient technical support people have done their magic and I am back on line!
I can at last get back to recriminating myself every week that goes by without a new post ?
I grew up with an anaesthesiologist father; and my first job as a teenager was working as a ward secretary for the oncology and respiratory departments in a local hospital in the USA; where I learned the day to day for the patients and nurses around vulnerable patients. As an adult I have worked for multinational hygiene, medical device & drug companies for 9 years. My jobs over the last decade have centred on forecasting product requirements so production plants can have what is needed ready in the warehouse on time for customers to buy; and this is done via a combination of statistical methodology and market intelligence. So perhaps my despair at the way the Netherlands has reacted to the Covid19 emergency is more about my background and experience than the fact that I am an expat. However; my perspective as an expat tells me that the Netherlands has done –compared to its fellow EU member states– poorly in reaction time, communication, and frankly recognition of the true extent of the pandemic within the Netherlands. I feel like this pandemic and the way the Dutch have behaved since Rutte’s first speech; where he stated very clearly the economy comes above all else, has opened my eyes to the true nature of the Dutch in a way I would never otherwise have easily come to understand.
In my current job I work for a provider of medical devices that are aimed at reducing contamination in the medical setting; and much of the portfolio sold in Europe is centered on treatment of critical care patients. In the Netherlands office we run the operations for all the European customers; which are as varied as individual hospitals, regional consortiums, buying groups and distributors. Initially at work we started talking about corona only insofar as how it would affect the supply to us of items that might be impacted by what was happening in China. As late as February we were still thinking that it might cause supply problems but not that it would jump to Europe. However; we saw in late February that orders from Italy were rising; and then Italy went into lockdown. In our daily calls to align the team members located around Europe, the Italian was telling us about how serious things were but you could see on the faces of the people in the Dutch office that they were “being polite” when listening and when the call was over they would jest about the poor Italian all cooped up and going stir crazy.
Then, due to a completely different illness I started working from home the week before Spain declared a State of Emergency. Even during that week; with death tolls rising rapidly and orders from both Spain and Italy coming in at 5 and 6 times the normal volumes, my Dutch boss didn’t seem to think it might happen here. When I told my boss I had seen the graphs of infection rates and that the Netherlands was following exactly the same curve as Italy and Spain he didn’t seem to take it in. When I said they had had an expert on the news to show this graph then he listened but still apparently wanted to make light of it; like if taking something seriously might be poor form or bad luck. Then that Friday Spain declared a state of emergency and on television I watched the Dutch parliament arguing about what to do about the people in Brabant and was dismayed that only Wilders seemed to say people’s lives should come first. Rutte actually rolled his eyes when Wilders said that. When I (via office chat) said to my Dutch colleague that I didn’t understand how Rutte could do that the response I got was “they will never share power again”. I realised the Dutch are psychologically in a completely different place from any Mediterranean person if they don’t even comprehend I could be dismayed to see that the prime minister of the country I am living in doesn’t prioritise lives over the economy. Wilders; the man who doesn’t want me in his country and doesn’t want to be in the EU, seemed to be the only one arguing to safeguard my health.
I made the same comment on a facebook group and the Dutchies there replied Wilders was only trying to be popular and I should calm down. Never mind that telling people to calm down when they ask a simple question is pretty rude, in this situation I have heard it repeatedly from Dutch people every time I ask them to consider any new data that challenges the idea that Rutte’s government is perfectly on top of things.
That weekend Rutte came out with the idea that people should work from home as much as possible; and our HR department sent a message indicating that the USA headquarters wanted us to work from home until further notice. I was relieved to not have to go back to the office in light of how lightly the Dutch seemed to be taking things. Honestly a lot of my relief centred around the poor hygiene I see in daily life here in the Netherlands. A lot of people don’t wash their hands after using the bathroom, they normally cough into the air without even pretending to cover their mouths, and I have seen people put used cutlery and plates back in the kitchen cupboard without washing them. Let alone beer festivals where glasses get a quick rinse rather than a wash before being used for a different customer. Fingers crossed all the messages about hand washing stick with the Dutch after this is over… I did have to go to a house inspection that could not be rescheduled and one of the people there was stroppy and offended that I did not want to shake hands. The other person there was complaining about having to close her business for no reason she could understand. To be fair the Dutch authorities kept treating it like it was nothing so no wonder she didn’t understand. The experts in the press conferences at that time were still saying that you only need to stay home if you feel ill: completely ignoring the evidence and experience that China, Italy and Spain could offer. I wondered if they might be doing it on purpose to get as many people ill as quickly as possible.
