Today's escapade in the Netherlands is a guest post by P. Jonas Bekker:
Hash, Whores and Raw Herring
When Jules asked me for a guest post on her blog (about two years ago - sorry Jules), I thought for a while and decided to used the offered space to set some things straight:
For example, those of you who still think the Netherlands are a nice, relatively problemless, liberal and tolerant little country where pretty much everything goes, should take a look at the current government, which is made up of conservative Christians, people who call themselves liberals (but who, confusingly enough, have recently changed their course to something comparable to American neocons) and the scream-a-lot-do-very-little anti-Islamic ‘Freedom Party’.
And you probably heard about legal marijuana and prostitution, the pride of Amsterdam? Not true either.
As for the drugs: technically, marijuana is still illegal. Buying it, using it and selling it in small amounts (in places called ‘Coffeeshops’ for some reason) are tolerated. Be aware that smoking dope in a public street is still a ticketable offense. In central Amsterdam, it may be highly unlikely, but in smaller towns you will still be ticketed for this!
The growing and wholesale of the stuff, however, is still illegal. It is also controlled by international criminal gangs that have no problem going at each other with machine guns. Needless to say, this creates huge existential problems for Dutch law makers and crime fighters.
The prostitution situation is even worse. The ‘legalization’ of prostitution in 2000 wasn’t actually a legalization, since prostitution per se has never been illegal here. What actually happened was that the law that forbids the facilitation of prostitution (known as the ‘pimp law’) was scrapped. The idea was that if it’s legal, the people in the business will start paying taxes and abiding personnel safety laws.
Ten years along, there is a pile of research showing no such thing happened. Since it is now nearly impossible to arrest a pimp, possibilities for exploiting women have increased exponentially. Along with startling figures (depending on which report you believe, 50-90% percent of prostitutes work in prostitution against their will) come horror stories of incarceration, torture and murder.
Yes, five to nine out of ten girls you see sitting behind those purple-lit windows is probably a sex slave, imprisoned by criminals and forced to sell her body. Now if that won’t put you off paying for one of those fun Red Light District Tours, I don’t know what will.
But that is not what I wanted to write about at all. No, there is one widespread myth about my country that I want to dispel once and for all.
It’s the fish thing.
You see, at the end of a guided tour anywhere near a body of water anywhere in the Netherlands, the guide will often take his or her group to one of those oh-so-Dutch herring carts and encourage them - making a nice commission, no doubt - to get a haring met uitjes. This is a skinned and deboned herring served whole, with the tail fin left on for the purpose of holding it, on a cardboard dish with some finely chopped onions.
Then, when all the tourists have their fish, the guide will grin and say something like: “And oh yes, I forgot to tell you: it’s raw.” Such fun, watching the dismay on those faces as they disgustedly turn away from their typically Dutch snack.
But it’s not true.
When herring is caught, it is subjected to a process called kaken. This is done on the fishing boat, immediately after the catch. All internal organs are removed from the fish, except for the pancreas. The fish are then salted and put in barrels. The salt and the enzymes from the pancreas work together in a unique curing process, so when the herring reaches the consumer, it has actually been slowly cooked (or, more accurately, cured) to the delicious soft texture that is its main attraction. You want raw fish, visit Japan.
So, next time you take a guided tour around here someplace, you just stare that guide in the face hard, pick up that fish and bite.
So that’s it. Some myths about the Netherlands dispelled. As for the clogs, windmills, tulips, bicycles and cheese… Well, that’s all true of course.