Category Archives: DUTCH STORIES

How to Bribe a Saudi Prince- lessons from a Dutch giant

Kees van XX’s job at Akzo Nobel was to bribe princes in Saudi Arabia to make sure that the company’s projects could get completed. It was a job that should not have been necessary. After all, Akzo Nobel was bringing jobs, money and new industrial plants to Saudi Arabia. The Saudi government wanted Akzo Nobel to be there.

In Saudi Arabia a bribe is always accompanied by tea
In Saudi Arabia a bribe is always accompanied by tea

However, nothing gets done in Saudi Arabia without paying off a prince. Failure to do so means that your project will suddenly get shut down for failure to have the “required permits”.

Akzo Nobel knows the art or bribery world-wide
Akzo Nobel knows the art or bribery world-wide

The Dutch are very practical about paying bribes, and they make no moral judgements about the practice. Akzo Nobel’s international employee handbook states that there is a strict policy against paying bribes. However, the booklet explains that it is acceptable to make a “facilitating payment.”

Don't call it a bribe. Call it a "facilitating payment."
Don’t call it a bribe. Call it a “facilitating payment.”

Akzo Nobel goes to great lengths to explain the subtle difference between a Bribe and a Facilitating Payment. A Bribe gets someone to do something they should not be doing. A Facilitating Payment gets someone to do something which they are supposed to be doing anyway. A Facilitating Payment gets a government bureaucrat to stamp the correct documents. A Facilitating Payment makes sure the electricity to your job site does not suddenly get turned off.

A facilitating payment moves your paperwork to the top of the pile.
A facilitating payment moves your paperwork to the top of the pile.

The Dutchman Kees does not look like an expert on Saudi Arabia. He is six feet eight inches tall, has blonde hair and weighs 380 pounds. When visiting a Saudi palace he never is asked to show I.D. The guards find him easy to recognize.

But Kees is a real expert in the art of Facilitating Payments. There is more to this art than just having pockets full of cash. First it is necessary to find the right prince to pay off. Different Saudi princes have control over different regions and different parts of the economy. It takes an expert to know which prince can help your particular project.

Then there is the delicate matter of negotiating how much. Offering too little is a personal insult, while paying too much is a waste of company money. All of this negotiating takes place slowly over endless cups of tea.

Nothing gets built in Saudi Arabia without paying off a Saudi prince
Nothing gets built in Saudi Arabia without paying off a Saudi prince

Kees readily admits that he finds the whole process extremely tedious. He talks about one Saudi prince who he used to visit once a month to hand over an envelope of cash. This simple transaction took a good part of the day. It would be an insult to just walk in and give the prince the money.

Each month, Kees would share a meal with the prince and they would make small talk for several hours. At some point, Kees would place the envelope full of cash onto the table. Neither Kees nor the prince every looked at or mentioned the envelope. At the end of the meal, Kees would cordially say goodbye to the prince, and leave the envelope behind.

The most delicate negotiation Kees ever had was when one of Akzo Nobel’s construction projects got shut down despite his regular payments to the Saudi prince. The Army had blocked off access to the site, claiming the company lacked the required permits. Then a Saudi Army Major explained that he could remedy the situation for a “certain price”.

Kees had to go to the prince and firmly state that while Akzo Nobel was willing to make one Facilitating Payment it was certainly not going to pay 2 separate people for 1 project. The prince was furious at the Army Major for having encroached on the prince’s territory.

The prince assured Kees that the Major would be dealt with. The prince also explained in exact detail what forms Akzo Nobel could fill out to have the Saudi government reimburse Akzo Nobel for the lost time on the project. The next day the Army roadblock was gone and the Akzo Nobel project was up and running again. One month later Akzo Nobel got a check from the Saudi government. Kees never found out what happened to the Saudi Army Major. He assumes it was nothing good. You don’t double-cross a Saudi prince and have it forgotten.

All this happened a long time ago and the Saudi Arabian government states that this kind of open corruption no longer happens. If you believe that, we have a nice bridge in Brooklyn we would like to sell you.

Akzo Nobel works its industrial magic in China
Akzo Nobel works its industrial magic in China

What happened to Kees? He moved quickly up the ranks of Akzo Nobel. Men with his delicate skills are hard to find. He is now working in another country that claims to have no corruption, bribes or even facilitating payments. We are sure that Kees will do very well in his executive position in China.

