European Self-Hatred

I’m reading a novel called The Dinner by the Dutch writer Herman Koch. It’s a silly best-seller that would have no value save for the stunning and completely casual self-hatred its Dutch protagonist evinces for his country and culture. He is a professor of history, and his vision of Holland’s history is, “. . . and the Christianity was introduced and everything went completely to the dogs. And when Protestantism won, that was the worst thing ever. . . Unfortunately, we won the war and weren’t conquered, which turned us into a black hole on the world map. . . The French despise us and rightfully so. . . What did we ever produce but a couple of silly, useless painters? We are nothing.”*

No explanation is offered for this self-hatred, as if the readers were expected to accept it as absolutely normal and not in need of any further elaboration. And I’m definitely not European enough to get it. Why would anybody hate Holland? It seems kind of random given that there are much worse countries in the world. 

We all know that I have a complicated relationship with my country of origin (which is why I left to avoid seething with resentment all day long), but I’d never say that our problem is that we weren’t conquered. If anything, I think it’s the opposite, at least to an extent. Nor would I support our neighbors in despising us (which they clearly do). 

*I’m not posting direct quotes because I’m reading the novel in Spanish.


8 thoughts on “European Self-Hatred”

  1. Haven’t read this book, but IME Dutch people are ostentatiously non-patriotic (in a deliberate and calculated and showy way) and dismissive and contemptuous of their country while beneath the surface they quietly consider their society to be superior to all around them (and behind their almost universal English fluency they are also completely convinced that Dutch is one of the most expressive European languages going).

    Weird people….. weird country…..


  2. The Dutch I’ve interacted with in real life have been a bit self-absorbed and annoying (as cliff says, feeling superior to others and all that), but honestly not any more than most other Western Europeans… Otherwise, tall, multilingual, generally well educated, and athletic, all of which surprises no one. Hardly a country to hate. I’d gladly claim the Netherlands as country of origin if only I’d had the good fortune to having been born there.


  3. The Danes also love to disparage themselves. I think it is a reaction to being told they are small and insignificant. And has to do with some of the things Cliff talks about above.


    1. I almost mentioned the Danes! Lars von Trier once said that nothing is funnier to Danes than a foreigner telling them how terrible their country is (like the Swedish doctor in Riget).

      They are a little more overtly patriotic though with their weird flag-mania.

      In socio-cultural terms both the Netherlands and Scandinavia have “feminine”* values which means that open displays of status or trying to stand out is disapproved of (and people who talk openly of their accomplishments or flaunt their wealth are regarded as ridiculous)

      *terrible name but I didn’t pick it….

      Liked by 1 person

        1. “what you’re calling feminine values”

          I did say I didn’t pick the name : ) the idea is that there are two sets of values revolving around security and human relationships on the one hand vs ambition and competition on the other.

          All else being equal, women (collectively with lots of individual exceptions) tend to prioritize the first and men (again with individual exceptions) prioritize the second.

          At the country level, different countries can also emphasize “masculine” values (like Japan) or “feminine” values (like Scandinavia) or they try to balance them (most countries). The US is more in the middle but leans toward masculine values.
          Russia is moderately feminine and Ukraine a little more so.

          In education, in more feminine countries the primary goal is usually to assure that all achieve a particular level (and individual grades aren’t so important) while in masculine countries its more about letting the talented fly as high as possible (and grades can be real important).

          Jantelov is more like an artistic exaggeration (it does come from a novel) of some of the bad aspects of feminine values carried to extremes (and interacting with other factors). That said, I don’t think I could live in Scandinavia either.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Yes, I know, and Jantelov came from a novel, but it’s so true. They, also, complain about it (which is why the novel was written). I do wonder about Scandinavia. I say I couldn’t live there again but given what the world has become, maybe Iceland?


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