Photographer:Fotograaf: Joey Roberts
UM president Professor Martin Paul shares a meal with independent sorority Maastricht MAX
“Ooooh how sweet!” He has barely been inside for five minutes and Martin Paul has already charmed the girls from MAX (pronounced mex), presenting them with four cups and saucers with the Maastricht skyline. “My daughter moved to Berlin for her studies. When I found out she was drinking out of an empty Nutella jar, I had to go to Ikea.” But there are no boring Färgrik plates or Värdera mugs for these hostesses; Paul has come armed with colourful souvenirs for them. By the time he invites the entire sorority – with eight or so active members – around to his place for dinner, they have become firm fans. It has dawned on them that this is ‘one of the bosses of the university’, but the term ‘Executive Board’ doesn’t ring a bell. “Assuming all goes well, you don’t particularly need to know who we are”, he says.
Earlier that evening, before Paul arrives, Anouk Bouwman is making the final preparations in the kitchen while the others gather in the living room. Yes, they are curious about the man who will be joining them for dinner. “What faculty does he work at?” Observant gives them the basics: he is a doctor, but at present mainly works as an administrator. On hearing this, president Inge Backx felt a twitch of apprehension, she confesses afterwards. “I was afraid we’d only be able to talk about politics.”
Her fear turns out to be unfounded. Politics comes up only once all evening, and that in the context of the American election. Sitting at the head of the table, a plate of couscous with spicy chicken and salad before him, Paul mentions that he got up at 2.30 am to watch the debate between Clinton and Trump. “I have American family, so I find it interesting.”
“And what side are you on, if I may ask?” says Marlous van Herten, using the formal term of address in Dutch, u. “You can say jij to him”, laugh the others. Paul suggested doing away with formalities shortly after arriving. “I’m from Germany, where it takes about eight years for someone to address you informally. In the Netherlands it takes eight minutes,” he says, looking at his watch, “so we’re doing well.” Returning to the topic of American politics: Paul and his wife are rooting for Clinton. “We find Trump a bit annoying.”
Paul asks the students where they come from, what they are studying, what could be improved in their study programmes, what they do as a sorority. The students are curious about him too: “Are you from Berlin?” “What are your children studying?” “Where do you live in Maastricht?” They manage to refrain from asking what type of car he drives. Before Paul arrived, Sanne van den Berg saw a Ferrari cruise by. Observant told them that probably wasn’t their guest; he has only been spotted around the Minderbroedersberg in a van.
Paul, born and raised in Sankt Ingbert on the German–French border, gives the ladies his “compact CV”. “What sort of medicine do you do?” asks Bouwman, a medical student. “Clinical pharmacology.” “Interesting”, says Van den Berg, who finished her bachelor’s in Wageningen and is now following the research master’s Arts-Klinisch Onderzoeker. “I was warned about how small Maastricht is, but compared to Wageningen it’s huge”, she laughs.
Paul says he lives on the Alexander Battalaan. On hearing his, Van den Berg exclaims: “We practically drink in your backyard!” “Oh, so that’s where all the noise comes from”, he laughs. Together with nine other student associations, MAX holds its regular drinks in the student bar De Beurs, opposite the train station. “I sometimes go to the Chinese next door”, Paul says. If they do eat at his place any time soon, chances are it will be takeaway from Wen-Chow. “I enjoy cooking, but I don’t have time during the week. My wife doesn’t like cooking that much; she’s more into sweet snacks, cakes and tarts.”
“Are you familiar with student associations?” asks Van den Berg. “I usually have meetings with the boards of the bigger associations, like Tragos and Circumflex, but I know Maastricht has many independent societies”, Paul replies. He himself never joined a student association. “In Germany they’re quite conservative and a bit right wing in their political leanings.”
“I had an immediate click with MAX”, says Backx, who joined the club a year ago. “I was less interested in the big associations in Maastricht; the smaller ones are more personal.”
They talk about the traditional MAX events: drinks with other associations, the famous Christmas dinner with alumni, the annual ‘family days’. “I was in the pub recently with my dad”, says Bouwman. “That was kind of weird.” Paul: “Ach, your dad was young once too.” He tells a story about his daughter, who recently got hold of a cheap ticket to Berlin, where she is studying business. “Turned out she had to go to Amsterdam in the evening, stay there from one to five am, and then leave for Berlin the next morning. In that time you could have flown the US!” He goes back to Berlin regularly. “Partly for the opera – I love it. And classical music too. I just love switching off like that. I’m not at all into reality shows or sitcoms, they drive me crazy. I’d rather be in a different environment, far away from reality.”
The plates have been cleared up. “Shall we play a round of mex?” After a brief explanation, Paul proves to be a fast learner. Mex is the sorority’s drinking game of choice, a dice game that gives the association its name, as well as the dice logos on their shirts and the plush dice hanging on the front door. Make a mistake and you have to take a swig of wine. The key lies in bluffing – something it turns out the professor has yet to master. Later, when Backx shares her worries about a speech she soon has to give as president, she asks Paul whether he gives speeches. “Very often. I used to prepare, but not anymore. You know what? If you can teach me to bluff, I’ll teach you to give a speech."
Anouk Bouwman * 19 * second-year medical student * MAX secretary
Inge Backx * 20 * second-year student of Health Sciences * MAX president
Sanne van den Berg * 22 * second-year student of the research master’s Physician–Clinical Researcher * MAX member
Marlous van Herten * 19 * second-year student of European Studies * MAX treasurer
Martin Paul * 58 * professor of Clinical Pharmacology, UM president * married, one daughter, one son * lives in Maastricht
Scores (up to 5 stars) given by the guest, Professor Paul
Hospitality: 5 stars
Quality of food: 5 stars (“Spicy, but I like that”)
Cleanliness: 4 star