Friday, October 5, 2012

"Typical Dutch"

Studying abroad six years ago in the south of Spain, I repeatedly heard the phrase "típica española," and started to notice and wonder about it.  My host mom would plunk down a plate of [fill-in-the-blank] and tell me "Try this, it's very tasty, muy típica española."  Our Spanish teacher, explaining the Andalusian tendency to add the cutesy diminutive "-ito" to every noun from "old man" to "coffee," as "típica española."  Eating dinner at 10 pm:  "Típica española."  It was that extra-special modifier that denoted items of particular cultural pride for the speaker, a verbal Spanish flag waving proudly atop the object of description.

The other day, while driving around the city with a rental agent, I heard "typical Dutch" for the first time, and started to wonder again:  Why so typical?  Do I ever describe, or hear other Americans describing, something-or-other as "typical American?"  "Typical Washington?"  "Typical Chicago?"

So far, in Amsterdam, I've heard "typical Dutch" used to describe a duckling-like strand of business employees filing across a street, identical white lunch sacks in hand, to a sunny park at 12:02 pm.  The Dutch rental agent with me laughed and said, "This is typical Dutch.  They'll all be back at their desks at exactly 12:30."  He then told me about a Dutch CEO who'd started tapping his wristwatch at exactly 5:45 pm during an international conference call slated to end at 6:00 pm.  At 5:50, the tapping tempo increased, and at 5:55, he began gathering his things.  At 6:00, he was out the door... the conference call still in progress.  After relating this second-hand story about a minute-hand, he laughed, calling the behavior "a bit ridiculous," but again,"typical Dutch." He then described himself as "not-so-typical Dutch," and mused that his Montessori primary school upbringing may have been the root cause of his atypical Dutch-ness.

So, is "typical" Dutch something that the Dutch want to bury?  Is it something they want to tout?  What's the deal with "typical," anyway?

On an unrelated topic, our street had a festival last weekend.  Many shops and restaurants featured special late-night hours and free samples,  and we watched a Bruce Springsteen cover artist from our front window.

Typical or not typical?  You be the judge.

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