See our story – Why the Dutch Tell Germans – “Bring Back our Bicycles”

Black Pete (Zwarte Piet) – The Dutch Racist Christmas Tradition

This time of year, white Dutch men in blackface parade around the streets of The Netherlands in a Christmas tradition that the Dutch insist is not racist. The men are portraying Zwarte Piet, who is the loyal servant of Sinterklaas, the Dutch equivalent of Santa Claus. These parades have existed for more than 150 years and the Dutch are very proud of them.

Sinterklaas & men dressed as Zwarte Piet

Sinterklaas & men dressed as Zwarte Piet

Tradition has it that Zwarte Piet was a valued and well-paid servant (not a slave) of Sinterklaas. In fact, Zwarte Piet is often portrayed as being far more intelligent than the absent minded Sinterklaas. Zwarte Piet was a Moor, which is why the Dutch wear blackface. Zwarte Piet is not considered an object of ridicule but a hero. In legend, he once gave gold coins to poor young women so that they would not have to sell themselves as prostitutes to survive. Zwarte Piet is also the enforcer for Sinterklaas. He gives good children candy and presents, but hits the bad ones with a broom. This is why in some parades, Zwarte Piet is seen carrying a broom.

Young Dutch women protesting Zwarte Piet

Young Dutch women protesting Zwarte Piet

The problem is that the Dutch simply don’t understand how racist it looks to the rest of the world to have white men dancing around the streets in blackface. The Dutch are a very logical society and their rationale is that Black Pete cannot possibly be racist since the Dutch did not intend for him to be a racist symbol. The Dutch will further explain that Zwarte Piet is in fact a hero, and the men in blackface are actually praising this ancient Moor.

Some Dutch have begun reducing the amount of blackface on Zwarte Piet

Some Dutch have begun reducing the amount of blackface on Zwarte Piet

However, as the economy has become more global, many people of African ancestry have moved to The Netherlands due to its welcoming business climate. People of African ancestry are shocked and offended by Zwarte Piet, and are frustrated that the white Dutch people just don’t understand the problem. The fact that Zwarte Piet appears dressed as a clown makes him seem even more of an object of ridicule. In  fact, Zwarte Piet is actually dressed in the traditional outfit of a servant to a wealthy noble.

Al Jolson in "The Jazz Singer in 1927" Jolson never considered himself racist.

Al Jolson in “The Jazz Singer” in 1927. Jolson never considered himself racist.

Protests have erupted in The Netherlands this year over Zwarte Piet. However, over 90% of the Dutch do not consider Zwarte Piet a racist symbol and do not see what all the fuss is about. In some parades, Zwarte Piet performers have tried to reduce the tension by wearing less blackface makeup. They somehow feel that a Brown Pete might be less offensive than a Black Pete. However, this was like throwing gasoline on  a fire.

White Americans in modern day using blackface to post a mock lynching on-line

White Americans in modern day using blackface to post a mock lynching on-line

The Zwarte Piet controversy in The Netherlands is a perfect example of two groups talking past each other instead of with each other. For an outsider, the solution to the problem seems very simple. Have Zwarte Piet played by someone of African ancestry. If no one is available for the parade, then have a white actor play Piet, without blackface. The protesters are not objecting to the legend of Zwarte Piet. What they are objecting to is modern-day White Men wearing blackface.

The use of blackface in America has such horrible historic connotations that blackface anywhere in the world is considered an open declaration of racist intent. The Dutch argue that this is not fair for them to have to change their tradition due to American racism.

As protesters have said “Racisme is Niet Gezelligheid” Roughly translated this means “Racism is not harmony”. Gezelligheid (harmony or coziness) is the highest goal of the people of the Netherlands. It is what every Dutch family, company and the society as a whole strive for. If the Dutch want to acheive true Gezelligheid then it is time to put the blackface makeup away forever.

“The Dutch bring their own water” – Why the Dutch are the most hated tourists in Europe

“The Dutch even bring their own water” is an expression Europeans use to complain about the Dutch tendency to  vacation in  other countries and yet never spend a penny. The Dutch often travel outside The Netherlands in campers and carry all their own food and water with them. This means that when they get to another country they don’t have to spend any money. Nothing  for hotels or food. They don’t even buy a bottle of water. In fact, other Europeans wonder why the Dutch even bother to travel outside The Netherlands in the first place.

