Whilst in Maastricht, Engogirl and I went looking for the Roman tunnels we had read that were there. Unfortunately it was Sunday and just about everything including the information centre was closed.
While we were driving through the countryside, down ever narrowing dirt roads, looking for the tunnels, we stumbled across a large old building called the “Hoeve Lichtenberg”. The old building looked as though it was some kind of gigantic manor house. At the front was a very large entrance that was half opened and we could see a figure moving about, so we got out of the car to ask directions. As we walked through the large opened door we could see a group of Dutch guys at a big picnic table with one of them cooking on a barbeque.
Our intrusion sort of surprised each other as we walked, so I blurted out, “gut morgen” and received the standard polite reply in return. I then said “sorry but I don’t speak Dutch”.
Like many of the Dutch I’ve met, the guy who was cooking said, “It’s O.K. I speak English”. I felt a bit embarrassed and slightly uncomfortable that I’d walked into what looked like a private courtyard and a bunch people about to have their breakfast. So I charged on with, “so, are we on time for breakfast?”
The cook just laughed and said, “sure, sit down and join us……….. but, it will cost ten guilders”.
Realising that he probably wouldn’t have thought twice about us joining him and was joking about the money, I shot back, “sorry but I’ve only got Euros”. The guys at the table all laughed. I then went to ask, “what is this place?” It was explained to us that it was an old farm estate that was now being used as a sort of basic hotel and the guys were staying there. I then asked about where the caves were and received directions plus a lesson on how the Dutch pronounce the word, “grotto”. As I thanked the guys and was about to take my leave of them, they said, “don’t go yet, you MUST go up the tower and see the view!”
Sure enough, there was a ruined old stone tower about twenty metres (60ft) high with recent stairway inside, at the far side of the courtyard. We went up and the view was fantastic. While we were up the tower, the guys at the table called out to us every now and again, waving and laughing as they did.
On the way out, we chatted with them some more and I took the photo above.
What struck me about our encounter with these friendly strangers was how there was a palpable sense of “bon aimi”.
All very; “hail good fellow, well met!”
I was reminded of Evelyn Waugh’s, “Brideshead revisited” when Lord Sebastian Flyte introduced his friend, Charles Ryder (from a lower social order) to his friends in his college in Oxford. The narrator, Ryder remarks (something along the lines of), “they all had the good grace to treat me as though they’d known me all their lives”.
I felt that the jovial hospitality we’d been shown was of the same ilk and was a demonstration of a friendly and confident civility that I really admire.
One of the reasons why I felt I had to write this is because in the few days we’ve been in the Netherlands, in conversation with Dutch people, we’ve had them say to us several times, that they didn’t really like their own countrymen and found them to be an unfriendly, dour and miserable bunch.
Well in our experience, that just doesn’t compute. During our short stay in Holland, every single Dutch person we’ve met has been a paragon of friendliness and civility.
Perhaps the Dutch have such high standards that they are constantly disappointed with themselves and each other.
From where I stand, they are a model to us all.