The most prestigious Dutch travel writing prize is named after Bob den Uyl. Several people said he deserved a place on my reading list, including fellow author Rob Waumans.
Bob den Uyl’s effusive, eloquent and at times ornamentally hilarious tale of cycling woes beyond Dutch borders perfectly reflects the European tendency to distrust, disparage and dislike neighbouring nations, which is hardly surprising in the case of Netherlands, having been occupied by the Germans, French, Spanish, Romans and Vikings at one time or another. In the following excerpt, the narrator finds himself watching a football on television at German hotel in Cologne.
Much to my dismay, the hotel owner, who was also in attendance, took it upon himself to inform the other members of the audience that I was Dutch and therefore undoubtedly gifted with unlimited insight into the art of football. They took it for granted, unspoken, that Cruyff and Van Hanegem were not only open books to me, but also regularly dropped in for a visit. It is truly remarkable that the winning of several aesthetically questionable trophies, manufactured from inferior materials and won by several Dutch clubs, bestows upon that nation’s inhabitants a certain esteem, despite the fact that they played no part whatsoever in the achievement. This is even more remarkable in Germany, where people seem to experience a certain personal shame on our behalf for the smallness of our country. Germans don’t quite know what to do with something small, and one is often treated with the kind of sympathetic generosity one displays when helping blind people cross busy intersections.
Published in Maatstaf, Volume 21, 1973