“Going Dutch” (Guest Bloggers Series)

Mary M. DeLuca is a joint intern with the International Criminal Law Network and the World Legal Forum. She is a rising 2L at Michigan State University College of Law, where she is a member of the arbitration team. Before arriving in The Hague this summer, Mary was part of Vanderbilt in Venice, an intensive six week program with Vanderbilt Law School which focused on international legal issues.

| Mary DeLuca | 27 July 2012 | The Hague, Netherlands |

If you visit most offices around the world at 5 p.m. on a Friday, the lights will slowly turn off in each office as you see workers scattering to their cars to enjoy the weekend. However, as 5 p.m. approached on my first Friday at work, a colleague approached me and asked, “aren’t you coming downstairs!?” I was planning on leaving the office to enjoy my first weekend in The Netherlands, but luckily I stayed. This was my first introduction to the Dutch tradition of borrel. As we walked downstairs I heard my co-workers laughing and talking together and even glasses clinking. In the main hall of our building everyone gathers on Fridays to celebrate the week or the weekend while drinking and snacking. As I laughed with my colleagues and learned about great Dutch experiences such as the Pannenkoekenboot (pancake cruise), I realized the world, especially the Dutch world, connects around food.

The Dutch are serious about their food and I realized that if I wanted to connect I had to become serious about their food too.

My first day at work involved a cocktail reception with clients and colleagues. As I talked with several co-workers, a waitress brought by a tray of small fried balls and my co-workers immediately insisted that I try this Dutch specialty called bitterballen. It should be noted that I am a notoriously picky eater. I hesitated and one co-worker gave me a sharp look and said, “well at least you have to try it to know!” I knew I had to try this dish, not only to broaden my horizons, but also to show my co-workers that I can “go Dutch.” As hard as you might try to eat bitterballen daintily- it won’t happen. Don’t ask what is in it because no one will tell you either. So just pop one in and enjoy!

At 12:30 p.m. you can hear the flurry of people and stomping of shoes down the steps as my office gathers for our daily group lunch. We bring out loaves of bread from the local bakery and Dutch favorites such as filet americain and kip salad. My co-workers have introduced me to hagelslag which is chocolate sprinkles eaten on bread with peanut butter or melkchocolade. Can you imagine something more delicious? They have taught me crucial Dutch words such as kip, which translates to chicken in English. They laugh at me regularly because I don’t ride a bicycle to work; instead choosing to walk or take the bus and they often ask me questions about things in America. I never thought that the highlight of a work day could be the lunch hour, but here it is because my office connects and gathers around the food. This is our meeting point where we can forget the professional pressures for a few minutes and talk about silly movies or pancake cruises. My old lunch hour habit of quickly eating a sandwich or salad while working in front of my computer has fallen by the wayside.

When friends visit me here I am the one introducing them to hagelslag and discussing the importance of biking in the Netherlands. If I hadn’t tried that bitterballen I might never have realized how well food works to connect an outsider to their adopted home.

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