Monday, 30 October 2000
It's lunch time. The sun shines. The weather is surprisingly nice for October. Several French around me start putting on their coat, ready to go out. Sebastien, my French teamleader, approaches me with a giant smile. Henk, shall we all go and have lunch at the terrace on top of the highway?

I understand his grin. Terrace on top of the highway is an alias for the The Hague's most famous snack bar: de Vrijheid (Dutch for Freedom) (, on top of the highway "Utrechtse Baan", at walking distance from this office. During the last visit he got a real culture shock. He learned about Dutch 'frikadellen' and 'kroketten'. And no, sorry Sebastien, they are not 100% pure beef. For a steak de luxe you'll really have to go elsewhere.

In the end he ordered a satay, a salmon bin and a can of coke. That sounds quite acceptable, but for a Frenchman it is still a culture shock when the satay comes from the same oil as the French fries. Even the salmon bin was a small drama to him. No French decorations or elegance. No, just a plain white bin, with a piece of salmon, and that's it. He was just in time to avoid a topping of garlic sauce.

So, that explains his current joy. What a good practical joke this will be for his fellow country men. The group is suspicious, but joins the walk along the highway nevertheless, towards "de Vrijheid".

I stick to a simple chips with peanut sauce ("patat pinda") and a "kroket" bin ("broodje kroket"). A team member order exactly the same, just playing safe. Sebastien leads the rest of the group and orders with great routine a satay, a salmon bin and a coke. Boldly, he orders some "French Fries" too.

The rest of the French takes a deep sniff, smells the air of fried fat, collectively turns around, and leaves the premises. Sebastien looks disappointed. All his predicted fun vanishes! It's a missed opportunity for my fellow country men , he concludes. It takes a bit of guts to explore the delicatessens of a strange culture. Just try, and it may turn out the best thing you've ever had.

His order is ready. Full of confidence he starts with the salmon bin. The coke tastes good as well. He saves the French fries for the moment. Now it's time for the satay. He opens the paper bag and looks shocked to the flattened bin with brown sauce. Where is the wooden pin? Where are the pieces of meat?

I roll on the floor with laughter. Ha, ha, Sebastien, It takes a bit of guts to explore the delicatessens of a strange culture. Sebastien looks at me, amazed and unwilling to believe what has happened. I can't be serious. This must be a practical joke. Such a messy bin can't seriously be meant as lunch. No, no, he won't have this practical joke. He rises to return the mess to the counter. It takes me all my persuasion power to stop him: Just try, and it may turn out the best thing you've ever had.

He sighs hearing his own words bounce back on him. This is not his day. First the practical joke with the full team fails, and now this on top. But, all the honours to Sebastien: He keeps his pride, and bravely bites the satay bin. It's no wonder you Dutch lost Indonesia. They've probably seen how you mistreat their food here. Hm, and it's not too bad after all, he sighs after a few bites. It even has pieces of meat, hidden inside. But, I won't order it again though.

Happy and relieved he starts his fries and is in for a new shock. What kind of oil was used for this? Do you Dutch ever refresh oil for fried things? A practical joke is nice, but this is beyond humor. I really try my best to appreciate your Dutch eating habits, but I do have my limits. I seriously tried it, but this is not eatable. He trashes the remainder in the very first trash can.

Ha ha, Sebastien: The best practical joke you prepare for yourself.

Till next week!