The Dutch, Dutch coffee and Dutch borrel

Having looked at the marvels of Belgian food, let’s move to its neighbouring country and have a look at the Dutch.

The Dutch nation is situated in the Netherlands, which is a beautiful country, famous for its flatness, cosy farms, gorgeous mills, and obviously, the unprecedented amount of bikes. Bikes are everywhere, and it is a national transport. You are considered as really weird and not ‘gezellig’ if you don’t have one. It is almost a crime not to possess and ride a bike, as well as calling the Netherlands – Holland, a place, which doesn’t even exist. There is South Holland and North Holland, two provinces which are just a part of the Netherlands, but Dutch people are very tolerant, so they forgive you for this silly mistake of assuming they all come from ‘Holland’.

 Bikes are a true national trait, but so is coffee. The ritual around this divine drink isn’t replicated anywhere, not even close.

(Dutch bike)

Dutch people love coffee. Coffee is not just a drink, but an essential part of the day. Dutch people start their day with coffee, and drink it throughout the day. If you go to a canteen in the office, you won’t stumble upon tea (and if someone drinks tea, it means they come from England), you will be greeted with coffee. Coffee machine is always on, brewing.

Coffee is a Dutch institution. If you meet someone for a business meeting, or just among friends, it is usually around coffee. Even the famous Dutch expression ‘going Dutch’ was invented in relation to coffee. Dutch people don’t want to spoil their enjoyment of coffee, by sitting and thinking about who is going to pick up the bill. They know from the start that everyone pays for their own coffee, and just relax in the moment. Coffee should be enjoyed in peace, savoured in its taste, fully processed and not hurried up. They have a right to it though, as Dutch coffee is indeed a treat.

(enjoying the coffee)

Yes, Dutch people know how to make coffee. It is always made in a right way. It should never be a brown liquid, it should live up to its name. Coffee is strong, real coffee, never saved upon. While Dutch people don’t like discussing money and who earns how much, coffee is there no expense should be spared. It is probably the best-selling drink in the Netherlands. Everyone drinks it.

The first time I attended a family gathering in the Netherlands, at a birthday party of a relative of my family member, I was trying to process the awkward sequence of how food was served. It was so bizarre that back home, in Moscow, I couldn’t stop laughing about it with my friends. “Can you imagine,” I would say, “They start the party in a reverse order! They first serve coffee and cake, followed by normal food!” I was laughing about it for ages, until I moved to the Netherlands and learned the pleasure of coffee. Yes, everything starts with coffee, cake is just an accompaniment.

It is also only in the Netherlands that coffee is always served with something extra, such as a biscuit, a chocolate, or a waffle. If you know about it, you don’t even need to order a dessert. The dessert comes with coffee, included in the price. It is such a luxury, that no one can really accuse the Dutch of being not exuberant enough. Just look at how coffee is served, always and everywhere, and you will witness the ultimate exuberance. Here in the Netherlands I drink coffee, lots of it, strolling from one small cosy café to another (takeaways at this moment), ordering it after dinner, and during lunch. I savour it, I enjoy it, I study the different biscuits which come with it.

(coffee and a treat)

Coffee is not, of course, the only best thing about the Netherlands (though, extremely important!), it is also their bread and the national ‘gezelligheid’ called the ‘borrel’. Both words are difficult to translate, as is usually the case with true and unique cultural traditions, but I will try to explain.

Dutch people really love the word ‘gezellig’, and for a good reason, as it defines them as a nation. The term can be translated as ‘cosy’, but it implies so much more. ‘Gezellig’ is not just ‘cosy’, it is the whole essence of total relaxation, cosiness, and also of enjoying the moment. And ‘gezelligheid’ is the ultimate cosiness, achieved in the company of good friends, usually around coffee or a good Dutch ‘borrel’. ‘Borrel’ is an event. It is going out with friends and colleague to enjoy some nice drinks, and preferably around ‘borrel hapjes’. If you order a borrel on the Dutch menu, you will get the ultimate tapas. A selection of delicious snacks, that you can enjoy with a good glass of wine or beer, while having a good moment with your friends. It is a tradition, a perfect event to enjoy friendship, nice drinks, and great food, all in one go. It is indeed ‘gezellig’, it is indeed the absolute ‘gezelligheid’.

