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!)

On Forced Meditation

Where I am, in the European country in the north, we have a lockdown for months, and as a result, we are all forced to meditate. Shops are closed, which can be a good thing, but all other nice facilities, such as restaurants, cafes, and theatres, are closed as well, and in masses, we reached the point where there is literally nothing to do.

I call this state a forced meditation. I have thought and rethought about my life in the past couple of months to a grandiose scale. I told myself, in due fashion, that relatively speaking, I am doing fine. I repeated it like a mantra, watching the closed terraces and desolate streets, because without some positive thinking, one is doomed.

For some of us, this forced state of lockdown can be a good thing. I hate shopping, and always thought that it could be a good cause for celebration when shops are closed. I hate the crowds, and I thought that it would be nice to enjoy the city where I live in its beautiful quietness and tranquillity. And yes, I do enjoy the city, the Frisian capital in the north, but certain good things in their absence acquire a nagging ‘come back to me appeal’. There is nothing else more than I want at this moment but to go to a nice cloth shop and stroll, walk in the beauty store and stare at creams, try perfumes in Douglas, or a body oil in the Rituals. I will no longer say I hate shopping, because I hate meditating even more.

I can’t meditate and this is something I learned already long time ago when meditation was presented to us as a spiritual gift worthy of acquiring. I assumed due postures and tried to get rid of my thoughts. They still continued rushing through my head though, reminding me of some better things to do, such as simply having a nice cup of coffee, talk with a friend, or go on a nice walk in nature, in order to, well, meditate. The thoughts were like dark huge clouds around my head, and I realised that I could almost see them at some points, and reach for them with my hand, to never let go. I like thinking, I like thoughts. I like constantly dreaming and thinking, what is there to meditate about, I would ask myself?

And yet, it is the state in which we found ourselves due to lockdown and the crisis around the Covid. As a world population, we are forced to meditate and reflect more, because there is less of distraction. The online world is slowly losing its appeal as well, and we are driven to start appreciating what is around. But what is around, or used to be, is precisely what makes our lives so beautiful. A nice cup of coffee on a sunny terrace in a café, a meal in a restaurant, live music in a bar, a great ballet or opera in a theatre. Or a trip to buy that nice dress in a shop.

All these little things, that’s what makes meditation pleasurable on occasions, but when it is forced on us, it looses its appeal. Meditation can be good only in small doses, as well as closed shops, cafes and theatres.

When will it end?