Dutch campers make the Dutch the most hated tourists in Europe

Dutch campers make the Dutch the most hated tourists in Europe

The expression The Dutch even bring their own wateris, of course, an exaggeration by frustrated European shopkeepers and hoteliers However, it does reflect a real frustration with Dutch “tourists”.

In a survey of what nationalities tip, the Dutch don't even make the list.

In a survey of what nationalities tip, the Dutch don’t even make the list.

Americans, on the other hand, are loved in Europe.  This comes as a surprise to most Americans, who have heard so many tales of rude French and Italians. It all boils down to money – Americans spend it and the Dutch don’t.

Americans tip big in Europe. American's don't consider Euro coins "real" money.

Americans tip big in Europe. American’s don’t consider Euro coins “real” money.

American tourists can’t speak the languages, don’t understand the culture or the cuisine, but they make up for all that with the habit of spending big. Plus Americans, do something most Europeans either skimp on  or skip completely – Americans Tip. In fact, the advent of the Euro hugely increased the amount Americans leave for tips. Euro coins don’t seem like real money to Americans ,so they give them away like they are worthless. It is not at all unusual to see an American give a handful of Euro coins to an amazed and happy European waiter as a tip.

Copper wire was created by 2 Dutchmen fighting over a penny

Copper wire was created by 2 Dutchmen fighting over a penny

The Dutch, on the other hand, are not at all insulted by their reputation for being cheap. In fact it is a  source of national pride. A popular joke in The Netherlands is,

  • “How was copper wire invented?”
  • The answer is “Two Dutchmen fighting over a penny”

That joke is hundreds of years old and the Dutch tell it proudly. The Dutch have always been careful with money. It is one of the things that allowed them to survive and thrive, despite being a tiny country with a small population.

The Iron Bank on "Game of Thrones" is supposed to represent the bankers of The Netherlands

The Iron Bank on “Game of Thrones” is supposed to represent the bankers of The Netherlands

In 1776 the  French King gave money to the American Patriots during the American Revolution. In contrast, the Dutch government had no interest in giving any money to the Americans. However, the Dutch bankers loaned large amounts of money at 5% interest to the Americans. In fact, the Dutch were loaning money to the British at the same time. The Dutch are such good bankers that they were able to successfully get full repayment on both these sets of loans.  On the T.V. series Game of Thrones, Braavos represents The Netherlands. Braavos is clever enough to stay out of all the wars, yet make money by loaning gold to all sides.

So if you are ever  in Europe and you hear someone say “The Dutch even bring their own water”, don’t feel badly for the Dutch. Other Europeans may mean it as an insult, but the Dutch take it as a compliment.

Naked Dutch Windows – the Soul of the Netherlands

Tourists gawk at the naked prostitutes in the ground floor Amsterdam windows and think that explains who the Dutch are. However, the secret of the Dutch can be seen in other naked windows far from Amsterdam; in the windows of the suburbs and countryside. Ordinary Dutch families don’t put curtains on their ground floor windows. Walking down the street at night you can look directly into the well-lit homes and see the families having dinner, or reading, or just sitting in their living rooms.

Dutch prostitutes display themselves in windows

Dutch prostitutes display themselves in windows

No, the Dutch are not exhibitionists, and they are not even the liberals  outsiders think they are. The Dutch are actually quite conservative, while at the same time being immensely practical and business-oriented.

A Typical Dutch Home with no Curtains

A Typical Dutch Home with no Curtains

The curtain-less windows in Dutch homes goes back hundreds of years. There should be nothing going on in a home on the ground floor that needs to be hidden. Some say this began in the days when Calvinism took hold in the Netherlands. No curtains was a way to demonstrate to the  world that nothing sinful was taking place in that home. Even when the Protestant Reformation faded, the practice of no curtains remained. The homes or apartments may be equipped with curtains, but the Dutch don’t actually close them.

Even in the daytime Dutch prostitutes are on sale in windows

Even in the daytime Dutch prostitutes are on sale in windows

But how does that explain the Dutch tolerating prostitutes displaying themselves in windows in Amsterdam?

