Photographer:Fotograaf: Joey Roberts
Professor Jean-Jacques Herings shares a meal with KoKo sorority Daps Decentium
“Wait, wasn’t my bike right here?” Your reporter looks around in surprise. It’s 10:30 pm; the dinner in the flat at the Bourgogneplein went late. All that’s left of the bike is a broken chain lock. “Is yours still here, Jean-Jacques?” Professor Herings, the guest of honour, spots his bike still parked a little way off.
It’s a dampener on a nice evening, because all professors should get to enjoy such a delicious dinner in good company. The four women of Daps Decentium chatter away, flitting from serious to more frivolous matters, but make a point of involving their guest. Although these evenings usually last no more than three hours, Observant points out after almost four hours that the notepad is nearly full and the article really can’t take up more than one page of the paper.
All 16 students from KoKo sorority Daps Decentium wanted to attend the dinner with the professor. “We drew lots”, says Romy Verweij. If Herings wants to meet the others he’s welcome to come back some time, they offer enthusiastically. The ladies eat together every Wednesday evening. “Even when there were 24 of us”, says Iris Brandts. “And always with three courses and lots of wine”, Roos van den Bekerom adds, and laughter rings out. “After that we do a bit more munching then head to the KoKo bar.” Herings kindly turns down the invitation – understandably, because “the gezellige chaos”, as the girls describe the atmosphere, is probably a bit too chaotic for an outsider. “Everyone wants to talk all at once”, Verweij laughs. “You do have to be able to handle that.” There is one important rule on Wednesday evenings: no phones on the table. “People are better company that way”, says Maaike Hooghiemstra.
The first course appears on the table: bites of sweet potato, brie and pear. The sorority members are known to enjoy good food; Daps Decentium is Latin for ‘feast of the well-formed’. “We honour Fraetitia, goddess of food.” The sorority was officially founded in 1991 by women who “first wanted to diet, but found food much too tasty”, Van den Bekerom laughs.
“Charlie, may I have the water?” Hooghiemstra interjects.
“Charlie?” Herings says, puzzled. “Aren’t you Romy?”
“Charlie is my nickname”, Verweij explains. “If there’s already someone in the sorority with the same name, you’re given a boy’s name.”
“Did you know you were going to be eating with women?” the students ask as their guest presents them with a birdhouse full of Easter eggs. “I did.” Van den Bekerom chuckles. “Lucky. I can see it now: you give a nice gift like this to a bunch of guys, they go ‘thanks’ and then it disappears in some dark corner of the room.”
When Herings speaks it’s regularly followed by an amusing anecdote or titbit. He was born in Schinveld, South Limburg, near the German border. “And yet a French first name?” “Yes, one of my grandfathers was called Jan, the other was Jacob, so in French Jean-Jacques. My father was a history teacher and had a soft spot for Jean Jacques Rousseau.” Then: “Do you know Heringsbos?” The students shake their heads. “It’s a hamlet near Schinveld on the road Heringsbosch, separated from the rest of Schinveld by woods. Nearby there’s a prehistoric ring wall and a channel, a Heerring; some consider it the oldest archaeological monument in Limburg. My ancestors took their name from it.”
“Wow, my mind is blown”, Van den Bekerom says. Herings: “I got it from the internet.”
It wouldn’t have mattered if Herings had other plans this Monday evening. “I’m head of the department, I get to lead the club, and we’re in the middle of interview season. Often you’ll interview someone during the day and then go out for dinner with the candidate that night.” “How about that, department head, nice!” cheer the girls. “Well, not so nice”, Herings laughs. “It’s very busy.” Meanwhile, plates with bulgar, prunes, spinach, pistachios and feta emerge from the kitchen.
Herings spends a week or so per month abroad. “And your wife has to manage at home alone with four boys?” they respond cheekily. Herings laughs. “The oldest – he’s seventeen – would have liked to come tonight.”
After his studies in Tilburg, Herings spent a year in Louvain-la-Neuve. “In the early 1970s the French-speaking branch of KU Leuven was moved to a different city, south of Brussels, in the French-speaking part of Belgium. That became Louvain-la-Neuve. Being from Tilburg I was no stranger to alcohol, but what I saw there! Every night for the first two, three months there’d be students who couldn’t walk or keep anything down. Thankfully things calmed down a bit after that. It was only students there, of course, so there was next to no social control.” “So you’ve never been to Scotland then”, Van den Bekerom laughs. “I was in Aberdeen for a while. They’re not bad themselves.” Early last year, Verweij didn’t touch a drop of alcohol for three months. “I wanted to try it out. But when I’d order a water at a party, people looked at me like I was some sort of alien.”
“It reminds me of those sad businessmen who prop up the bar in a five-star hotel”, Verweij continues. “Do you do that too?” Brandts asks the professor. “At conferences I’m often one of the keynote speakers, so people tend to lay claim to you. The first evening, when I’ve just arrived, I like to be alone. Sometimes I go eat a burger at McDonalds.”
“Did you hear that Charlie?” Van den Bekerom cries, gesturing at Verweij. “Charlie just adores McDonalds and everything to do with fast food.” Verweij: “I spent six months studying in Canada, and they had this fast food chain called Five Guys. I heard they’re opening a branch in Utrecht. Delicious!”
Herings has spent time in Canada too, and a whole list of other places. Japan is his favourite. He also looks back with pleasure on the three months he spent as a visiting professor at Yale in New Haven. “Nice”, comes the reply once more. “I used to bike to the university, because I lived nearby in the house of a professor who was on sabbatical. It wasn’t cheap, something like 2000 dollars a month, but for that you got four thousand square metres of land and seven bathrooms.” “How many parties did you throw there?” Verweij jokes. “I guess you didn’t need a gym membership.”
Postscript: We omitted to mention the dessert – something that naturally cannot go unmentioned when it comes to a food-loving society like Daps Decentium. For the record, it was Greek yoghurt with cream, mandarin and aniseed crumble.
Jean-Jacques Herings * 47 * professor of Microeconomics * married, four sons * lives in Cadier and Keer
Romy Verweij (Charlie) * 22 * master’s in Psychology and Law * secretary of Daps Decentium, KoKo
Iris Brandts (Ron) * 21 * bachelor’s in Arts & Culture * president of Daps Decentium, treasurer of KoKo
Maaike Hooghiemstra * 19 * second-year Econometrics * member of Daps Decentium
Roos van den Bekerom (Nico) * 24 * master’s in Dutch Law * member of Daps Decentium
Stars (max. 5, given by Prof. Herings)
Food: 5 stars “Great!”
Cleanliness: 4 stars “Pretty good”
Hospitality: 5 stars