Even in the Saturday morning news it seemed to be a joke because they showed graphs that used bread and breakfast spreads to show how much better Netherlands was doing even before – according to their own government – anything had even started to happen. When I posted on a Facebook expat group that the spread of the virus was EXTREMELY fast and that the information on the RIVM page saying if you don’t feel ill you can go outside was irresponsible and wrong; I was attacked for raising panic. When I tried posting a message that mask sellers on bol.com were giving a second mask free (because even a cloth mask is better than no mask if we are trying to prevent the spread) my post was blocked. All the corona posts were blocked from all the expats groups that weekend and I felt it was a sort of mass censorship of reality to keep the foreigners quiet about what was going on in their countries. Subsequently I asked one of the expats groups to reconsider this ban because a lot of expats don’t speak Dutch well enough to follow the local news and these groups are an essential platform and tool for those of us who don’t have great social networks here. I have made a great effort to learn Dutch well enough to watch the nightly news but I would feel lost if this was happening around me and I could not even follow the local or national news. Again I was torn down; this time with the admins of the group making personal attacks and false accusations, for contributing to panic. I was more than fed up with people reacting to attempts to discuss the accredited news and reported facts as contributing to panic so I stopped looking at those groups.
Then I did a quick check of the comparative number of ICU beds to see how might the Netherlands respond and I realised that not only does the Netherlands not have the concept of universal health coverage (we have to pay a private insurance monthly to be attended at any health service provider – unlike in Spain or Denmark or the UK); but even paying over €250 per month to get a cover that has a financial ceiling; the availability of care is very limited compared to other countries. There are half the number of ICU beds per inhabitant in the Netherlands versus Spain. I was dismayed over and over to see experts trotted out on the nightly news to say that the Netherlands had beaten the curve when it was far too early for the loose suggested measures to have had any effect. I was pissed off that the news didn’t even pick up on the issue of the number of total ICU beds for nearly two more weeks after I did; and even then they reported it from the perspective of “we won’t need them” until actually there weren’t enough and they had to send people to Germany. I can understand that in Holland they aren’t doing more testing because they don’t have the capacity or tests; but I cannot understand that they were reporting a figure they had to know with certainty was too low without any caveats for weeks.
A check of the national death statistics proves that Corona deaths in the Netherlands are about 50% higher than what RIVM is reporting on its website. They only added the caveat that actual deaths are probably higher last week when international papers ran stories about how the counts are different in every country and in the Netherlands only patients admitted to hospital are actually tested for the virus. https://opendata.cbs.nl/#/CBS/en/dataset/70895ENG/table
I think I find the behaviour of the Dutch government especially exasperating because the Spanish government is by comparison so extremely transparent. In Spain there are daily press conferences that detail even how many masks were delivered to each hospital; but here there have been only a couple of top line speeches where the messages were not clear enough to get the populace in line behind respecting the health threat. Now we are not half way through April and I see on the Dutch news it seems almost a foregone conclusion that restrictions will all be lifted after King’s Day; but at the same time they are showing videos from the “frontline” every day and one would hope that the message hits home. I do find it very curious that the “frontline” videos from the Netherlands include mostly well made up and rested people in front of a studiously good looking backdrop. I think of the videos from the Italian hospitals and it makes me think maybe it really isn’t so bad here; but then the numbers are what they are…
Of course I still have to go outside every day to walk my dogs. I have been wearing a face mask since March 13 but NO ONE in the town where I live has worn one any time I have been out in the last month. Initially people laughed at me openly; then after about a week they seemed to snigger nervously, and this last week they just smile at me like I am a dolt. Until last week I saw no reduction in the number of people about on the street and no one was respecting the distance. I have to go into the grass because people coming the other way do not waver from the centre of the path. Joggers actually bump into me (in the first weeks many of them coughing while jogging in groups – but I am not sure if that is stupidity or the Dutch sense of humour). When I had to go grocery shopping the first time a man very ostentatiously on purpose came up to cough in my face; and I do think it was because I was the only one in the store wearing a mask. Even after the local grocery store put the stickers on the floor the other customers do not respect the distances. I find it an extremely unpleasant experience to go buy groceries; but from what I see on the news this must be a small town experience because they show beautiful images of people in Amsterdam waiting in queues and security limiting the number of people inside the stores.
Throughout this I have had my spirits lifted by my family in Spain and Denmark sending me messages and videos and whatever nonsense in whatsapp; and I actually have more regular contact with them now than before because they are all bored at home in a genuine lockdown while I am working twice as much as normal due to the crisis. It was disappointing to me to see how much this crisis has been politicised in Spain and how the right wing is trying to blame the government for every failure. However; I know that no supplier can meet a five or six fold demand in the space of two weeks for items that take months to produce and place in market. So I am not surprised when there is a shortage of masks and I think it is sad that one party would try to blame that shortage on the incompetence of another political party when actually it is simply supply and demand. Seeing the way Spain has reacted and pulled together; and how the Dutch have behaved in comparison, has really made me homesick.
