Nothing about global politics over the last year has felt ordinary, but that didn’t stop the prime minister, Mark Rutte, from calling for more “normal” a few weeks prior to yesterday’s election.
“Sometimes it seems as though nobody behaves normally any more,” he wrote in an open letter to the Dutch people. In just 540 words he managed to use the word normal no fewer than 11 times.
Naturally, there’s the classic Dutch imperative to “act normal” (doe normaal), this time in the form of a choice: “act normal or get out” – at which point it becomes clear who is really being addressed: people who “have come to our land for freedom” and who “don’t want to adjust”.
Next he exhorts the Dutch “to continue making crystal clear what is and is not normal in our country”.
“Normal” things include working for your money, respecting teachers, and shaking hands (presumably a reference to the Tilburg imam who refused to shake hands with politician Rita Verdonk).
People who are “not normal” dump trash on the street, spit, and otherwise behave antisocially, for example by “hanging around in groups” and harassing people or provoking them in vlogs.
It strikes me that Anglophone politicians tend to avoid the use of normal. Partly out of political correctness, no doubt, but also because it raises the question, what is normal?
Indeed, it seems English speakers find it easier to pin down what’s not normal.
In a New York Times column last year entitled “Donald Trump, this is not normal”, the word appeared 9 times in under 900 words, all in the context of “not normal”.
It’s not normal, for example, to have a president who “does not have time for daily intelligence briefings” but does for “tweeting insults like a manic insomniac”.
Trump himself may have thrown the normal playbook out the window, but even he uses normal mainly in the negative. In his campaign speeches last year he broke this unwritten rule only once: in the sense of “normal stuff” like buying a $40 million house in Florida and selling it to a Russian for two and half times that. Otherwise he sticks to the negative, like calling the “movement” to elect him “not just a normal situation”.
Hillary Clinton, in her campaign speeches, avoided the word almost entirely, except to say “this is not a normal election” – perhaps the only thing the two have ever agreed on.