Bill Maher must be one of the most controversial TV hosts of this moment. He has never been known for mincing his words and his latest controversy is one he must have seen coming from miles away…
It has to do with obesity. If you’re up for it, give it a click below. If you don’t feel like listening to his slightly annoying voice and arrogant demeanor, skip the vid and read my summary further down.
So basically, what Bill Maher is saying is that we should not be making fat people feel OK about the fact that they are overweight. He literally says “fat shaming should make a comeback” and that telling people otherwise is sending them to an early grave.
Enter James Corden, who was having none of Bill’s shit. He manages to make some good points as well as some self deprecating jokes, without watering down his message.
I thought that was awesome. And true!
But still… Hurtful as his choice of words may be, I do think Bill Maher has a point. Not in the sense that I feel we should be pointing and laughing at our large boned friends and family members (obviously), but I do feel that there is a growing acceptance that may not be as right as we are letting ourselves believe.
Actually… This is pretty much how politics (should) work, don’t you think?
Someone pinpoints a problem and offers a solution. Insiders and experts pitch in, creating nuance and a more complete understanding. Empathetic outsiders step in to find a place of mutual understanding and consensus.
From there you build a healthy and balanced policy that is satisfying (enough) for all parties involved.
In the middle of his (slightly bizar) tirade, he said the following:
It is pure oikophobia! Pure self hate.
It is a guilt complex, that apparently needs a way out. […] That arrogance, ladies and gentlemen, friends, that stupidity is what they were punished for today.
In this specific segment of his speech, he was referring to recent climate reports and political measures that are being taken to reduce our ecological impact, or in his own words “climate sorcery”.
I realize that I am very much on the defense here. He’s talking about me. I am one of those self-hating oikophobes that believes we should repent and change our habits, traditions and culture. I even believe in climate change! I’m radical like that.
Self-hater in the house
The thing is that I can’t deny I am extremely critical of my country.
Take our role in global slave trade, for example. Small a nation as we are, our part in this slice of history was substantial and this is something we are only just starting to see as anything other than “good business”. I believe our apologies for this should be explicit and generous.
When it comes to Dutch governance in our former colonies, I guess we weren’t the worst in the region, but it was still nothing to boast about. Our position in the top twenty of wealthiest countries was achieved on the backs of others. I realize we can not turn back time but I do feel we can be more honest about this in our education system and history teachings.
Our cuisine is bland and unexciting, our landscape is basically flat-earther-heaven, our favorite pastime is complaining and I think the way we celebrate carnaval is the stupidest on the planet.
So yes, I realize that people that voted for mr Baudet were basically voting against me and my way of thinking.
Self-critique is not self-hate
The diagnosis Mr Baudet has given me and my country is oikophobia. He even wrote a book with that very title, apparently…
In short oikophobia is a word based on the Greek word “oikos”, meaning home or household. In political context it is used to describe those that criticize their own culture and heritage and defend or praise cultures outside of their own.
What bugs me is the fact that my criticism and my wish for us to improve as a nation is seen as “hateful” and “disloyal” somehow. That sentiment feels so foreign to me. The Dutch have never feared the mirror nor shunned an argument.
When did we turn into cowards? How is it that I don’t know a single person that voted for this guy? Why can’t we talk about shit anymore?
The fact that I hold my country to a high standard is because I am in fact an oikophile, not an oikophobe!
This is one of those blogs that has been in the making for months and I was convinced today would be the day I’d share the whole thing with the world.
However, as I previewed it just now I realized it was turning into a lengthy thesis, rather than something easy-to-read-while-sitting-on-the-toilet (which is one of the best places to catch up on blog updates and news events, and you know it).
So I decided to pull a JK Rowling.
Instead of one massive text, I will now be publishing 5 Black Pete related posts, spread over 5 days. The fifth one will contain a meaningful conclusion to tie it all together, which I hope to come up with any minute now…
So, without further ado, let me introduce to you episode number one, in which I take you back to my own personal childhood memories of Zwarte Piet, aka Black Pete.
