A Remarkable Land Indeed

As I get settled back into a more normal routine, meaning that I should be able to provide more frequent actual blogpost contributions on this forum, there are first a number of strange things popping up in my own environs that I would like to bring to your attention.

To start off, the following image has lately been omnipresent in billboards placed on the station-platforms of the light rail line I use to get into the center of Amsterdam:

Yarden

The Dutch text reads “A good parting/leave-taking helps you further.” There’s the face, the text, and also the company name (Yarden) below, but then that’s all you’ve got. What on earth could this be about?

If you’re Dutch (or have lived here long enough to be acquainted with the sort of advertising brochures you routinely receive in your mailbox) it’s pretty obvious. Let me give you a hint: There’s a normal-light half on the right, and then a darkened half to the left, correct? If Yarden wanted to be fully consistent with their advertising message, they would make of that darkened half a half-skull.

But they don’t, because that would shock too much, hurt sales. That’s right, Yarden sells uitvaartverzekering, or funeral insurance whereby one pays regular premiums while still living and earning in order to pay for a proper plot, coffin and funeral ceremony for when the time comes to leave this earthly existence.

The fact that advertisement for such a product – oblique though it may be – can be so publicly displayed in the Amsterdam metro system highlights the strange Dutch attitude towards death – oddly depersonalized, even amounting to a sort of lifestyle event (like a bar mitzvah, say). You can see this in the language as well: uitvaart in literal terms has the bloodless meaning of “exit.” Indeed, the German cognate, Ausfahrt, together with thick arrows pointing outwards, is what you will repeatedly see while driving along the Autobahn. (On Dutch highways it’s rather afrit.)

Or take a look at Yarden’s homepage. There’s our half-and-half smiling (but, sadly, all-too-mortal) lady up top. But look towards the bottom-left: UitvaartideeĆ«n – “Exit ideas,” i.e. ideas about how to arrange your funeral so that . . . I don’t know, I guess so that it uniquely fits your dearly departed personality. Underneath that, if you’re still at a loss, are further links for “Inspiring exits” and “Themes for your exit.” Then one column over to the right the bottom link offers “Readings about death.” Creepy!

—–

Time to cut to a rather more cheerful subject, namely pizza. Let me translate for you the “Pizza Etiquette” rules to be found on the forward flap of any Dominos Pizza box in the Netherlands (comments in parentheses are not from me, they are part of what is written there):

  • Eat with your hands. (That’s faster.)
  • Don’t wait until the others have their pizza. (After all, you don’t want yours to get cold.)
  • Eat out of the box. (You can collect any remainders and keep them there.)
  • Go ahead and talk with your mouth full. (Imagine that with every bite you have to wait until you have said something.)
  • Share with as few others as possible. (Then you keep more for yourself.)

That’s what is printed on the pizza boxes, I swear! Dutch Dominos Pizza franchises are clearly not devoting much time or energy to remaining politically correct, are they?

—–

Finally, check out the following picture which you might still be able to see on the homepage of Amsterdam public transport, if you act fast.

GVB_nude

The Dutch text on the left talks about a new alternate payment method for paying for nightbus rides, but your eyes are probably over on the right checking out the young woman pictured wearing only body-paint that is supposed to simulate some sort of unzipped black leather jacket.

Yep, this is placed at the top of a city utility homepage frequently accessed for reference by the public, including (one would have to imagine) by minors. Now, I personally have no objection if children lay their eyes upon this sort of thing, the culture over here (apart from that within Muslim-dominated enclaves) is rather tolerant about such things. Still, that is not so in many other parts of the world. True, about a year ago or so the New Zealand National Airways made waves with one of those pre-flight safety instruction videos which used both male and female personnal “clothed” only in body-paint – but in that one the camera-angles were judiciously chosen so that no PG-rated body sections were actually exposed. The Dutch clearly don’t even have that inhibition.

Have we got it all, then? Yes: Sex, Death – and Pizza. Don’t worry: this sort of cultural anthropology kick will be short-lived, and this blog will soon return to discussing aspects of the European non-English-language press, as we have been doing here for more than ten years (with interruptions). It was just that these separate observations all came together for me at roughly the same time.

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