Johannes Vermeer painting "Lady at the Virginal with a Gentleman - The Music Lesson" Notice the lack of curtains

Johannes Vermeer painting “Lady at the Virginal with a Gentleman – The Music Lesson” Notice the lack of curtains

The Dutch are conservative family-oriented people, but they are also immensely practical. Unlike other cultures, the Dutch long ago decided that it was an idiotic waste of time and money to try to eliminate the sex trade. Instead, the Dutch have limited sex workers to specific, safe areas. Tourists gawk at the prostitutes (and possibly partake in their offerings). Giant Dutch policeman patrol the district while hiding their distaste  for the whole business.

Dutch Apartments with no closed curtains on lower levels

Dutch Apartments with no closed curtains on lower levels

Meanwhile, far away from the red-light district, Dutch families quietly sit down to diner, in full view of the world. Their naked Dutch windows displaying to passers-by who the Dutch really are .

Why The Dutch Tell Germans, “Go Dig A Hole In The Sand”

“Go Dig A Hole In The Sand!”, is an insult Dutch people sometimes say to Germans. This basically means, “go kill yourself”, and dates all the way back to the end of World War II.  That’s when German prisoners of war were used to dig up the hundreds of thousands of land mines buried on the beaches of Europe. The German POWs were not given any equipment other than long sticks and small shovels. The sticks were used to locate the mines  and the shovels to dig the mines  up.

German Prisoners of War digging for land mines after World War II

German Prisoners of War digging for land mines after World War II

The Allied soldiers guarding the Germans stayed far away, since every so  often  one of the mines would explode killing the German trying to disarm it.

Land mine hidden on a beach

Land mine hidden on a beach. Could you spot it in time?

The big mystery about the  “Go dig a hole in the sand phrase is why do only the Dutch say it? The French, the Poles and the Belgians never yell “Go Dig A Hole In the Sand” at a German, even through the Germans also invaded those countries in World War II. What is it that has caused the Dutch dislike of Germans to be so much more intense than that of other countries also invaded by the Nazis? There are many theories for this. Perhaps it is because The Netherlands was one of the first countries the Nazis invaded and one of the last to be liberated. There is also the fact that after  the Dutch resistance sabotaged a Nazi train shipment of weapons, the Germans stopped all food shipments into The Netherlands. Dutch civilians were at near starvation levels by the end of World War II.

German World War II prisoners of War

German World War II prisoners of War

Of course, some say that part of the Dutch continued hatred of the Germans is a secret self loathing and self-doubt about the actions of the Dutch during World War II. There was a small but active Dutch Nazi Party, whose members actually joined the German Army and fought alongside the Nazis. There were also Dutch woman who during the Nazi occupation were “horizontal collaborators”. That is, there were Dutch women who had sex with German soldiers.

Who betrayed the Dutch girl Anne Frank?

Who betrayed  Anne Frank in The Netherlands?

The Dutch famously hid Anne Frank and her family in Amsterdam, but even today the question remains as to “who betrayed  Anne Frank?” Did the Gestapo just happen to discover Anne Frank, or did a Dutch person turn her in? These are things the Dutch do not want to think about, and instead in their anger yell Go dig a hole in the sand!” at young Germans who were born decades after World War II ended.

Haven van Zandvoort beach The Netherlands.

Haven van Zandvoort beach The Netherlands.

Old Dutch people who were actually alive in World War II think it is a disgrace that the “Go Dig A Hole In The Sand” expression still exists. They will reprimand anyone who dares use it. Having actually lived through the horrors of a war, the old people understand that hatred breeds hatred in a never-ending cycle. They say it is time for the Dutch themselves to dig a hole in the sand and bury their hatred of Germans forever.

Why the Dutch Tell Germans to “Bring Back Our Bicycles” at Football Matches

Whenever Dutch football (soccer) teams play German teams, the Dutch fans taunt the Germans with big  signs that say “Bring Back Our Bicycles “. The Dutch go to the trouble of writing out these signs in German so that their rivals will get the message.

The Dutch love the joke and think it is a great insult. The only  problem is that except for the very old people in the crowd , the Germans have no idea what the Dutch are talking about. The Germans know it is some sort of insult, but exactly what is it?

Dutch 4

Well it goes back to the end of World War II. The Germans, of course, had invaded The Netherlands at the very beginning of the war, and it  was one of the very last countries liberated by the Allied Forces.

