‘It’s hard to beat pottering about in a boat in Giethorn on a sunny day’

‘It’s hard to beat pottering about in a boat in Giethorn on a sunny day’

Mike Garrent, 51, is an astronomer and heads up the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy (Astron). He's been in the country for 19 years and has even taken up mudwalking but he still misses Scottish food.How did you end up in the Netherlands? I moved here from the University of Manchester (Jodrell Bank) to take up a job at JIVE (Joint Institute for VLBI in Europe) in Dwingeloo.How do you describe yourself - an expat, lovepat, immigrant, international, etc? I guess I’m an expat – my roots in Britain are still important to me.How long do you plan to stay? Well, I’ve been here for 19 years. In my field of research, moving around the world is fairly common, so who knows what the future holds, but for the moment I’m very happy to be here.Do you speak Dutch and how did you learn? Yes, I speak Dutch. When I arrived in the Netherlands, my boss sent me on a 5-day intensive Dutch course. My brain was completely saturated by day two so I didn’t learn very much but it was an expensive course, so I felt duty bound to attempt to speak Dutch when I got back to work.  So almost from day one I was speaking Dutch with our administrative and secretarial staff – it never bothered me that my Dutch was awful – I just kept on trying. For the last five years, I’ve had the best teacher in the world – my Dutch partner Miriam!What's your favourite Dutch food? I like Dutch cooking using simple but high quality food products. I haven’t been converted to raw herring, a broodje kroket or patat oorlog yet, but from the word go I liked pea soup, and I am beginning to take to bitterballen and some kinds of drop.What do you miss about back home? I miss the shops, supermarkets, Scottish food (slice sausage, tatty scone, fruit pudding, crumpets, empire biscuits, iced ginger bread, deep fried pizza/chicken), liberal opening times, thick weekend newspapers, mountains, the countryside, proper pubs and warm beer. Fortunately, the internet means I can listen to Scottish radio – I’m a huge Glasgow Celtic fan. In the evening I always listen to the local football talk shows – I love listening to the locals calling in – it keeps me in touch with home and the people there.How Dutch have you become? I’m pretty well ingeburgered – especially so over the last few years with a Dutch partner. I like the Dutch language and the people very much but I would never swap my British passport for a Dutch one, not unless the UK opts out of Europe of course!What's your top tourist tip? It’s hard to beat pottering about in a boat in Giethorn, near Meppel, on a sunny day. And every year I also go for the wadlopen (mud walking) to Ameland, one of the islands in the North Sea – it’s a good workout but the reward at the end is to land on what has to be one of the best beaches in the world!Tell us something surprising you've found out about the Netherlands. People in the Netherlands look outwards a lot and are very influenced by what is happening in other countries. Of course this is a good thing, but sometimes they are surprised to find that a lot of important things are happening much closer to home.If you had just 24 hours left in the Netherlands, what would you do? I would get all my friends and family together in my kitchen, and make them all one of my special Indian curries, washed down with copious quantities of some excellent Italian wine!Mike Garrett is director of the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy (Astron) and a professor at Leiden University.  More >

Dutch motor on in driverless car trials

Dutch motor on in driverless car trials The Netherlands is flat and has a lot of straight, overcrowded roads, so it is perhaps hardly surprising that the government has made experimenting with driverless vehicles a central part of its infrastructure policy. Google may plan to eliminate the need for drivers within five years and Tesla has a three year deadline but the Dutch want to play a leading role as well.By Esther O'TooleTwo years ago, Amsterdam’s A10 ring road was the setting for a test of self-driving cars, developed by the TNO research institute and scientists from Delft University. The aim of the Dutch Automated Vehicle Initiative (Davi), which also involves the transport ministry, is to develop a user-friendly system which can be built into new and existing cars.Last year, the TNO research institute started working with DAF, Rotterdam’s port authority and the transport industry lobby group TLN to develop self-driving lorries.Then this January, ministers approved the large-scale testing of self-driving...  More >

