Xenophobe's® Guides: Culture - mix and match

Xenophobe's® Guides: Mix-and-match Dutch culture

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The Dutch are cultural magpies - find out how.

Xenophobe's® Guides: A book series that highlights the unique character and behaviour of different nations with insight and humour. 

The Dutch are cultural magpies. This means that rather than producing an indigenous culture, they have become voracious consumers of everyone else’s – true Europeans, whose cultural fads and fancies know no borders. The Netherlands acts as a giant cultural sponge.

Dutch bookshelves are well stocked with volumes from Britain, Germany, America and France, often in the original languages. Foreign books are reviewed in the Dutch press long before the translations appear in print. Music from every corner of the globe blasts out of local stereos (the Dutch own more CDs per capita than anyone else). Theatres fill up for German plays and British musicals, and audiences flock to see Spanish and Italian films. Even the Dutch national clichés are not entirely homegrown. Clogs are worn in other muddy northern climes, Delftware is an imitation of Chinese porcelain, and the tulip was brought from Turkey.

Four centuries ago, in the heady years of the Netherlands’ Golden Age, Dutch artists (finding no market in a Protestant country for virgins and saints) took to portraying themselves and the people around them. The result was an accurate and intimate portrait of their life and times. Never again has Dutch art succeeded in being quite so Dutch.

True to their mercantile tradition, the Dutch excel at turning around other people’s cultural products and adding to their value. The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra has long ranked with the finest in the world, and is especially famed for its performances of works by Gustav Mahler, an Austrian composer.

The nation is also unabashed about poaching foreign talent to run its cultural institutions. At the turn of the millennium, the Concertgebouw Orchestra’s resident conductor was Italian, the director of the Van Gogh Museum was a Scot, the national ballet troupe was run by a Canadian, and the opera company was headed by a Franco-Lebanese.

For more, read The Xenophobe's Guide to the Dutch. 

Reproduced from Xenophobe's Guide to the Dutch by kind permission of Xenophobe's® Guides.

Photo credit: LadyDragonflyCC

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