Dutch 3

By that point in the war, the German army was completely defeated and the Germans were retreating full speed as the Allied Forces approached. The Germans were using everything they could to get out of the Netherlands. They took trucks, cars,  motorcycles and tractors. When no motorized vehicles were left, the remaining German soldiers stole every bicycle in The Netherlands and rode them back to Germany.

Dutch 2

These events were 70 years ago, but the Dutch have never forgotten. They never hold up signs asking to bring back the cars or trucks or tractors. It is the bicycles they remember.

Dutch 1

The Netherlands is a nation of bicyclists. Children, businessmen, old people and beautiful young women all ride the big sturdy Dutch bicycles. In the pouring rain they ride them to work, steering with one hand and holding an umbrella in the other.

As time goes by and World War II seems more and more distant, the people of Europe will forget many things.  But the Dutch will never forget or forgive the theft of their bicycles.

Gezelligheid – The word that explains all things Dutch

The key to Dutch culture is “gezelligheid”. It has no direct translation, but roughly means the “coziness” or “togetherness” to which all Dutch people aspire. As a small country with no natural resources and surrounded by powerful neighbors, the Netherlands has been successful only by its people working together. But is it more than a management strategy. Gezelligheid is a philosophy of life which leads to a general contentment in the country.

View from a N etherlands train

View from a Netherlands train

Many Americans visit the Netherlands briefly while traveling through Europe and never actually see it. They spend a day in Amsterdam visiting a marijuana coffee house in the daytime, and stop by the red light district to gawk at night before continuing the tour to another country.

The best way so see the real Netherlands is by train. The trains are fast, clean and efficient. The entire country is only half the size of Scotland, and you can travel across the whole country for less than 50 Euros. There is a main train station directly under Schiphol airport in Amsterdam. You can get off the airplane and take an escalator directly down to the trains.

Thirsty Dutch cows

Thirsty Dutch cows

Last Spring I took the train from Schiphol to Weert (which is in the south and pronounced “vert”). It was startling that just outside Amsterdam the country abruptly changed from city to rural, with the lush green grass of hundreds of small dairy farms stretching off to the horizon. The Netherlands is completely flat with very few trees, so it feels like the farms stretch to the end of the Earth. It was an unusually sunny day for a country known for rain, and the brilliant light shined on the black and white cows grazing contentedly. There were no fences, since the farms were separated by small canals rather than barbed wire.

Peaceful Dutch countryside

Peaceful Dutch countryside

The train itself was filled with teenagers going to a concert at an arena which is one of the stops on the line. Most were dressed in costumes which were types of hand-made togas and fake gold jewelry. They were all very excited about the event. Coming down the aisle was a young man wearing a large metal backpack.  The backpack turned out to be a container holding the coffee, tea and soup he was selling. It looked impossibly heavy, but he carried it with ease.  The soup was very popular among my fellow passengers, but I did not feel adventurous enough to try eating soup from a backpack. The soup seller seemed to love his job, and joked with all the riders.

In addition to the teenagers, there was a group of senior citizens (who really loved the soup). There were also about fifteen very large Dutch soldiers in full camouflage gear.  All the different groups interacted and spoke to each other in a way you just don’t see Americans do. Instead of staying isolated in their separate groups they actually mingled and  spoke at length to each other.

The teenagers got off at the arena, and a few stops later the soldiers got off at Eindhoven, which ironically had been the site of a famously bloody World War II battle. By the time we got to Weert, it was dark and the only people on left on the train with me were the senior citizens. When we all got off in Weert, the senior citizens, in true Dutch fashion, got on their big heavy metal bicycles, and peddled off into the night leaving me standing alone in front of the train station.

That was when I realized I had no idea which way the hotel was, and there were no taxis. I stood for a long time outside the station with my rolling suitcase trying to remember the directions. Then a woman crossed the street towards me. I have to admit I was very suspicious that she might be a prostitute or a thief. In perfect English she asked me if I was lost, and gave me walking directions to my hotel. I thanked her and started to my hotel, feeling very guilty about my initial suspicions.

The night had turned quite cold,  and I was chilled by the time I reached my hotel.  Opening the door of  the hotel, I could hear the crackling sounds from the warm fire in the lobby fireplace, and smell the aroma of roast beef coming from the dining room.  Two young Dutch women with gold hair greeted me from behind the desk.

I stepped in from the cold night into the warm lobby, happy to be part of the gezelligheid.