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Double Dutch: Year's End in the Netherlands

Herb Fellow

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Do you know where the word "Yankee" comes from? It's a combination of two common Dutch names, Jan and Kees. When the Dutch first colonized New York (then called New Amsterdam), the people of the Netherlands referred to the settlers as Jan-Kees and hence the term Yankee came into existence.

What about the term "Dutch treat"? Besides being our favorite informal grocery store-slash-deli on north campus, the term "Dutch treat" actually is a bit derogatory. The Dutch joke about how cheap and stingy they stereotypically are; when someone, Dutch or not, says something such as "Do you want a drink?" the person being asked figures he is being treated to a beer, but when the bill comes, he has to pay for his own drink. This is a Dutch treat. Wonderfully sarcastic and droll, don't you think?

One thing the Dutch do not joke about is Sinterklaas. Although we celebrate it at Hofstra, the real thing is, obviously, far superior and far weirder. I had the good fortune to witness two Sinterklaas parades, in Utrecht and in Amsterdam, and both experiences were equally bizarre, funny and exciting with Sinterklaas riding a white horse through an endless line of children waving and screaming. Sinterklaas-the Dutch Saint Nicholas and the basis for North America's Santa Claus-arrives from Spain by boat with his gang of Zwarte Pieten, or "Black Peters," in celebration of the beginning of the Sinterklaas season, which culminates with St. Nicholas' name day, Dec. 6.

Now, the "Black Peters" were, in the Middle Ages, African slaves to Sinterklaas; the term "zwarte piet" was a name for the devil who was conquered and chained by St. Nicholas, the patron saint of children. After being interpreted as having racial connotations (DUH!), the Dutch reinvented the Zwarte Pieten by saying that they were the ones who climbed down the chimneys for Sinterklaas so he didn't have to, and that they don't actually know what color the Peters' skin is because they are covered with soot from the chimneys-although they still dress in 16th century Spanish jester garb.

Still not satisfied with the clear racism of the "helper," the Dutch, just last year, invented "Rainbow Peters" which look like lollipop vomit with every possible color spewed over their costumes; the story was invented that Sinterklaas' boat passed through a rainbow and so his helpers became rainbow-colored. Note: this holiday is just for kids who get gifts and poems placed in their shoes that they put outside their doors (think Christmas stockings), get chocolate letters of their first names and a special small gingerbread cookie called pepernoten that the Black Peters give them at the parades if they scream "Piet! Piet!" and hold out burlap sacks for them to fill; the Dutch still celebrate Christmas on the 25th. Double note: this would never fly in America. Ever. But the Dutch just see it as tradition, not racism. They were not raised with the racial connotations that "black face" involves and they actually paint their children's faces black for the parades. Regardless, I'd like to see Hofstra try to do a totally authentic Sinterklaas parade.

Quite ironically, or maybe not, the Sinterklaas season kickoff in Amsterdam collided with another uniquely Amsterdam phenomenon: the Cannabis Cup. Before you read on, just take a moment and think about what this event could encompass. If you've already heard about it, it's exactly as you've imagined. For 200 Euros, weed enthusiasts from all corners of the world-but mostly America and Britain-descend on Amsterdam and become judges at participating coffeeshops (the city has about 400 in all) and get driven around in special Cannabis Cup vans from shop to shop for a whole week getting so stoned that you'd think they would actually overdose.

On the outskirts of town, the Cannabis Cup Expo is open to anyone from the public for just 20 Euros. If you've ever been to a job or trade expo, this is no different in concept but completely different in content: Tables are set up all around an arena with local coffeeshops giving out inflated bags filled with marijuana smoke for one to sample, international weed paraphernalia companies are giving out the newest advances in pot smoking apparati-I actually picked up a clip that magnetizes a lighter to the base of a bong and transparent rolling papers; genius-seed growers allow people to look into microscopes at their prize strand and merchandise of all sorts surrounds a stage where bands and acts perform all day-my favorite: the 4:20 Show with Dan Skye. I thought I was getting stoned just from the air in the place, but the free weed that was being passed around for me to smoke helped too. After four hours there, I was in a muddled, stoned state of ecstasy and confusion as the house band started singing a song called "Hemp" and they announced Tommy Chong was coming on stage to be inducted into the High Times Hall of Fame. Unreal.

Well, that's my limit for this article. Next time, it'll be the New Year and hopefully I'll have new things to share. Enjoy the Sinterklaas and Christmas holidays everyone and as always, tot ziens.

Source: Hofstra Chronicle
Copyright: 2007 Hofstra Chronicle
Contact: Collin Kornfeind
Website: Double Dutch [2]: Year's End in the Netherlands - B-Section
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