22 April 2010

Dutch Lessons I: Coffee time

 This clock would NEVER be caught ticking in a dutch, reformed immigrant's kitchen in Southern Ontario (Canada). Not now and not since the bulk of dutch immigration in the post-world war II era.Though non-dutch Canadian observers, very rightly, might think this would be a very appropriate clock for their dutch neighbor's kitchens. 

Afterall, these dutch delay, sometimes by hours and hours, Sunday dinner, for coffee time. All their houses have a lingering smell of coffee and for some dutch, coffee seems to reek out of their pores. It is true that these fanciful dutch folk just throw away all the rules of proper diet and ravenously eat through cakes with whipping cream, jugs of coffee with whipping cream, and then have a second course of squares and cookies every Sunday  between the hours of 11:30 am and 2 pm.  Coffee, like all luxuries, is regulated, Calvinist style - this would not happen any other day -  for other days there are different coffee parameters.

The dutch, bless their souls, cannot really begin any activity without having first had a coffee, nor can they end events without one. Coffee is the gateway to all that they do. If I visit my parents on a weekday morning to do some painting, lets say  - we feel an awkwardness if we don't first sit and have a coffee together. It feels wrong somehow just to pick up a paint brush and begin working. You need to get the social juices flowing with coffee first - create a comradery, a "cozy togetherness" first. There is a dutch word for that, its called "Gezellig". We have to feel Gezellig first before we do something together.

And the key word here is DO. DO is key. You must earn your coffee. My parents, dutch immigrants still living in the dutch greenhouse belt of southern Ontario, still have a hard time having coffee with breakfast. They haven't earned it yet. They need to get work done first. Then they can sit and relax over a coffee, at 10:30 am, for 20 minutes max. Then they must get up and work again. Some of you might be thinking, wow, Marcella, you are dutch... like this?

Ok, maybe not like that... I honestly don't know where I came from.

But I do find myself having to squelch an inner "gezellig" metre before I host, lets say bookclub -  I want to serve them all coffee and cake first, because its the gateway to cozy, its the order of things I grew up with.

Dutch party order: coffee, dessert, second coffee, wait a few minutes, break out the booze.

Starting with wine up front is like not earning your booze... with a proper after-dinner coffee time first.

I am startled at this revelation. That my inner self is ordered, still, in dutch time.

On Sundays, for most dutch immigrants, they no longer have to eye the clock while sipping. No longer is there a building feeling of guilt attached to each new cup. The dutch immigrant soul has been cleansed, they have earned their elongated Coffee time... by 6 days of work. The seventh day is a day of rest. They take the words of the Genesis God seriously, and the dutch of course pertly translated that into Sunday Sabbath Coffee Time. Anytime is certainly NOT coffee time.

While I was in Europe and Holland a number of  years ago - to my disappointed Tim Horton's/Starbucks heart,  I noticed that there was hardly any take-out coffee anywhere, but at train stations in flimsy styro cups. You don't shop with a coffee in your hand, you don't drive and sip and you most certainly don't work with a steaming mug at your side - thats like working and having a coffee break at the same time. Vorboden.

If anything, the dutch are renowned for their separation of things (who else came up with the idea of Aparthied, unfortunately?). The Dutch like to divide life, parcels of land, people, and time up into neat orderly bits. There is a proper time and place for everything. And this perversion, this North American mixing of breaktime and work time, in Holland or in dutch southern Ontario land, where God Herself has a strong work ethic, is an act of sacrilege. You must sit down at a cafe or with those around you and socialize over coffee, you don't DO stuff over coffee. Quite a nice habit I think.
                      (Note the little cup of whipping cream on the side)

 My husband and I , each having grown up in dutch immigrant households had a difficult time adjusting to the non-coffee culture of the Anglican church years ago when we were first married and I was working as a Youth Programs Director at Oakville's downtown Anglican parish. After church, people would gather for 1/2 an hour or so sipping weak coffee and dark tea, and on some special occasions, Sherry, usually from the Rector's personal stash. Often accompanied by the Ladies Guild Pickles.
Afterwards, we noted with curiosity, no one was inviting anyone over for coffee !!!... or Sunday dinner... Sunday was family day, or families uniting over pickles day. For us, Sunday was of course family day - for birthdays and such, but ingrained in us, was the idea that Sunday was social day too - and sometimes a "get to know new people as potential friends day" - which meant, of course, inviting people over for coffee. We never dared ask. The culture could not accept dessert before their dinner. For Anglicans, you got to know eachother at the pub on thursday nights after Choir rehearsal. Neither of us sing though both of us drink beer.Unfortunately your ability to sing was what they screened you for. Robert still has not fully adjusted.

I no longer attend any services as I am leaning towards other practices -not so much an organized religion type anymore,  but Robert takes the boys most Sundays to an Anglican Church and I have some special baked good and Coffee waiting for him when he gets home at precisely 11:30 am; the coffee gateway to the rest of our Sunday, naturally!


  1. Wow! I learned a lot about coffee and the Dutch here- I really like the idea of earning your coffee because I think it tastes so much better after your work is done. I think might be a bit Dutch at heart...

  2. Hey! My earlier comment got eaten. Anyway. How I love this tradition. Though I have done a very poor job of keeping it up. And thankfully, we were allowed a breakfast coffee. Because I think just getting UP in the morning needed a reward.

  3. Interesting. I didn't know this. It feels like a good habit having a coffe break and not doing other things but enjoying it.

  4. So o maybe me and dad are dutch?!? Our reward is always coffee for anything we have done...only I have reduced the quantity...

    Dad think he deserves coffee every half hour...not so healthy even if he might have caught a very positive thought about himself there...

  5. Love it. We have some very close friends in Holland. Whenever they come to visit us in the states, it is always so interesting to note the differences between us. One of these days, we are going to make it over there .... so they can talk about how different we are. :-)

  6. Okay ... this is hilarious and so true! I have to get Kev to read it. Before we were married I probably couldn't even find Holland on a map and then after 5 months of dating I marry a Ducth guy and get thrown into these coffee rituals! My taste buds can now drink Vander Ploeg coffee. Kev pokes fun of "Kanuka Coffee" which he claims is brown water (never bothered me before ...) A recurring dispute (we're lucky its actually quite trivial) is after church he wants cake & coffee, but its noon and I want lunch & the boys to eat lunch. So ... 3 of us eat lunch & then cake while Kev valiantly rebels and eats his cake & then lunch. Oh boy...

  7. Thanks for the comments everyone - glad to know some of you learned something about those dutch coffee klatcher types...:)

    Shanna - I did hear about "Kanuka Coffee" but never believed it as I have not tasted it myself and since Kevin is off the dark roast and happily drinks shlock and Timmy's, I can't trust his judgement :) That is soo funny that he still insists on cake and coffee first ! that makes me howl - - - ! :O