(Dutch borrel)

And so, to summarize, if you ever go to the Netherlands, and you want to enjoy it as a Dutch, you need to borrow a bike, drink lots of coffee, order a ‘borrel’, and try their bread. It is thin, melting in the mouth, coming in different colours. The brown bread is not just brown bread, it’s darker brown, or lighter brown, with seeds, or plain, perfect accompaniment for any dish!

The Netherlands is ‘gezellig’.

(cheers!)

Born in the Soviet Union. A phone prank

When I was growing up, during the times of Gorbachev and Perestroika, which as you probably know, resulted in total change of the regime, as well as, of the whole country, things used to be different. Around the age of sixteen or seventeen I was contemplating the end of the Soviet Union and the way Russia was trying to adjust herself to the requirements of capitalism, in a slightly mad mode. We had new churches being opened on a daily basis, together with Tarot and palm readers offering their services in the proximity of the same churches, as well as all kinds of other esoteric stuff. It was total and absolute madness, but it gave me a hint that all kinds of belief systems can be turned into a profit, which is a sad fact of our world which still claims some sanity.
However, while capitalism was there (in new Russia), what wasn’t common as yet, was the usage of mobile phones, and therefore, the community and friendships remained intact, for the time being, as well as some Russian sense of humour, which helped me to survive until I decided to move to Brussels to study in French.
Back in Russia, my best friend and I were doing all sorts of pranks. Sergei, my friend, like me, was observing the dramatic and traumatic changes around us with total bewilderment, resulting in both of us, trying to laugh it off (not very successfully). And there were many things which were indeed funny, besides numerous new churches and witches co-existing in a weird peace. Like, imagine ten women wearing the same coat (we had shortage of choices in food, clothes and everything else) while entering an underground station in the morning! Or tanks next to the white house in Moscow, and Sergei and me drinking coca-cola right next to one (as it turned out, we left five minutes before the coup d’Etat started and were lucky to stay alive). But the funniest thing was our own invention, called the radio joke.
I am not sure who came up with the idea of radio prank (probably both of us) but it was hilarious.
I would sit next to my home phone and make calls. Occasionally, we would call total strangers, but usually we called our friends (no number recognition was available back then).
“Hello, this is radio ‘Love’ calling you live! I am Svetlana Rudnikova, the presenter of ‘hot hour’!” I would, obviously, change my voice, with Sergei standing next to me, playing real radio, to appear as genuine as possible.
“Oh my God!!!!” a hysteric answer would usually follow on my introduction. “Radio ‘Love’! Really?!!!!”
“Yes! And you are our lucky winner of today to choose a song!”
We would do then a small chit-chat and then conclude with a line: “Tune in now to listen to your song!” Before hanging up.
The radio itself (the ‘Love’ radio), the real one, was, on almost all occasions, playing something completely different from the ‘lucky’ choices of my friends, and Sergei and I, would patiently wait before re-dialling the number ten minutes later. Sergei was the one talking, during our ‘repeat’ call.

“Hello Nastenka, this is radio ‘Love’ again on the phone!” He would listen to the reply (mostly complaints about not hearing the song which had been ordered) before proceeding to our ‘reveal the prank’ line.

“It isn’t radio ‘Love’! It is me, Sergei and Ekaterina, having a blast! We are at Ekaterina’s flat now, join us for some fried potatoes and vodka!” We would both laugh hysterically, hang up and wait for our friend to join the party. One week I was hosting, as a result, the entire faculty of acting from a famous university of film-making of Moscow. They all came to a party after our prank call, with Sergei studying at that time at the same faculty. He was a born actor, you see.

