Monday, September 29, 2008

Lekker Puh (Dutch for 'You cannot have it, so there!')

by Madeleine Kando

I am about to leave Holland to go back to America, wondering how I feel about my most recent visit to my Vaterland. It's been educational.

As usual I have a constant feeling of being an outside observer with a fairly critical eye tainted with subjectivity since I grew up here and have many complex emotional bonds to this clean, well-organized, little country. I like its physical beauty, the impressive vistas of bright green pasture dotted with cows, sheep and church steeples. The gorgeous farm houses with their thatched roofs. The immense Dutch sky that is so typical of Holland with its ever changing colors and texture. Yes, it is a very special place. Visually.And then there are the Dutch. If only there weren't so many of them. If only there were a few that are not so... Dutch. So lacking in imagination and a sense of adventure. I would like to meet some Dutch people who don't constantly live by the rules, who show some humor, some ability to improvise. Although the Dutch have been good to us, the Kando clan, I am constantly confronted with their unlimited capacity to conform and their total inability to think and act outside the box. And let's not forget generosity. The Dutch are generous politically, they have harbored refugees for centuries, but when it comes to small, everyday affairs, it is as if the Dutch are suffering from a split personality. They turn from Dr. Jekyl into Mr. Hyde.

As a tourist I have often experienced something I'd like to call the "lekker puh" mentality of the Dutch. By this, I mean the subtitle, above, or something like this: "Haha, I got something you want, but you can't have it. Not because it would cost me anything if I gave it to you, but because it's so much more fun to just say 'No"."
In other words, a childish impulse which most of us enjoyed up to age 6 or 7.

The lekker puh policy originated in a small establishment that actually goes by that name: the "Lekker Puh" cafe in the small village of Groet: all you need to do is ask for some extra hot water for your tea and the "lekker puh" policy is triggered automatically: '"we don't have to give you extra hot water for your tea, lekker puh."

But the "lekker puh" policy has become very popular in other establishments throughout Holland. I have had the privilege of experiencing this policy in places as far removed from each other as the Northern Province of Holland and even on some of the islands off the coast of this beautiful country. You only have to ask for some extra lemon wedges for your tea in Camperduin, a small beach resort in the Northern Province, and immediately the "lekker puh" policy goes into effect: 'we don't have to give you an extra lemon wedge for your tea, lekker puh.’

Even on the remote island of Vlieland the "lekker puh" policy is in full swing. At the famous Golden Tulip Hotel where we booked a room for 2 guests, you could find the lekker puh policy in action: "'we don't have to give you two bars of soap, you can share one, lekker puh'."

Unfortunately I am leaving tomorrow, back to America. If I could stay I could give you more examples of this very popular practice. I forgot to mention all the times that I had to wipe my fingers on my coat sleeves after I had squeezed the minuscule lemon wedges into my cup of tea, for want of napkins. This was so prevalent throughout Holland's horeca industry that I finally ended up carrying napkins of my own. I knew that the next cafe I would visit, the lekker puh policy would be implemented: "'we don't have to give you a napkin, lekker puh". In fact, I suspect that the "lekker puh" policy is one of the reasons Holland is so affluent. Compared to the United States, where napkins, cups of hot water, bars of soap are not rationed like food coupons during a famine, Holland must have saved millions of dollars by not giving those items out freely to whomever dares to ask for them. Is there a lesson to be learned for us naive Americans? Should we adopt Holland's "lekker puh" practice? You tell me.
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Sunday, September 7, 2008

Homeland Security in Action

By Madeleine Kando

My flight back was uneventful and actually went by fast. I was sitting next to a real big guy and originally thought, 'just my luck. I am sitting next to a meat head who is going to hog the arm rest for the next 7 hours'. But we started to chat and he turned out to be very interesting to talk to.

He was in law enforcement and had been a soldier in Operation Desert Storm. He lived in a small town in Western Massachusetts and had grown up in Vermont. He was returning from a 5-day visit to Amsterdam to meet some old army buddies. Read more...