Commissie Stiekem – much ado about nothing

Commissie Stiekem – much ado about nothing Home affairs minister Ronald Plasterk is not being honest about his dealings with parliament's security committee over the NSA leaks, writes Nicola ChadwickMany would say politicians are notorious for lying. Being married to one, I wouldn’t like to go that far. However, they do have a habit of omitting, framing, burying and twisting the truth.In Dutch politics, it is a mortal sin to misinform or lie to parliament. So when Edward Snowden revealed that 1.8 million pieces of data on Dutch telephone calls were passed on to the US, home affairs minister Ronald Plasterk asked the two Dutch intelligence agencies, the AIVD and its military counterpart the MIVD, whether they had been the source of the data. On hearing ‘negative’, Plasterk appeared on the evening news in October 2013 to express his horror that the privacy of Dutch citizens was being violated by US agencies. Only to hear a couple of months later that it was, in fact, a third institution, a combined AIVD and MIVD committee...  More >

10 tall things in the Netherlands

10 of the tallest things in the Netherlands Coming to the Netherlands can make the average person feel vertically challenged. Yet, the Netherlands is not a country of soaring skyscrapers and mountain peaks.  Our list shows the good old Dutch trait of moderation is also apparent in architecture and nature.Tallest structure This award goes to Gerbrandy Tower in IJsselstein, thanks to the aerial mast mounted on its tower.  Built in 1961 and originally measured at 382.5 metres, the Gerbrandy Tower knocked the Eiffel Tower from top spot on the list of Europe’s tallest structures, holding the title for 12 years. Even with two height reductions in 1987 and 2007, it remains the tallest Dutch structure (366.8 metres) and continues to be used for transmission of television and radio services. Covered with lights in December, it also becomes the tallest Dutch Christmas tree.Tallest tree A Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) in the grounds of the royal family’s Het Loo Palace in Apeldoorn. In 2010, Leo Goudzwaard and Jeroen Philippona...  More >

Wilder's grandmother was a refugee too

Geert Wilders grandmother was a refugee too History tells us that Europe wouldn't be Europe without refugees, write professor of migration law Thomas Spijkerboer and PhD student Martijn Stronks.Are Europeans prepared to offer protection to non-Europeans? That is the central question in the refugee debate. The apparent reluctance to do so has everything to do with the fact that non-Europeans are regarded as outsiders. That is why it is important to remind people that Europe and refugees go together, like Bert and Ernie and Sesame Street. Recent history shows that Europeans have not always been opposed to refugees. Their protection is purely and simply a matter of self-interest.During WWI, a million Belgians fled to the Netherlands. Most returned when the war was over, but not all. Virginie Korte-Van Hemel (junior justice minister from 1982 to 1989), for instance, is the daughter of Belgian musician and refugee Oscar van Hemel.From 1933, many Germans fled to other European countries and to the United States (the Manns,...  More >

Rutte, campaign to keep Britain in the EU

Mark Rutte should kickstart a campaign to keep Britain in the EU Apart from the British economy itself, it will be the Dutch economy which will be hardest hit if the Brits decide to leave the EU, warn economists Rick van der Ploeg and Willem Vermeend. The UK is one of this country’s most important trading partners and investors and a Brexit would result in an economic downturn and the loss of many thousands of jobs.According to the polls, prime minister Mark Rutte's second cabinet isn’t doing very well. Friends and foes are divided about why that should be, but according to the golden rule in The Hague political circles, there can only be one culprit and that is the coalition itself. The fact that the Netherlands is one of the best performing economies at this moment confirms this, and history teaches us that this can only benefit the ruling parties.However, the polls are telling a different story. This month the OECD praised the Netherlands to the sky: things really couldn’t get much better. The economy will grow by 2.2% this year and...  More >

Innovation needs ethics

We need a discussion on ethics to cope with innovation Innovation is moving so fast it leaves citizens –and the law – standing, says trendwatcher Farid Tabarki. What is needed is a discussion on ethics.What do 3D printed drones, an Amsterdam Uber taxi driver and a camper van in Egmond have in common?Yes, they all move but that’s not what I’m getting at.All three are examples of the challenges of today. I’ll come back to that later, but first: King Willem-Alexander in China. When the king addressed the China Executive Leadership Academy he was asked to explain how a small country such as the Netherlands had managed to become a major exporter with a prosperous population.His answer was: ‘Independent courts and independent supervisors guarantee equal treatment of every citizen before the law, and the protection of human rights.’ This was immediately labelled as a comment on ‘human rights’ – not surprising when you look at the Chinese reputation for breaching them.Rules and regulationsThat same week,...  More >