Growing up as a privileged Dutch kid in South America, I remember feeling sorry for my non- Dutch classmates who did not know about Sinterklaas. At the international schools I went to, it was mostly Christmas that was celebrated in the holiday season, and I remember it made total sense to me that Santa Claus did not exist, but that Sinterklaas absolutely did. I was a true believer.
It was a well known fact that Sinterklaas arrived in the Netherlands from Spain every year by boat. This steamboat carried all our gifts, Sinterklaas’ horse and his loyal companions: the black Petes.
For kids, the Petes are often quiet scary, and this is kind of the point. As the (literal and figurative) “dark element” in the Sinterklaas celebration, the Black Petes were always used as a threat to keep children in line throughout the year. Nowadays this is less common, but Pete’s disciplinary character still shines through every now and then.
Sinterklaas’ arrival, which is referred to as “de intocht van Sinterklaas” is celebrated every year in a different Dutch city. Kids from all over the country count down the days for his arrival, as this is when they can start leaving out their shoe (usually in the windowsill or by the fireplace).
With a small gift or snack for Sinterklaas’ horse (usually a carrot) tucked safely in the shoe, each child sings one (or several) traditional Sinterklaas song(s) and then heads off to bed. The next morning the carrot is gone (eaten by the horse, of course) and traces of Sinterklaas’ visit may be seen around the house. Most importantly though: the shoes are filled with traditional seasonal candy and a small gift. They get to repeat this ritual several times until December the 5th, which is Sinterklaas’ birthday.
On the day of his birthday, Sinterklaas and the Petes go door to door handing out gifts to all the good kids, in a tradition packed evening called “pakjesavond” or “gift evening”. It is said that naughty kids receive a lump of salt instead of a toy (no idea why) and that repeat offenders may end up being taken back to Spain in the jute bag as Pete trainees.
Upon their arrival, the black Petes barge in, making a big ruckus, doing cartwheels and jumping on the furniture. Sinterklaas enters after them, slowly and solemnly, waving at the kids and winking at the parents. I never recognized any of them, all though they probably were parents, uncles and aunts of my friends and classmates.
How he managed to arrive in Bolivia on the same day he was busy handing out gifts in the Netherlands never raised any questions. Living in a landlocked country I should perhaps have been worried about the fact that his preferred means of transportation was an old steam boat.
I was satisfied with the idea that he probably sailed up the Amazon river and had ridden the rest of the way up the Andes mountains by horse. How the Petes had made their way to my home is a question I ask myself for the very first time today… I wasn’t a great critical thinker at the age of 6, apparently.
Even as I grew older I continued to look forward to the Sinterklaas celebration. Of course I no longer believed he was anything other than a man in a costume, but I still got jitters when the Black Petes made their entrance, throwing sweets through the classroom and later in the offices where I worked.
All though kids usually stop believing in Sinterklaas around the age of 8, most families continue to celebrate “pakjes-avond”. The shoe-element disappears to the background as children grow up and a new element is introduced: poetry.
The adult version of the Sinterklaas celebration still revolves around giving each other gifts, but more than that, it is about praising, reprimanding and teasing each other with cheeky rhymes.
Contrary to Christmas (which obviously has some common traits and historical origins) Sinterklaas-for-adults is not exclusively a family celebration but something people also often celebrate among friends.
All though there are many ways these get-togethers can take shape, the most common one can be summarized as follows:
Establish gift-budget with the people you will be celebrating with.
Write your name + wishlist (within budget range) on a piece of paper. and put it into a box or bag along with everyone else’s.
Everybody picks a name from the box, Secret-Santa-style, and buys that person a gift.
The gift is presented or wrapped in a “surprising” way (for example stuffed in a big jar of gunk or hidden in a papier-maché sculpture).
Along with the gift every person must make a poem for the other, in which gossip and old grudges about the receiver can be put into rhyme. The poem is usually written from the point of view of either Sinterklaas or Pete.
On pakjes-avond each person reads their (sometimes quite embarrassing) poem out loud to the rest, before unpacking their present (and hopefully having a great laugh about it all).
If you are interested in reading more about the many different ways in which adults celebrate Sinterklaas I recommend the following blogs and articles:
During most of my lifetime, I had never thought of the Black Pete element in this whole celebration as wrong or discriminatory in any way. I can’t even remember anyone ever telling me it wasn’t ok, not even any of my international friends. If someone did, it didn’t really make an impression.
