“Is the button shop still here?”

Professor Jim van Os shares a meal with dependent sorority Les Must


Psychiatry professor Jim van Os enters the room carrying a basket wrapped in cellophane. It contains several bottles of wine, truffle dressing, mustard, spaghetti and more. Quite a fancy gift, especially compared to what other professors typically bring to these dinners. “I have to admit I was given it myself this morning. There was a national conference for general practice healthcare groups at Vaeshartelt Castle and I was giving a talk on mental healthcare. So I thought, I’ll just pass it on to the students.”

That he managed to get in at all without having to phone his hosts is a small miracle, seeing as the doorbell to this building at the Markt doesn’t work. Not usually, anyway. And on purpose: “Having a working bell in this part of the city, with all those drunken people wandering past, is not exactly ideal”, Anika Pastoors had emailed earlier. As the main house of Les Must, the oldest sorority in the Tragos student association, it has long been ‘in the family’.

And this is the elite of the sorority, we are supposed to understand. “All sorority drinks are held here”, says Charlotte Meesters with some pride. They host parties too. Take yesterday: that was a big night, mainly because it spilled over into morning. Pastoor and Meesters went to bed at eight am, on the couch here in the living room. Meesters only woke up at half past three, just in time to start cooking for the professor. “Sometimes you have these kinds of nights. A little too often perhaps”, Pastoor laughs. “I’m not all that functional right now”, says Meesters. “But we did have a good night – you’ve got to look at the positive.”

Van Os is understanding, and remains so throughout the evening. There’s no wagging finger here, only: “Nice, that you can sleep till half past three in the afternoon!” When they talk about heavy drinking, he refrains from lecturing them about the damage this can do to young brains. Alcohol just makes you “a little more uninhibited,” he says, “and that’s good”. His stance contrasts with that of the Utrecht psychiatrist René Kahn, “who goes on a massive rant against alcohol in his book. It’s about learning to deal with your addictions”, Van Os continues. “Remember, you as students are all survivors of high school, because that’s where drinking begins these days.”

But enough about drinking; that’s not the only thing these ladies do. Barbara Zandvliet and Sterre Ploegmakers had a quiet night last night, and crept out of the house this morning to go to class.

The professor has a thousand and one questions about what goes on in such a sorority, “and what you have to do to get in”. The question can be better put the other way, Ploegmakers explains: it’s the houses that “fight for the girls”. Maastricht has a surplus of student associations, whereas students are – partly as a result of the loan system – choosing to stay at home more often. “It’s all you can do to get them.” Being part of a student association is important, Zandvliet says. “The internationals do their own thing, but for Dutch students it’s good to join an association and not to live alone; otherwise you get lonely quickly.”

Van Os is no stranger to this world. As a member of the Amsterdam student corps he lived in a similar house, not with five students (one is away today) but with twelve. “For me the most traumatic thing was the fridge. You put beer or bread in and never knew whether it’d still be there the next day.”

The conversation turns to his work. He always wanted to be a psychiatrist, because “the brain is pretty much the final frontier. You can replace a heart, you can help the kidneys to filter blood, but the brain – not to mention the mind – now that’s still interesting.” After working in France and England, he is now focused on institutional psychiatry. “I try to just go along with the bureaucracy. I’ve become very patient with it.”

“You must go home with pretty intense stories after seeing patients”, Zandvliet says. “How does that work, do you talk about it?”

“Oh, it’s much harder for oncologists, with all those people dying. And yes, I can share it a bit at home, but I prefer to talk about something else”, Van Os replies. “Incidentally, it’s good to talk about things. Women talk a lot, men have a beer.”

Meesters begs to differ. “Men are gossips too, you know. And women are often catty, not sweet.”

This raises an important question: is the professor a cat person? Yes, he has two of them. A good thing too, because just then Spek – an epileptic cat with a heart defect – lopes into the room. “We got him off Marktplaats; that’s why he was free.” The cat is somewhat divisive: Zandvliet and Pastoor are for, Meesters and Ploegmakers against. “We have dogs at home”, says Ploegmakers. “This guy is unreliable, he doesn’t listen, he’s quite mean, he scratches you and he pees on the couch.” Their solution is to use a spray on the couch that smells like mosquito. “He’s a terrorist”, Meesters says. Zandvliet is defensive: “He has his moments.” Ploegmakers: “More bad moments.”

He does have a purpose, one of the students points out: he’s there for the mouse droppings. “The mice, not the droppings”, cries another. In any event, it seems to work; there have been no more mouse sightings.

Foodwise, Van Os is in luck tonight. “We’re a real cooking sorority. We don’t make stuff out of packets, it’s all fresh and homemade”, Zandvliet says. The pumpkin soup with goat’s cheese is followed by zuurvlees with a side of chips and salad. To fetch the chips one of the students pops downstairs to Reitz, considered the best chip shop in Maastricht. They can see it from their window but go there only rarely, preferring McDonald’s: there you don’t have to queue and can pay with card. But with McDonald’s closing, those days will soon be over.

Pastoor is hoarse. Not from yesterday, but constantly. “You talk way too loud”, Meesters says affectionately. “That’s how I talk”, responds Pastoor. She previously had speech therapy but plans to go to “a real doctor” soon. “I’m just a bit of a problem case”, she laughs. Van Os: “Didn’t the singer from Queen, Freddie Mercury, also have pimples or something on his vocal chords?” He throws his head back and imitates the sound: “WHAOE!!”

“How” Pastoor asks ironically.

Halfway through the evening, the professor asks “Is that button shop still around?” The Panhuys, the students respond – yes, it’s still here. Van Os holds out his sleeves. “Because I’ve been missing a few buttons for a while.”

“Who wants coffee?” Zandvliet asks. “With real borstplaat from the baker’s?”

Uh oh: no dessert. In hushed tones they admit the meringue was a flop. No matter – Van Os has to get going to the button shop before it closes anyway.

Jim van Os * 56 * professor of psychiatry * married to Noortje, children Laura and Johan * lives in Maastricht and Amsterdam

Charlotte Meesters * 21 * second-year International Business * member of Les Must, part of Tragos

Anika Pastoor * 22 * third-year Hotel School * member of Les Must

Sterre Ploegmakers * 19 * first/second-year Dutch Law * member of Les Must

Barbara Zandvliet * 21 * first-year International Business * treasurer of Les Must

Stars given by Professor Van Os (maximum of five stars):

Cleanliness: 5 stars  “My old student house was a mess. It’s really tidy here"

Hospitality: 5 stars "Felt very well received" 

Food: 5 stars "Fantastic, even the borstplaat with the coffee"

“Is the button shop still here?”
Author: Wammes Bos
Loraine Bodewes
Categories: news_top
Tags: dinner

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