The drive to downplay success is pervasive

‘The Calvinist drive to downplay success is pervasive’ American psychologist and writer Doug Ota, 45, has lived in the Netherlands for 23 years. He loves running along the beach before dawn in winter and watching the sun come up, and would like to meet physicist Robbert Dijkgraaf.How did you end up in the Netherlands? I followed my wife over for a year and that one year turned into 23!  Some societies have been described as 'centripetal', drawing one inwards, or 'centrifugal', propelling you outwards. Dutch society, at least as I experienced it, turned out to be high centripetal. Holland is a pleasant place to live, with well-managed public spaces and a sane balance between work and family.  It’s a great place to raise a family.How do you describe yourself - an expat, lovepat, immigrant, international, etc? Never heard the term 'lovepat' but glad to have a name for what I am!How long do you plan to stay and why? Indefinitely. I have three Dutch children and two dogs that bark Dutch. It’s become home. That sounds simple,...  More >

Will the Dutch come clean on tax?

Will the Dutch come clean on their murky tax deals? I should coco What’s the easiest way to upset a Dutch finance official? Call his country a tax haven, says journalist Gordon Darroch.Five years ago the Obama administration named the Netherlands as one of three low-tax countries (along with Ireland and Bermuda) that had allowed US multinational corporations to pay just €16bn in tax on €700bn of earnings, which converts to a rate of just under 2.3%. It prompted splutterings of outrage from the Dutch embassy in Washington and the Americans meekly withdrew the accusation. But the bad smell lingered like a week-old herring.Since then Dutch ministers have been resolute in shutting down any mention of the h-word. The defence against Obama’s declaration was that corporation tax is transparent and set at 25.5%, which puts the country in the medium tax bracket. What it omitted to mention was the Dutch tax administration’s habit of drawing up generous pre-nuptial agreements with multinational firms to entice them to relocate to the Netherlands.BenefitsThe...  More >

Jan Steen's Sint Nicolaasfeest

Eight things about Jan Steen’s The Feast of St Nicholaas Sinterklaas and his associates are back in town and in many Dutch homes children are singing Sinterklaas songs, eating pepernoten and hoping for a good haul of pressies on December 5. Many of the Sinterklaas rituals are very old. Here’s a painting by 17th century painter Jan Steen (1626-1679) which he produced around 1665 and which illustrates this perfectly (with not a Zwarte Piet in sight).1 Who brought the presents? We are not quite sure when most children stop believing that Sinterklaas actually rides around on his horse over the rooftops on a dark and stormy December night dispensing presents through the chimney. But once the older children are ‘in the know’ the tradition is that they perpetuate the myth for their younger siblings. To the right of the painting you can see a boy carrying his baby sister while his awed little brother is standing by. He is pointing to where the presents came from.2 A shoe by the fireplace In the days leading up to Sinterklaas, children...  More >

10 of the oldest Dutch things

10 of the oldest Dutch things Being built on a swamp, where wood was the building material of the day, not much remains of the prehistoric Netherlands. Even the Romans avoided much of the country because of the risk of wet feet. But here is a list of 10 old Dutch things.1  Oldest signs of lifeThe oldest signs of human life in the swampy lowlands were left by a humanoid called Homo heidelbergensis who decided the perfect place to roam was what is now the middle bit of the Netherlands. There they left flints and tools that may be 300,000 years old but could possibly be double that number. The tools, sharpened stones, were probably used to scrape hides.2 Oldest burialThe oldest burial place found so far is in Hardinxveld-Giessendam, where the complete skeleton of a woman was discovered. Trijntje, so dubbed because she was found during building work on the Betuwe train (trein) line, is thought to be between 7,000 and 7,500 years old. She was 158 cm tall, and between 40 and 60 at the time of her death....  More >