Dutch nationalism vs Australian disobedience

Thursday 25th August, 2016

It’s important to establish an excellent routine as a writer and artist, to rise with ascetic discipline at 6am, read and journal, go for a run at 7.00am, stretch, or alternatively do yoga some mornings. In the Jordaan, only ten minutes bike ride away from our new apartment, there’s a yoga studio called The Conscious Club. I will do yoga there a few mornings a week. I have to admit that part of me relishes the idea of belonging to a club of my own, whilst the other part is in Groucho Marx territory, that famous quote: ‘Please accept my resignation. I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member.’ Still, I will go, as it’s so good to stretch the body, to invert the spine, to take time for meditation. I love to run in nature as well. Of course, the nature here is all man-made so to speak, all planted relatively recently, since this place is a Dutch engineering feat, the canal city. The rest of my day will be for reading, writing and editing, before picking up the children from school at 2.30pm. The children will have a meet and greet at their new school tomorrow. So soon!

I’ve already noticed a somewhat regressive nationalism here, which has probably been more whittled out of Germanic culture because of Hitler and the acute rise of fascism there. In Amsterdam it is a submerged bad smell that lingers – there is a colonial undertow – an enduring sense of Dutch pride that bothers me a bit. They love their royal family and avidly celebrate King’s Day, so I’m told. I’ve heard that on Kings Day the Dutch flout the rules and go kind of berserk. 

Otherwise, in daily life there’s a strong desire on part of many Dutch natives to adhere to rules, but more so to make sure that they police the rules for others in society. In my very short time here I seem to have garnered this impression from my dealings in department stores, bars, restaurants, on the tram and with the local council. For instance, somewhat amusingly yesterday I spotted a Dutch resident approaching a pile of garbage dumped out front of his apartment (opposite ours). He proceeded to take a photograph of the rubbish, most likely with the intention to notify the local council. Shortly afterwards the Australian guy who lives opposite us came out onto the street and although it was not his rubbish, he simply just picked up the garbage bag and took it to the disposal unit at the end of the street.

The other day on the tram I was ordered off on loud speaker for not having a valid travel card! I was mortified. So rude. I’ve also been angrily chastised for entering the tram at the wrong door. Cyclists can be extremely fascistic here too, which is well known by tourists generally. I was shouted at by a woman cyclist the other day in the Jordaan, although I must agree that it would be annoying constantly trying to dodge tourists dithering about with their faces stuck in guidebooks and their brains temporarily on holiday hiatus. In fact, it takes a lot of concentration not to get run over in Amsterdam, particularly when you’re trying to find your way for the first time. I have also been spoken to overly harshly by several customer service representatives in only one week of living here. I also notice that not many people smile on a day-to-day basis. It’s not an overly friendly society it seems. But, perhaps a more civil society overall. Amsterdam is a large village rather than a city.

Of course, as an Australian I’m entirely bereft of nationalistic pride, bearing not a trace of allegiance to our British colonial history. Additionally, my convict heritage means that I am programmed to challenge rules. And yet, we all need to be on watch for the inner-fascist that rears up in life to stifle joy from time to time. (I mean in terms of fascism as a micro-political force). What I do feel an allegiance to is the Australian landscape. I understand Australian Indigenous connection to the land in this sense. It’s in my bones, part of me: an amputated limb. I seem to carry it around within me as a kind of ache, or submerged grief, which perpetually threatens to re-surface. Perhaps, it’s because I know I will not return to Australia for quite some time that I feel the acute loss of the place. I’m not sure.