Tuesday, February 09, 2010


When I was fifteen I found some Americans in the middle of Eindhoven. Now, there are millions of Americans, as you know. And they do travel. But Eindhoven is not on the beaten track for peripatetic Yanks, being in nowise exotic or picturesque. There is nothing there of interest.

Of course, these Americans were Missionaries, trying desperately to interest the most cynical type of native in an area that exports more surplus cynicism than any other part of the Netherlands of the truth and beauty of their faith.
Glowing religious dreamers versus hardened skeptical peasants.
They were not having any luck.

Part of it was no doubt due to their particular use of the Dutch language. Rigidly bookish, lacking any colloquial flavour entirely, and spoken exactly as if it were a version of American English.
No one understood them, and no one wanted to even come close.

I made the mistake of speaking to them, and consequently ended up with them visiting our house every Monday for half a year, where I would give them orange juice and blow cigar-smoke at them while they talked.
They would cite passages from their tract, I would refer to something in the Pentateuch that completely contradicted their nonsense, we would move on to the next dubious factoid in their religion, and I would have some more coffee.
And light another cigar.
Or pour myself a shot from the genever bottle.
I would hospitably offer them coffee, and cigars too.

"Oh do just try them - they're made in this part of the world. Quite good, the locals swear by them."
They never drank any coffee or took any cigars, and they were HORRIFIED at the genever.
Abstentionism probably also worked against them in that neck of the woods, given the local fondness for cigars, coffee, and a shot of genever (often called 'The Holy Trinity' at local bars). Abjuring any one of those three marked one as both a rigid Protestant and a frightful bore.

[Local warmth was marked by hot coffee, cold genever, and an open box of cigars. Things have probably changed since then, but in my mind Brabant is still that way - 'bakske koffie, scheut jannevier, en 'nen bolknak. Schuif maer aen, joh'.]

My parents and my brother avoided the two missionaries with the same single-mindedness of the natives. Not even the thrill of speaking to other Americans could lure them into the sera while those gentlemen were there.

After their third visit my mother took me aside and reminded me of the times in Switzerland when I had caught frogs in the forest and brought them back to the hotel, placing them in the middle of our table on the terrace. She then told me "I very much preferred it when you brought back frogs."

After a few more Mondays I understood why she had said that.
Frogs are infinitely more conversationally gifted than missionaries. More useful too. Plus, unlike missionaries, they are likely to leave suddenly.
Marvelous creatures, frogs.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"Frogs are infinitely more conversationally gifted than missionaries."

Marvelous what those beasties do with only one word, isn't it?

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