I realize I have been remiss about blogging about my life in Europe, and how it differs from America. So today I have this little story for you.
We are on our way to lunch. In Dordrecht there are precious few places of sufficient quality for one to dine in. Apropos of nothing, Lynn says, “You were right Brian. About the people in Dordrecht.”
Now, I apologize right out if you are from Dordrecht, or this overly offends you, but having lived in the town for a year, I feel justified in saying that it’s pretty much a dump. It’s a small provincial town with a provincial feel. It’s full of provincial people. There is no university and many of the jobs available are factory-related.
While English is widely spoken in cities throughout the Netherlands by the citizenry, I often walked into stores in Dordrecht where the reply to the polite request, “Sprekt u engels?” (Do you speak English?) was often, “Nee. Sprekt u niet Nederlands?” (No you stupid foreigner, don’t you speak the glorious language of the Low Countries? [subtext translated for your convenience]). This made it very difficult in specialty stores like the grocery store, the department store, the hardware store, and some restaurants.
But I digress.
The point is, there are a lot of what appear to be, for lack of a better term, trashy people in Dordrecht. You see a lot of unshaven men with pony tails, leather jackets, and tattoos. You see a lot of teenage girls in jeans (tucked into boots) pushing baby carriages. You see a lot of people who look just a little rough.
Here is an example:
We are walking to lunch. Lynn has not two minutes before confirmed my initial observation of the Dordrecht gentry. We are about to walk into the restaurant, and are passing the discount shoe store, when there is a commotion. A woman in jeans and a dark blue jacket has just left the store. A slightly larger woman wearing brown is talking rapidly into a cell phone and yelling just behind her. Brownie then grabs Blue Jacket by the back of her collar. Blue responds by trying to punch Brownie in the face, repeatedly. I can’t tell if she landed any, but Brownie continues to talk on the cell phone (presumably to the police) while holding onto the jacket.
Ian asks if we should do something, but I’m very hungry for lunch and the conflagration does not appear to be that serious. We don’t break stride.
A nearby Dutch man steps in and restrains Blue Jacket. We take a seat outside to watch the show. After some discussion they shove Blue Jacket into the store and lock the door. “She must have shoplifted something,” says Lynn. Shoplifted? Shoplifted what? A pair of no-brand shoes on the discount rack!? Ian concurred, Blue Jacket was definitely in the wrong.
About twenty minutes later a police van pulls up. There are two Dutch police, a man and a woman. Although it was not the case for a long time, the Dutch police now do carry firearms and are empowered to use deadly force. However, since guns are illegal in the Netherlands, police shootings are rarely heard of. There really is something to be said for a culture without the fear of instant death by gun. But that’s a topic for another blog post. What’s striking to me about the police is that the men wear the same kind of pointed caps that police in the states wear, but the female police have to wear a different kind of hat which is all round and feminine and looks like something I’ve seen on a flght attendant. Strange.
The police walk into the store. We continue eating. A
fter another fifteen minutes or so, the two police come out, with the woman in the Blue Jacket. She is not in handcuffs. They are not restraining her. Everyone appears calm. There is no sign of Brownie. The Blue Jacket woman is even smiling and looking quite pleased with herself as the police open the back door of the van, just as politely as if they were her chauffeurs. The woman climbs in, the police climb in, the van leaves, without so much as turning on its flashing lights.
We finish eating and pay the bill. Ian stiffs me (again) for lunch and goes off to the OTHER discount store to look for yellow yarn to make a wig for his “Dutch Girl” costume.
It strikes me that he could have gotten a blue jacket instead. And some cheap shoes from the discount store to go with it.
Just as long as he remembers to pay for them.