Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Breakfast in The Netherlands

The Netherlands - February/March 1995

I will forever remember my first breakfast in The Netherlands. Yes, it was exciting --visiting a foreign country for the first time and living with a Dutch family for two weeks.
But that is not why I remember it. My first Dutch breakfast was actually embarrassing. There is no other word for to describe it.
After a 22-hour flight, and almost no sleep, I finally arrived in Amsterdam, Holland.
My friend Edward met me at the airport and then whisked me away. We arrived in Velp two hours later, where he had two bicycles ready for us. I was pretty tired but Edward was so excited about the afternoon he had planned, that I decided I’d keep quiet. And, in all of his excitement, Edward forgot about dinner. My jet arrived at 2 p.m. and I was too shy to mention that I was starving. I had been too nervous to eat on the plane. We finally stopped to share a bag of French fries -- with mayonnaise. Mayonnaise? How very odd, I thought. Where’s the ketchup? He also picked up a bag of little whole fishes, but I refused to eat them.
After riding through the countryside and into Germany and back – he lived near the border and I wanted to say that I had been there – we finally headed home in time for what they called “8 o’clock coffee.”
The Dutch are famous for their coffee drinking. And 8 o’clock coffee in the parlour was mandatory in the Van Drissen family. You simply did not miss it. Ever! In my situation, I was glad and I was more than ready for a little coffee. Because that also meant that we would get a cookie with it.
Before retiring to my room, on the fifth floor, Edward’s mother reminded me that breakfast would be served at 8 a.m.
There was a university not far from the home and Edward’s family ran a boarding home for college girls. I had been invited to stay in their home as their guest during the duration of my trip. That night I slept like a baby.
The next morning, I came down to find everyone sitting at the table, waiting.
“Good morning,” I said but only Edward answered. His parents looked at the clock. It was 8:03 a.m. It was awkward. I apologized and they nodded but I could tell they were not pleased.
Note to self – “Do not be late again.”
I was starving and wondered what we might have. But it turned out that breakfast consisted of a piece of toast and a piece of cheese. Nothing more.
I really was famished. I took my toast, buttered it, and bit into it with gusto, the good ol’ American way -- with butter touching my fingers and crumbs falling everywhere.
It was only then that I noticed everyone else cutting their toast into small squares – using a fork and knife and eating one square at a time with the fork. It was then that I noticed the silverware next to my plate.
“Oh my God,” I thought. “What must they think of me? They must think I am some sort of savage! I’ve only been here one night and already I am showing poor table manners."
It was at this point that I noticed that there were no napkins at the table. Not knowing what else to do, I swallowed quickly.
That is when I noticed something else – there were no drinks at the table. What kind of family was this? Certainly I would choke to death soon.
Fortunately I spotted some paper towels on the far wall, next to their sink. I realized I had two choices, get up and get one or stay seated and look messy for the rest of the meal.
I decided to quietly stand, retrieve the paper towel and return to my seat. Yes, the family noticed but it was better this way.
I learned several things that first morning in The Netherlands and I made several notes to self – always be on time, carry a small napkin in pocket, remember to use cutlery for everything and oh yes, never swallow anything too quickly.
[I also never realized, until after I left, that the family never talked at the dinner table. They always ate in silence. While I was there, I was bubbly and talked about home and asked lots of questions. Edward said he liked the change I made for them. So, at least I introduced a little California sunshine into their lives.]


  1. I might have yelled out, "Take me to the nearest buffet if you have one! I'm starving!" lol

  2. LOL, Jeff.

    But really, that seems a little cold and uninviting. I never knew that about the Dutch. One piece of toast for breakfast? I would starve to death!

    From someone whose country is known for food and eating, deepest commiserations to you, Esther. :)

  3. I'm laughing at both of your comments.
    Jeff, I could almost see you doing that, too. Bhaswati, your country does have some interesting dishes. We used to have an Indian restaurant in town some time back and I enjoyed stopping by a few times. I was sad to see it closed.

  4. Ha! At least I know if I ever go to the Netherlands, I'll be eating the same thing I eat here in the states. Toast is about all I can handle all day. LOL But I'm not sure I'd take the time to cut it up in tiny squares before I gobbled it down. :)
    I loved this story, Esther. Everytime I read your blog, I feel as if I'm right there beside you experiencing these things with you.

  5. :) thank you, Joanne.
    Buttered toast is one of my weaknesses. But I usually just pick it up and eat it, no cutting into little squares.