But the best bit was when radio ‘Love’ did play a song, ordered by my friend, Nastenka. It was something by The Queen. She had no doubts, whatsoever about the authenticity of the call. And even if she did laugh when we called her back and revealed the prank, I could hear disappointment in her voice, and till today, regret that call (the ‘reveal the prank’ one).
We shouldn’t have done it, but it helped us to live on.

(image found online)

Is Russell Brand an ideology?

The question of whether Russell Brand can be an ideology was brought up by one of my students in media studies one day, several years ago, when we were discussing the ideology. In order to help and bring you into the picture, ideology is a set of beliefs hold by an individual, group or society taken as granted, but which might not be true at all.

For instance, to give you an example, when I was born, on the 10th of July (which is a month of cancer) during the year of Dragon (I prefer to keep my age as a secret), it was in the socialist country of the Soviet Union, which was busy building communism at that time. I wasn’t questioning the ideal, of course not, because it was and still is, the best system that a society can have in utopia. To each, according to their needs, as Marx would say. In reality, however, this system is the absolute opposite of truth, since humans are too greedy to be able to ever make it happen, and some make more efforts than others, and thus, do deserve more. But everyone should have an equal chance, yes, certainly so!

Moving back to the UK, or most other countries in the west, we live in the capitalism, which is presented to us as the prefect structure, since we can all try to make money, appear on the X-Factor (in theory, of course) and try to lure beauty industry into believing that we are the next top model. Do you understand? We are sold some kind of utopian dream, that is hard to find in the reality of our daily lives.

And so, when the student asked me about Russell Brand and whether he can be analysed as an ideology, I have to say, I was smitten and for a couple of seconds even lost my voice.

My first (internal dialogue) reaction was: WHAT? Followed by (still internal dialogue), I have no ‘f’ clue, and then arriving at the obvious conclusion that most of my students are simply geniuses.

I mean, who could ever think of Russell Brand as an ideology? He is a Brand, not an ideology!

But, that question had been chasing me for the whole week then, to an extent that I researched it rigorously. The thing is, I was curious about Russell Brand before, because I remember that day when I was skipping some boring presentations at a conference, and since no other interesting shops were in the proximity I went to the local academic bookshop. And here it was, that ‘Revolution’ book by Russell Brand, occupying the most prominent place, at the centre of the shop, storing hundreds of copies.

In all honestly, I was surprised to see it because I knew of Russell Brand as a comedian, and seeing him getting into politics with some hint at Marxism, stopped me on my track and I almost bought the book, but then remembered that I had to go back to the conference and a bag of purchase from a bookshop would betray me as the biggest procrastinator.

However, I did subscribe to his channel on Youtube and watch him occasionally, because I do find him funny and he has quite refreshing and interesting view on politics. As quoted from Wikipedia, “British commentator Joan Smith dismissed Brand as the “canny self-publicist” who indulges in “waffle about ‘revolution'” as “one celebrity, I’m afraid, who’s more idiot than savant.”

But I disagree with such criticism! It might be that Joan Smith is an idiot herself. For instance, if Russell Brand actually voted (he encouraged sabotaging elections for a number of times), he could indeed become an ideology, especially if he delivers on his promise ‘We’ve got to do something’ and does shake up the current prevailing thinking that we live in some sort of democracy. He is also a very nice and kind man, and all the money from the book (Revolution) went to charity. And looking at his date of birth, 14th of June 1975, he has all the chances to become a politician. His year of birth is the Rabbit, and according to the Chinese, rabbits can make great career in the political sphere. His month of birth represents Gemini, who are natural leaders and end up with a lot of followers.

So, yes, let’s watch this space in terms of Russell Brand becoming a leader of some new political party.

I do strongly advise you to listen to him on his Youtube channel, and especially his views on the current Corona crisis, are intelligent and well-thought. It is also funny to listen to him, because he does remind us of the obvious truths that we can simply observe, when we aren’t sure about the facts, distorted to us by the current media landscape. On the question of whether there is a climate crisis, Brand subtly reminds us that ‘’it is getting a bit hot for January’’.

I like Russel Brand.