The Dutchness of New York

I’m turning over this installment of the blog to my favorite Dutch expert, Wessel. Take it away, hon…

Wessel and Diane are part of a US-Netherlands collaboration that has lasted for 400 years

Wessel and Diane are part of a 400-year US-Netherlands relationship

It’s great to be Dutch in the USA this year. I’m basking in the light of national pride. In 1609 — 400 years ago — a Dutch ship,  the “Halve Maen” (Half Moon), led by Englishman Henry Hudson, sailed into the waters around Manhattan. Hudson was actually looking for a shortcut to Asia for the Dutch East India Company.

The New Netherland colony and the trading post New Amsterdam, now New York City, would later be founded along its shores. NY400 — an all-year initiative in 2009 — celebrates 400 years of history between the Netherlands and the US.

Many newspapers have carried stories about the anniversary. But do Americans know about this historic event? I wouldn’t be surprised if only 1 percent know anything about what happened. So let me, a Dutch citizen, fill you in a bit.

Memorial for Dutch buying Manhattan from Native Americans in Battery Park, New York City

Monument portrays the Dutch buying Manhattan from Native Americans

More than a decade ago when visiting New York City, I went on an expedition to find traces from the Dutch past. I walked for two days through the city and found different tidbits. Topographical names: Wall Street (Walstraat), Harlem (Haarlem), Brooklyn (Breukelen; Brooklyn Borough Hall has a beautiful mural referring to its Dutch past), Coney Island (Konijneneiland, i.e. Rabbit’s Island). There were statues and plaques: The Dutch buying Manhattan from Native Americans (Battery Park), a plaque commemorating Peter Stuyvesant (last Director-General of the colony of New Netherland 1647-1664). Even the seal of the City of New York mentions 1625, the year that Fort Amsterdam was built on the southern tip of Manhattan.

Santa Claus is really a copy cat Sinterklaas

Santa Claus is really a copycat Sinterklaas

Another legacy is the Dutch linguistic influence. A few hundred words with Dutch roots are sprinkled throughout the English language. Who ever thought of Santa Claus having Dutch roots? The Dutch ancestor is Sinterklaas. Here’s a selection of loanwords: boulevard (via French from: bolwerk), brandy wine (brandewijn), caboose (kombuis), cookie (koekje), coleslaw (koolsla), dike (dijk), frolic (vrolijk), golf (kolf), iceberg (ijsberg), luck (geluk), mannequin (via French from: manneken), stockfish (stokvis), tulip (tulp), wagon (wagen), yacht (jacht). The latest addition is clap skate (klapschaats), a type of ice skate with the blade attached to the boot by a hinge at the front.

Coleslaw was invented by the Dutch who probably didn't want to waste leftover cabbage and carrots

Coleslaw was invented by the Dutch, who probably didn't want to waste their leftover cabbage and carrots

While you might not be aware of these Dutch-American stories, some you’re probably familiar with really aren’t Dutch at all. The famous Dutch boy Hans Brinker who saved the nation from disaster by sticking his finger in the dike is a work of fiction story by American writer Mary Mapes Dodge. The famous Dutch tulips were actually imported from Turkey in the mid 16th century. I’m not quite sure what the origins are of the Dutch kissing couple, found in souvenir stores everywhere. My suspicion is that sneaky Dutch merchants made the whole thing up. Even I took the bait, and have a photo of a kissing-couple statue as my desktop wallpaper at work.

Wessel relishes a stroopwafel

Stroopwafel connoisseur Wessel relishes one of these classic Dutch cookies

Another Dutch story is found in the expressions “going Dutch” and “Dutch treat,” meaning everyone pays for themselves. I guess for English-speaking people it’s hard to admit that there are frugal sides to their personalities, so they blame the Dutch. Unfortunately, I am not the best example to derail this stereotype, but I do my part by trying to redefine the expression Dutch treat. On every return trip from the Netherlands, I will fill the empty luggage space with packs of “stroopwafels.” Friends and colleagues can confirm that the stroopwafels are highly addictive and are a real Dutch treat.

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6 Responses to “The Dutchness of New York”

  1. John Burns Says:

    Wesel, thanks for turning me on to stroopwafels. You need to go back to visit your parents and return with a suitcase full of those tasty treats.

  2. Marian Says:

    There is nothing like a freshly baked stroopwafels on marktdag!

  3. Aat Zevenhuizen Says:

    One of my precious rememberances van mijn Vader land
    moet zeker zijn “Hutspot” Nieuwe Haring, Koningine Dag
    en de bevreiding in 1945 van de troupen van zovele
    landen, die ons hebben gered van honger en dispair.
    Mijn bewondering voor het land van mijn jeugd.
    Aat

  4. Ger Hulst van gaal Says:

    I received this from the a member of the dutchclub in Miami ,were I was at one time president from , very interesting .. thank you for youre website

    Ger Hulst van gaal
    http://www.nflsf.org

  5. karel Says:

    This is a romantic story. Touching lot of people. But wat is the reality of nowadays. The blossom of Manna Hatta grew into a Big Apple. And in The Netherlands came, after WorldWar-2, a climate of liberal thinking on one hand an on the other hand a system of solidarity, showing in medical care and state-pension for everyone and other social security measures. And aversion of power (police, military).
    Generally spoken, this doesn’t make me unhappy, but the lack of some etiquette is something to be concerned of

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