Probably my most defining life memory (insofar as our topic today) happened when I was between four and five. I remember a lot of screaming and shouting. That was nothing unusual. Then the sounds of fists hitting home; again nothing unusual. But then I realised the target wasn’t my brother or sister and that it was a lot louder than normal. My father shouted at the top of his lungs for me and my sister to go to where they were. We got there to see my parents were standing in the entryway to the house arguing. My mother was dressed up more than usual; had her fur coat on and keys in her hand. She was telling my father she wanted a divorce. My father had found out because the lawyer she had met in secret had written a letter that he was holding in his hand while shouting “how much is this nonsense going to cost me”.
She then said “I am leaving you Fernando I have had enough.” She went to turn to the door while he held her back trying to take the keys out of her hands. When he didn’t manage it because she had gotten the keys in the door; he threw her to the ground and started beating her wildly. He screamed that she had no right to leave her children; that she wouldn’t get outside the door because he would not allow it, and that she should be ashamed of herself. What kind of mother leaves her children behind? How would she pay for anything because he wasn’t going to give her a penny? She had no right to leave because she belonged with her children. My sister and I stood there and watched this. My father repeated several times that she belonged with her children, that she belonged in the house. Shortly after that my father (a respected doctor in a small town) got a psychiatrist to certify her mentally ill and my mother spent most of the next 20 years sedated to one degree or another.
What crystallised in my mind while I watched and listened that day – aside from the shame of standing there and doing nothing – which happened more frequently than not because doing something usually made it worse – was that I most certainly did not want to belong in that family. I did not want to belong with my parents and if I wanted to get away from them I needed to be financially independent. That was what I was thinking about at the age of four. I don’t want to belong here. I don’t belong here. How do I get away from here? I wasn’t sure where I might actually belong but I didn’t want it to be there. This distance I felt in my home life spread to pretty much all relationships when I was a child because no one outside of the house could ever know the truth about what happened inside it.
All of us had very clear the difference between private and public and that it was forbidden to let the outside public know the truth of the private. Is it possible to develop a genuine sense of belonging with other people if they don’t know the truth about who you are? And people really didn’t know because after that day by the door my father never hit us in places that would leave visible marks again. So – while it may sound histrionic or overly dramatic – I hid a double life from everyone for decades. My family members never knew my only objective in life was to get away from my father and no one else had any awareness of this either. It did seep into things though; because for me – the Spanish daughter of a Danish woman living in the USA – I rejected anything that meant permanence in that small town.
An example of this was my relationship with my fourth grade teacher. In the fourth grade I was regularly docked points on spelling tests because I would use the English spelling rather than the American one; colour, humour, flavour and realise. When I argued with Mrs Johnson that it was unfair because the language was English and Collins dictionary had the correct spelling she said I was living in America and needed to get used to doing things like Americans. From my perspective that was categorically unfair and I said so, saying I had no intention of staying in the USA any longer than necessary. She looked bemused then but didn’t say much. Then; shortly before parent teacher conferences I was docked points on another test in class because I didn’t know how to correctly answer the question “what your mother serves for dessert at thanksgiving.” I didn’t have a clue because in my house we didn’t celebrate thanksgiving. We were half Spanish half Danish and to be honest didn’t really celebrate either culture’s traditions. My parents were immigrants to a country whose culture they didn’t really understand; and generally spoke about the fact that Americans don’t have any genuine culture because they are all mixed up. Also, as many immigrants do they really mostly only knew other immigrants socially.
The teacher took advantage of the conference to discuss with them her concern that I wasn’t accepting American customs. She apparently convinced them that the lack of celebrating Thanksgiving was one of the reasons I never fit in with the other kids: I was too different. If they wanted to show they belonged in America then we needed to behave like Americans. Never mind the fact that most of the other kids in my class came from other European immigrant backgrounds because they were doing it right by celebrating Thanksgiving. I have always hated that holiday as a hypocritical white wash of history, and didn’t feel thankful in the least for my situation at the time. But the Midwestern matron imposed her understanding of what was required of my parents for us to belong in Midwestern society and they were so genuinely concerned to fit in (my father was applying for citizenship) that we ate the bloody thanksgiving dinner every year we were in the states after that; and my father started watching American football so my brother could understand what the boys in his class were on about.
The funny thing is that woman’s insistence that we conform to her cultural expectations was one of the first things to make me strongly reject Americanism. Up until then I had focused my thoughts primarily on getting away from my father. But the following summer I was sent to stay with my aunt and there I experienced life in Madrid doing things normal kids in Madrid do, and eating normal food etc – and at the end of that summer I remember my aunt telling other people “this one belongs with us” and I was happy for it because I knew I most certainly didn’t belong in the USA.
On the flip side in Madrid for many years I was “punished” in different groups for not being genuinely «Spanish» enough for their standards.
Eventually I came to the conclusion that no one belongs anywhere but where they choose; but because there will always be others that don’t think you belong (because for tastes there are 1000 colours in the rainbow) end of the day you just have to accept people’s rejection or accept yourself and the fact that no one is a perfect fit anywhere.