Some say there must be a gene for the so-called Protestant work ethic. In my first year at work in the Netherlands I did notice there was not much that would make my colleagues down tools. If they were ill, they brought their bugs in to work. If their kids were ill, they asked Oma to come and take care of them. Then after a couple of mild winters, at last there was a really good ‘big freeze’.
On Monday morning we discussed the week ahead in my department. The boss looked worried: there were several important meetings and a report deadline on Friday. By Wednesday evening however, the ice was thick enough to allow for touring. Suddenly a couple of phone calls were enough to cancel Thursday's work, postpone that deadline - and we couldn't see him for snow dust. Work could (after all) wait. The ice, of course, couldn't.
Skating fever: a truly Dutch phenomenon. Spreading faster (much faster) than swine flu, it will sweep across the country after about a week of heavy frosts. First the big question is, will it last until the weekend and should we get our skates out? And wrap up our two-year-olds ready to launch them onto the ice behind their little chairs? And stock up on chocomel and erwtensoep? And suddenly start greeting each other like one big happy family as we rush off to the nearest frozen pond? Then comes the question of whether the ice is thick enough for touring. And in a really long, cold winter the million-dollar question will arise: will there be an Elfstedentocht? If there is, the Protestant work ethic will be cast aside all over the country as people flock to Friesland to line the canals and cheer on the racing skaters, or at least stay glued to their televisions for this legendary national event. Is there a gene for the Skate ethic too? If so, it surely ought to be discovered in Wageningen./Clare McGregor, translator with Resource