Nieuws - 10 januari 2002

A Sense of Sensibility

A Sense of Sensibility

Standing outside the entrance to the Rat and Parrot club the throbbing of the double-glazing warned of what was to come. As the bouncers (wide as they were tall) opened the door for me my eardrums were immediately confronted with agonizingly loud Garage music. Faces turned to look at me as I jostled and barged my way through the hustle and bustle. Shaved heads, baseball caps and tarted-up under-age girls fill the crowd. The eyes that stared back exhibited pure hormone-induced malevolence. The machismo hung in the air like a bad smell. Right then I knew for certain, I was back in Sutton, in the suburbs of London.

My postal address is Surrey but the encroachment of the London way of life comes from the second-generation commuters that fill the suburbs. I've yet to encounter the same fear in Holland that someone will come up to me asking, 'What are you looking at?' (only in less polite terms), whereas it's something English lager-louts often use to induce violence.

The Lowland atmosphere seems more indifferent and accepting. The tolerance and placidity is in marked contrast to the outright hostility of London drinking culture. In the Netherlands you get a somewhat more submissive approach from a crowd, a glance that is directed swiftly away if your eyes are met. In the light of day, greeting complete strangers on the streets receives a jovial reply, whilst in England there is the strong possibility you will be ignored or worse looked at as though you are mad!

Leeds, over 350km north of London, has a vibrancy all of its own but the capital's influence is felt even here. This is probably due to the high proportion of Londoners of the 60,000 academics going to University there, who celebrate their student loans in the only way they know how, by alleviating their pockets of the monetary burden. The focus is more on intoxication and lechery rather than the strutting and showing-off in Sutton or the more relaxed serenity of Wageningen. The rather unhealthy tendency in England is to binge drink, to have short intermittent periods where all self-control is relinquished. Indeed advertising reflects this difference in attitude. Dutch promotion is accompanied by a warning to consume sensibly, whilst in Britain restraint is discouraged altogether!

Humans are social creatures but the types of interactions we encounter are strongly influenced by the consciousness of the group we belong or feel we belong to. To put it another way, a silver lining sparkles brighter from the other side of the fence, a mixing of metaphors attempting to convey that although all cultures offer different rewards and annoyances, the advantages always seem of greater consequence when you are outside looking in.

David Hopkins