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International evening "Meet the world": Netherlands 17.05.2012

On Thursday 17th of May the Meet the World series at Domus Dorpatensis reached the Netherlands, the happiest country in the world according to OECD.


The event was headlined by Valentjin Hart, a Dutchman who first came to Estonia to study and now works here. To accompany him was Kaisa Lepik, an Estonian who in turn studied in the Netherlands.


                Valentjin started things off with a short summary and commentary on the basic things people usually know about Netherlands. Insisting he is not an expert on the history of the country, he emphasized how thoroughly the experience of World War II is imprinted on the memory of the Dutch people. Valentjin also associated it with Estonia’s past. “We have this nice country called Germany that occupied us for 5 years and, well, here you have a similar one,” he pointed on the large mass of land east of the Baltics. On a more modern note, he brought up the effect of the 9/11 events on life in Netherlands. Before 2001 the atmosphere in the country was calm and relaxed but after the assassinations of the politician Pim Fortuyn and the film director Theo Van Gogh by Islamic fundamentalists many demonstrations and inner conflicts have taken place.

                Valentjin then mentioned the typical things people usually associate to the Dutch. To the amusement of the listeners weed came first. Valentjin revealed that while people think Holland is the place where you can go to get high legally cannabis has actually been banned in many areas of the country and the laws are getting stricter at the moment in others.  Next up were red light districts and wooden shoes, the latter of which, it turns out, are very difficult to wear but some people still do it. He also demonstrated that while windmills are considered to be landmarks of Holland, it is actually not so easy to differentiate between a photo taken of one in Netherlands and another taken here in Estonia.


                Kaisa then gave a brief account of her time studying in Groningen. She compared the academic environments in Estonia and in Netherlands, bringing out that while there are more seminars and more schoolwork in the Netherlands, there is also much more interaction between the students and the lecturers. The atmosphere is very free and friendly, with students and academics spending free time together. She also talked about the Netherlands being a bicycle society. “It’s normal to see a person driving a bike to work, having a baby in front, at the same time talking on a phone and eating a sandwich.” Kaisa also recalled how she tried to buy herself and some friends a bike. The conversation with the seller on the phone went as follows: “How many bikes do you need?” “Four.” “Okay, no problem. I will try to get them tonight.” It did turn out that many bikes also means quite a handful of people making a living stealing them.


                To sum the evening up, there was, as always, a Q&A session with the guests. Valentjin talked about the reasons why he likes Estonia, the most surprising of which was that he thinks the weather is nice. He also noted the irony of that claim, pointing outside where it was raining heavily at the very moment. He also pointed out that Estonian streets are cleaner because the Dutch tend to throw away their trash more recklessly. When asked the question about bikes in Estonia he reminisced that he has had four bikes stolen while staying here. “Now I bring it inside, into my room, and guard it with my life,” he laughed gesturing how he is covering his bike from the potential thieves with his body. Otherwise, he was on the opinion that bike usage is actually very high in Estonia and doesn’t really compare too badly with the Netherlands.

                After the formal part of the evening had ended, everyone attending was treated to a neat selection of Dutch cheese kindly provided by the Dutch embassy.