Christmas in the US and the Netherlands provides a great example of how things work out differently among the diaspora and those who stay home. The American myths of Christmas are Dutch. Santa Claus is Sinterklaas. "A Visit From St. Nicholas," better known as, "Twas the Night Before Christmas," was written by a Dutch-American. Celebrations evolved differently, but the American Christmas celebration bears a heavy Dutch imprint. Before that, Christmas here was a wild drunken celebration, still sung about in some carols like, "We Wish You a Merry Christmas."
As I look around this Christmas, it appears that Dutch is losing ground. The language needs to be promoted and expanded. Here are some ideas:
- Build a better image for the Netherlands. France and England ooze snob appeal. Spain and Italy offer fun and history for the cognoscenti. Holland, to the extent that anyone thinks about it, is known for pot and prostitution. The current image is out of tune with our time, which is marked by ads for memory improvement products and an AIDS pandemic. Anything else, from wind power, to Dutch businesses, to Rembrandt would be a better starting point.
- Promote the Dutch language arts. This should be a full court press. As an interpreter would put it, it should cover the entire register. At the high end, the Dutch government should promote Geert Mak along with old classics, such as Max Havelaar. Radioboeken should have some readings available in English. On the low end, efforts should be made to market Dutch language tv output to other countries. Kinderen Geen Bezwaar could easily be remade in other countries, as could FC Kampioenen. American television has long been full of recycled ideas from Britain. Why not import from the Netherlands? Also, Dutch filmmakers should be encouraged and pushed through the international distribution chain.
- Do product placement in foreign tv shows and movies. All sorts of products do it. The characters on a popular sitcom could go to Holland. A movie could be filmed in Rotterdam. Feature a sidekick who speaks Dutch.
- Promote the entire Dutch speaking world. "Win a Trip to Suriname!" Why is it so hard to get to Suriname? When I looked, there was one flight from the US. It is not connected to much, either by air or by road.
- Promote Dutch langage learning. All over the world, dedicated Francophones can find branches of the Alliance Française. There is no Dutch equivalent. If someone's going to do it, make it more fun and less stuffy than the French group. Language learning should also be promoted in tourist destinations. A Dutch only section of Amsterdam would be fun and helpful for linguistic tourists, and it would provide some relief to locals.
- Promote the advantages of knowing Dutch. I have read that Dutch is the best jumping off point for learning other Germanic languages. Thanks to studying Dutch, I can hear some German dialog in movies and read some Swedish signs at Ikea.
- Finally, Dutch culture has influenced the world. Wherever possible, cultural attaches should commemorate it. There is Dutch architecture and influence everywhere. The Dutch influence should especially be promoted over the next couple of days. Whether Santa Claus visits from the North Pole or Sinterklaas comes in from Spain, he'll wind down with a plate of haring.