Sunday, September 19, 2010

Eight Tips Series: Kitting Your Home Out with Dutch Essentials

In order to get along in Dutch society there are a number of essentials you need in your home. Without them you cannot integrate fully and may even fail the inburgeringscursus. You can read about these essential tools (and others) in more depth in an article I wrote for Expatica.

1. Potato Masher
Without this vital piece of kitchen equipment you can never hope to master Dutch cuisine. It is hard work to use it effectively but practice makes perfect. You need to keep mashing until the object in question looks squashed and dead.

Although it is a potato masher (at least where I come from it is) the name is deceiving. In the Netherlands, it has various uses on top of smashing the life out of a potato: mashing cabbage, mushing carrot, pulverising spinach, squashing onion, squishing endives...... you get the picture.

This kitchen tool allows you to make a perfect stamppot or hutspot - perfect for warming the tummy in winter. Also very handy after dentistry work and a broken jaw.

2. Birthday Calendar
This is an essential for the smallest room in the house, namely the downstairs loo. If you don't have a downstairs loo, then choose the next smallest room. Make sure you include the birthday of anyone likely to visit your house - everyone checks for their name whilst they are making use of your facilities. They really do. If they come out of your downstairs loo looking mad, it's because you forgot to put their birthday in your calendar.

3. Bicycle
It almost goes without saying, but without a bike in the Netherlands you are no one. You simply must have a bike - it really doesn't matter how much you use it but you should have one. Where it is stored differs from household to household. The shed is a popular place. Public hallways in shared accommodations are also popular, preferably so you block safe exit and entrance. Creating an obstacle course for fellow residents is seen as good sport here. You can also leave your bike(s) chained to a lamppost outside your house - it externalises the obstacle course and gives dogs new and varied targets to pee on.

4. Window Foil
Many Dutch homes do not have curtains. They may have blinds or no window fittings at all. This is traditionally so you can see in to the showcase living room. However, over the years many Dutch homeowners have become torn between tradition and dignity. Do they really want you seeing them in their dressing gowns with bed hair every morning? The solution is window foil. Placed strategically over the windows you can't see out so obviously nobody can see in (except very small and very tall people).

5. Sauces
Your fridge door must be full of different sauces to be served with every meal. Every meal, regardless of what it is. Of course, the food you serve will determine exactly which of the sauces you are to serve but there are some staples: knoflooksaus (garlic flavoured sauce), currysaus (spicy ketchup in essence) and chillisaus (chilli sauce). There are other sauces which are variable and optional but for kids you must always serve appelmoes (apple sauce). It is to do with the lack of flavour in Dutch cuisine....... see tip 1.

6. Vases
Flowers are everywhere in the Netherlands. They are also commonly brought by visitors. So if you are a bit of a socialite, then you will need a lot of vases and many free surfaces to put your flowers in and on.

7. Cheese Slicer
I had never owned a cheese slicer (kaasschaaf) in my pre-Netherlands life. Cheese in the UK is soft and comes in square chunks so can easily be cut with a knife or crumbled or grated for sandwiches. I now own two cheese slicers. (I actually had three but whilst some might find that luxurious, I found it to be a little excessive and as it came free with some cheese I chucked it). Anyways.... Dutch cheese is hard and triangular shaped. Trying to cut it with a knife is just asking to lose at least one finger dangerous so cheese slicers are essential.

8. Chairs
Foreigners in the Netherlands all have to step into the circle of death at some point. If you have a Dutchie in your house, you will even have to create that birthday circle for yourself. For this you need as many chairs as you can muster from friends, family and neighbours. But you must also have a good supply in house. The good news is (so I am told) that the birthday circle is dying out and a thing for the older generations.

What's your experience? Do you still end up in birthday circles? Do you host birthday circles?

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