The racist character of Black Pete is a real problem however, and one that is becoming increasingly hard to ignore. I will go into different elements of this matter in upcoming posts and hope I will be able to rid myself of some personal frustrations along the way.
This morning, while driving back from Friesland to Leiden, I heard one of Nothing but Thieves’ new songs:
The song is called Amsterdam. I don’t think the videoclip was actually shot anywhere near our nation’s capital though… or maybe he left his heart in the Amsterdam in New York state…?
I realized I had heard another song named Amsterdam just a week ago, by the Danish band Nephew:
I was looking into Nephew as they were one of the big names starring on the Roskilde Festival 2018 poster. Amsterdam was obviously one of the first songs I clicked on and I must say I was very pleasantly surprised! I really like their sound and am looking forward to seeing them play @ RF18. All I have to do is brush up on my Danish… :s
Sadly for me, a band that will not be present at Roskilde but is very high on my wanna-see-live-bucketlist, is Coldplay. Did you know thay also have a song called Amsterdam?
Oh! And I just learnt that Imagine Dragons, another fave of mine, also has one!
None of these songs seem to have a lot to do with the city they’re named after.
Want to know more about Amsterdam?
Read about the (slightly cliché) must-sees here, look into a list of free tours here or watch these 14 (very accurate!) YouTube tips below:
My tip: leave Amsterdam at least one day during your stay and visit another city in the Netherlands to get a feel of the non-Disney version of the low lands!
Those who have ever been to the Netherlands and / or have read some of my blogs must already know this: we are not big on nationalism.
Sure, we have our symbols.
As far as our flower goes, I suppose it must be the tulip, all though I don’t think that’s actually official. But the rest of the world associates us with it, and we carry it with pride.
Our national bird is somewhat of a mystery to me. I think we might not have one. All the cool birds of prey were already taken, I guess, and claiming a bird of paradise didn’t fit with our Calvinist attitude, even though we could’ve adopted one from our colonies…
Our coat of arms looks like this:
….which brings me to our motto: Je maintiendrai, which is French for We will hold on…
Yes, you heard me: French.
If we speak French in the Netherlands, you ask? Not a word! We speak Dutch, and if anything else it would be Frisian. Our English is pretty good on average, followed by German. Our French; deplorable.
I guess our founders decided it was better for PR to avoid the guttural sounds that are inherent to our own language when presenting ourselves abroad. And French is sexy enough, non?
But let’s proceed… Because let’s be honest, the choice of language is not the only thing that’s off…
Ordem e progresso; it may not be a very accurate description of the current state of the country, but it’s something to strive for: Order and Progress. You can do it, Brazil!
We’ve all heard of Cuba‘s: Patria o Muerte: Country or Death! A bit over the top maybe, but I’m definitely fired up! (no cigar and or rum pun intended)
And what to think of Egypt‘s: Ankh, uza, seneb, which translates to Life, health, well-being. Beautiful!!!Makes me want to move there.
Now, back to the Dutch motto: We will hold on.
Are you inspired yet? No, me neither….
It sounds like the motto of a slightly apathetic and bored teenager at her great-aunt’s 97th birthday.
I’m still hoping there is some historically interesting and motivational story behind it, but I think that what it all boils down to is a peoples that has struggled to make a living on a marshy bit of land that keeps flooding.
I mean, I get it. It’s super demoralizing to have to keep rebuilding your house and loosing all your livestock and all… But maybe that wasn’t the time to design that coat of arms…
Because look at us now! We battled the elements, built ourselves some pretty sturdy structures and have kept our fields dry ever since (*knocks on wood*), making it possible to feed and breed the best bloody dairy cows IN THE WORLD. And don’t forget the tulips!
So, we didn’t merely “hold on”, we whooped the sea’s ass! How about we write THAT at the feet of those fierce looking lions??
*pushing my luck here, knocking on wood again*
One of the Dutch provinces that we pumped dry, for example, has Luctor et emergo as a motto, which is Latin for “I struggled and emerged”. Something to be proud of, no?
