Fewer than a thousand residents of Eindhoven, the country’s second-largest city, gathered beside a river to throw eggs at Jeff Bezos‘ new 417-foot sailing boat, which had just been delivered to him by the company he founded and for whom he is now one of the world’s wealthiest men. It would have been splattered with brilliant orange yolk and at least one bright crimson splotch by the time the boat passed the throng.
Former City Council member Stefan Lewis remarked, “I’d have hurled a tomato” in response. “Most of my food is vegan,” says the author.
“The Hef,” as Koningshaven Bridge is commonly called, was one of the places where Mr. Lewis stood on a recent day, detailing how Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and schooner manufacturer Oceanco sparked outrage by asking for access to the bridge. The firm requested that the 230-foot-high central span of the Hef be temporarily dismantled by the local authorities so that the ship could navigate the King’s Harbor waterway and go out to sea. Oceanco would have paid for the service and the entire thing would have taken a day or two.
Additionally, the bridge, which resembles an enormous “H” made of moss-green steel lattice, is never utilised. It was deactivated in the early 1990s after being replaced by a tunnel and no longer used as a train bridge. Since then, it has remained inactive.
In short, the procedure would have been quick, free, and disruptive in no way whatsoever. What’s the big deal?
This is about principle,” said Mr. Lewis, a 37-year-old man reclining on his bike and flitting back and forth between laughter and outrage throughout the interview. He then asked a series of probing questions to further clarify his point. “What can you purchase if you had infinite cash? Can you break every rule? What if I ask you to dismantle a monument?”
Oceanco withdrew its bid to demolish the Hef at the end of June, according to the city’s deputy mayor, a withdrawal that was hailed as a triumph of the people against a billionaire, but was much more than that. As a result, the clash between Dutch and American principles could be seen in all its fervour. More and more, it seems that this kerfuffle was staged to drive people in the Netherlands insane, given the country’s penchant for humility over luxury, for community over individual, and for blending in rather than distinguishing out.
First and foremost, there was Mr. Bezos’s staggering fortune.
Councilwoman Ellen Verkoelen of the 50Plus Party in Rotterdam said that the Dutch believe that ‘being normal’ is enough of a crazy act. In addition, we believe that wealthy individuals are behaving abnormally. In Holland, we don’t think that everyone can be as wealthy as individuals in the United States, where the sky is the limit. ‘Be average,’ we say. “Good enough for me.”
Many people, including Ms. Verkoelen, agreed with the Oceanco’s proposal, which they thought was appropriate for a highly competitive corporation. There were scores of enraged voters who spoke out against her, though. She was able to trace the roots of the ardour back to a tale she had heard as a youngster.
She recalls hosting an exchange student from the United States when she was 11 years old. It’s exactly like you do in the United States, my mother assured him. Just prepare your own sandwich. Five sausages were added on his toast instead of just one. The only thing my mother would have said was in Dutch to me, ‘We would never eat like that in our home,’ but she didn’t say anything to him.
According to Ms. Verkoelen’s peers at school, all American youngsters eat the same thing at home. They were astounded, and a bit envious, to see what had happened. Putting butter and cheese on your bread at the time was referred to as “the devil’s sandwich” in the Netherlands. There was a lot of deliberation as to which one to choose. It’s not necessary to have both.
Building the world’s largest sailing boat while demolishing a revered local monument is a strange juxtaposition. You can eat all you want at the devil’s buffet.
Calvinism, the most prominent Protestant branch in the Netherlands for hundreds of years, is to blame for the country’s austerity, according to locals. It focuses on values like self-control, thrift, and diligence. Even if most Dutch citizens do not attend church, the country’s cultural standards are still evident, as seen by the country’s attitude toward money.
Prof. James Kennedy of Utrecht University’s department of contemporary Dutch history says Calvin “teaches that you’re given stewardship over your money, that you have a duty to take care of it, and that entails giving plenty of it away, being helpful to others.” ‘The work you do is a divine calling for which you will be held responsible. Spending ostentatiously is deemed detrimental for both society and your spirit.”
In the Netherlands, there are billionaires and a widening wage discrepancy between top executives and their staff. According to Statista, a market research agency, CEOs make $171 for every dollar made by the ordinary worker. It’s the biggest differential in any nation, at $265 in the US. In the Netherlands, the affluent don’t show off their wealth, just as the powerful don’t show off their status. Once one of the most powerful empires in human history, the Dutch now take pleasure in the fact that their prime minister rides a bicycle to meet with King Willem-Alexander and locks the bike outside of their palace.