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Veerstichting explained

I’m just back from the Veerstichting symposium in Leiden, the Netherlands. I know I’ve made several references to it i (1 2) without explaining what it is. Now that I’ve been there, I have some idea.

It’s an annual two-day conference, by the Dutch and for the Dutch, that’s been around for about 25 years. About 600 people attend, half of them students. They emphasize the presence of students. For example, at one of the dinners, you’re seated carefully at the long tables in a student-nonstudent sequence. And each speaker is assigned a student host who stays with you throughout the two days.

The program itself consists of a series of thirty-minute presentations (20 mins of talk, ten of Q and A) by an eclectic set of speakers. This year, they included a former high official of the UN who talked about the nature of Indian identity, the coach of the winning Dutch women’s hockey team, a guy who writes about why management sucks, a leading biologist explaining the evolutionary basis of herd behavior, Naomi Klein on “shock therapy economics,” the head of the Rwandan courts punishing those who participated in genocide, and the star of a popular sex-and-drugs interview show on TV. The attendees seemed to favor senior business folks, government officials, and the occasional Queen of the Netherlands. (The Queen brushed by me on her way to talk with one of the speakers. I was this close to the back of her head!)

Unlike most American conferences, Veerstichting incorporates cultural events. For example, to kick off the afternoon session, there was a ten-minute modern dance routine, and there was a longer dance about freedom or something — all I know for sure is that the dancer pulled the head off of a large stuffed sheep — where Americans might have had an after-dinner speaker. Also, there’s much more drinking than at American events, not even counting the party at the student union where I lost my voice and 45% of my senses in a large packed room where the beer flowed like good, cheap beer.

The venue itself is gorgeous. It was held in a cathedral that now is a public space. And Leiden itself is a snow-globe version of Amsterdam. My student host Ben Zevenberger, who is studying IP and Net law, took me on a walking tour. The architecture is highly reminiscent of Amsterdam, but lowered a few stories, while the streets are (or seem) wider. Bicycles rule the streets, and cars are the interlopers. What a beautiful place.

And here’s one more way it’s beautiful. At a speakers dinner, I sat next to a senior business guy who was also one of the event’s sponsors. He told me that after Katrina hit, he spoke with the manager of his company’s facility in New Orleans. It had been destroyed. “But don’t worry,” the manager said, “We’ve already stopped the payroll, since obviously no one’s coming in.” The Dutch executive was appalled. “Pay them twice their normal salaries. They need our help!” The Dutch sense of social obligation — the “we’re in this together” attitude — is remarkable, but really only what it should be.

The event itself is a bit like PopTech or TED in its eclecticism. Add to that the focus on students, the beauty of the surroundings, and the fact that you get to spend time among the Dutch, and you have yourself a unique event.


I asked Ben if the Dutch were ok with having English-speakers call their country “Holland” instead of “The Netherlands.” It’s fine, he said, adding that the Dutch call it “Holland” (although I thought Holland was a region of the Netherlands). Since “nether” has unfortunate connotations in English (we can just stick with the “nether world” if you want), I was happy to have permission to refer to the country as “Holland.”

And while we’re on the topic, if it’s ok to call the country “Holland,” can we call the Dutch the “Hollish”?

PS: Here’s some info on the various terms.

[Tags: veerstichting holland leiden ]

3 Responses to “Veerstichting explained”

  1. Hi David,
    Loved to see you in Leiden. The thing about Holland: Yes in the old days Holland really only refererd to Noord-Holland and Zuid-Holland (as you´d guess North- and South-Holland ) two provinces of The Netherlands. Apart from these two ´lands´ (provinces) we have got several others, 11 in total whom together form ‘The Netherlands’ (nether means low; lowlands). However through the years Holland has become similar with the Netherlands. The funny thing is that we use to refer to our country as The Netherlands almost always except…when something nationalistic is involved, for example the Soccer World Championship, the Olympics and in the tourist business (lovely tulips from Holland). In fact, I am sure that when you would research it, each dutch person will automatically use the ´right´ version of our countryname in the right situation, when required. No dutch person will say ‘Tulips from The Netherlands’, strangely enough.
    Talking about the implicit!!!
    So far my lecture.. I thought your talk about the implicit went over real well. I liked it. It also fired off a discussion between me and a fellow ‘veer’ visitor about cultural differences, we felt Americans use to keep more implicit, like how one thinks about politics, or when one is gay. We dutch will blurt out more things in the open. I am wondering what effect that has on the way we both deal with social networking on the web.
    Well anyway, thanks for your talk, and I´ll keep an eye at your blog,
    Mariane

  2. Hi David,
    Loved to see you in Leiden. The thing about Holland: Yes in the old days Holland really only refererd to Noord-Holland and Zuid-Holland (as you´d guess North- and South-Holland ) two provinces of The Netherlands. Apart from these two ´lands´ (provinces) we have got several others, 11 in total whom together form ‘The Netherlands’ (nether means low; lowlands). However through the years Holland has become similar with the Netherlands. The funny thing is that we use to refer to our country as The Netherlands almost always except…when something nationalistic is involved, for example the Soccer World Championship, the Olympics and in the tourist business (lovely tulips from Holland). In fact, I am sure that when you would research it, each dutch person will automatically use the ´right´ version of our countryname in the right situation, when required. No dutch person will say ‘Tulips from The Netherlands’, strangely enough.
    Talking about the implicit!!!
    So far my lecture.. I thought your talk about the implicit went over real well. I liked it. It also fired off a discussion between me and a fellow ‘veer’ visitor about cultural differences, we felt Americans use to keep more implicit, like how one thinks about politics, or when one is gay. We dutch will blurt out more things in the open. I am wondering what effect that has on the way we both deal with social networking on the web.
    Well anyway, thanks for your talk, and I´ll keep an eye at your blog,
    Mariane

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