My country has been without an official government since the March 15 parliamentary election, after several attempts to form a Cabinet failed.
In the last week week though, it seems an agreement has finally been reached. The coalition will consist of the current prime minister’s center-right VVD, the conservative Christian party CDA, the liberals of D66 and the slightly creepy Christian Union. It is expected that Rutte will remain prime minister.
D66 is the party my parents support and, all though my vote did not go their way in this last general election, I have voted for them in the past as well. They are known to be the ultimate middle of almost everything. The party leader, Alexander Pechtold, is a great debater, with a friendly face and a conflict free attitude. He is the personification of the Dutch polder model.
Critics describe D66 as wishy-washy and spineless.
All though I wouldn’t go that far, I did choose to vote for a party with a stronger and clearer set of ideals, this time around. I felt it was necessary to oppose the growing right wing unequivocally. Also, I felt the environment needed to be clearly and prominently represented in a party’s program in order for it to deserve my vote.
So, I voted for Groen Links, which is a green, left-wing party with progressive ideas and a growing base of members and politicians with “true grit”, which is what I missed in D66.
What could’ve been
Right after the elections, the country was getting ready for a coalition of VVD, D66, CDA and Groen Links. The parties agreed on many matters but in the end, Groen Links’ leader Jesse Klaver left the negotiating table. The harsh attitude the other parties were pushing to adopt on immigration was unacceptable to Klaver.
A lot of people said he should have made a bigger effort, perhaps temporarily adopt a more flexible attitude in order to get in the control room and then work on changing the system from the inside out. I for one, do feel Klaver did the right thing here. He did not sell out on his ideals, which makes me happy I chose to vote for his party.
Rutte III – VVD, D66, CDA, CU
The slightly fragile coalition that presented its plans this last week, will have a more rightwing character than the outgoing government.
Among the most important plans of the new coalition is a large tax overhaul, with a cut in income taxes and corporate taxes, aiming on making the Netherlands more attractive for international companies.
The coalition’s answer to the refugee crisis is to allow access to several hundred refugees more than the current government does. At the same time financial allowances for asylum seekers in the first two years of their stay will be lowered.
In the environmental agenda, higher taxes for polluters have been included and our five coal-fired energy plants will be shut down by 2030.
All though I hardly feel connected with this new government at all, I do wish them all the best. Our little country below sea level is counting on them….
It’s done. We did it. We voted. The world didn’t end. YAY!
Populism – you’re doing it wrong
What I found interesting is that Mark Rutte, our current prime minister said the elections were a victory for our country as a whole and Europe as well because we showed we disagreed with “the wrong type of populism”.
I imagine he considered saying that the Dutchies voted against populism. Period.
But apparently that didn’t sound right to him. Did his media adviser fear journalists would point out his own populist tendencies of late and that he wouldn’t know how to respond? Or was he referring to other parties? Or does it go without saying that all parties are populist and is Geert Wilders just “doing it wrong”? No clue…
Send in the coalition scout!
And now, just a few days after all the votes were counted, the first inquiries will be made about who will form the new Dutch government.
For this phase of the process a so called “informateur” or “verkenner” is appointed, which you could translate to “scout” or “information gatherer”.
This coalition scout (m/f), was appointed by the king or queen, until 2012. It is now a task for the current parliament, choosing someone that is affiliated to a certain party (usually the majority party) and is relatively conflict-free. Hard enough after a political campaign, I can imagine.
The person that was chosen for this task this time around is Edith Schippers, Minister of health under the current government and member of the majority party VVD (both in these elections as the one before).
She will speak to the leaders of all the parties that have won seats in Parliament. Over a dozen different parties, ranging from the holistic ecology party “Partij voor de Dieren” to more extreme ideological parties, both pro-immigrants (DENK) as anti-immigrants (Fvd and PVV).
During the talks the party leaders will make clear what possibilities they see for a new cabinet and what they hope to achieve.
At first glance there doesn’t really seem to be a combination of like-minded parties large enough to form a productive government.
It’s going to be a challenge. But I’m not afraid anymore.
This post is a reaction to daily prompt- acceptance.