Typical NL: Milk and butter


“Can you please write about the milk?”

“What about it?”

“Didn't you notice? There is milk everywhere in the Netherlands. It's so annoying!”

To tell you the truth, I hadn't noticed, but once my friend had mentioned it, I became more observant and realized she is right. The Netherlands is probably the only country where you can order a glass of milk for lunch in every restaurant and people above the age of twelve actually do order it. At the company where my friend works, milk is the standard option if you order lunch from the in-house catering service. The only alternatives are water and buttermilk. The problem is that it's a big Dutch company, with worldwide operations and business relations. It's difficult enough for Europeans to grasp the concept of buttermilk, but try to explain it to a visitor from Asia.

And milk is not only in cheese and vla, but there are traces of it in all kinds of food. No one seems to be aware that it might constitute a problem, so it's never labelled – people with lactose intolerance have to meticulously study the packages of every food item before they know whether it's safe to eat.

Is this how the European Union solved all the problems of the proverbial butter mountains and milk lakes, by putting it in all Dutch food? I knew that milk was oversubsidized in Europe, but I wasn't aware how bad it was. But wait, this can't be true, at least not for the butter mountain. Unlike milk, butter is notoriously hard to find in the Netherlands. Which doesn't make any sense, because it's made from milk and Dutch butter is quite famous. Is it only made for exports? I was already contemplating prining one of these T-shirts “I went to the Netherlands and all I got was a lousy block of margarine”. But I'm afraid people could misinterpret that.

It's true though, butter and margarine seem to be synonymous for many Dutch people. I can't count the times I have asked specifically for butter, not margarine, and still got the wrong stuff, be it in restaurants or at Dutch homes. When I moved to Belgium, I was glad to find that Belgian supermarkets always offer a great variety of good butter to choose from. The joy was short-lived, though. In Belgium, it's fresh milk which is difficult to find. Everybody drinks stale tasting homogenized milk and they don't see anything wrong with it, just like the Dutch do with their margarine. Makes me wonder what people are missing when they visit my home country.


Tim Aretz

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