Dutch culture

Xenophobe's® Guides: Lessons from Dutch literature

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From Jip and Janneke to modern Dutch authors, Dutch literature brings foreign readers as close as they can be to the heart of 'gezelligheid'.

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

Literature is the one area where Dutch culture has remained an island, made inaccessible by a language incomprehensible to most other Europeans. Paradoxically, it is on this island that the Dutch cultural climate is at its healthiest. Everyone is writing a novel. Producers of television chat shows seem able to tap into an endless supply of writers. Old stalwarts of the genre, such as Frederick Hermans, manage first edition print runs of over 500,000, and even newcomers sell books in the tens of thousands. The English-speaking world is beginning to take note. Writers such as Cees Nooteboom, Arthur Japin and Harry Mulisch have met with some success in translation, and the vignettes painted by Simon Carmiggelt bring foreign readers as close as they can hope to be to the heart of gezelligheid.

The Dutch begin their raids on foreign culture at a young age. Winnie-the-Pooh and the inhabitants of Sesame Street are lined up alongside locals such as Jip and Janneke – a boy and a girl who live next door to each other and first meet by rubbing noses through the hedge. Jip and Janneke are healthily naughty, but are always learning about good neighbourliness and correct behaviour. They hold a special place in the nation’s heart, and their silhouettes can be found everywhere from lavatory doors to coffee mugs.

Apart from Jip and Janneke, the world of Dutch children’s literature is populated by unbearably saintly beings – from the boy who saves the world by keeping his finger in the dyke, to Dik Trom, a fat village lad with a heart of gold who always helps the blind and the poor. Dik may not be much to look at, but, on the inside – as his parents constantly remind everyone – ‘he’s a special boy, and that’s a fact’. The Dutch grow up believing they are the European Dik Troms.

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: Polleket (Jip and Janneke).

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