Novels and movies might be the most popular and, at the same time, most authentic representations of a culture. Depending on the exhaustiveness of the author’s descriptions of the scenery, a novel can let you picture the culture in which the story takes place. Movies, on the other hand, fill in all the possible gaps by visualizing the scenery. But is a movie or a novel always a true presentation of daily life in a certain culture? Certainly not.
In our last class Intercultural factors in language teaching we all took a trailer of a movie with us to show to our classmates. It could either be a cultural or an intercultural movie, and I chose to bring a Dutch movie as a representation of my own culture: Alles is liefde (Everything is love). It is all about liefde, doodgaan and overspel during the days Sinterklaas is in the country, but eventually on pakjesavond everything is allright and gezellig. What? It’s just got everything that makes the Netherlands, the Netherlands. That does, indeed, include the weather.
Cultural contents in “Alles is Liefde”
The main reason I chose this movie is because of Sinterklaas. It’s similar to Santa Claus and Sinterklaas is in fact the figure Santa Claus is based on. It’s quite a complex story that goes back to Saint Nicholas of Mira, but to summarize it briefly: it’s all about an old man with a red dress, a white beard, a white horse and a black friend (Black Pete), travelling every year with a steam ship full of presents from Spain to the Netherlands in order to ride his horse on rooftops and throw presents through chimneys. Don’t worry if you didn’t get it: I will come back to this topic in another blog post to explain it properly.
Trailer of Alles is Liefde (only in Dutch)
Apart from Sinterklaas, there are a lot of other aspects that characterize Dutch culture. First of all, there is Carice van Houten, our export-actress who is a rising star in Hollywood and currently plays a role in Game of Thrones. Carice plays Kiki, who desperately falls in love with the Prince of the Dutch Royal family during the arrival of Sinterklaas. This “Prince Charming” feels the same for her and he secretly applies for a job as Black Pete at the shop Kiki works at. Even though it’s not the real Royal family which we see in the movie, it characterizes the popularity the Dutch Royal Family has. This is another I will come back to later in April.
In the movie, Kiki’s brother is about to marry his future husband. The Netherlands were the first to legalize same sex marriage (in 2001) and to date Amsterdam is one of the cities in the world where the LGBT community prospers the most. Especially in the centre of the city, you might get to see a rainbow flag in every street you cross. The Netherlands is often stereotypically seen as the open society in which everything is allowed and possible. However, even after 15 years, there is still no 100% tolerance to same sex couples in the Netherlands. In this movie too, it’s presented as something “special”.
Romantic comedy in class
The movie is a typical family romantic comedy and has a lot of different storylines and a lot of issues. There are issues about the dead Sinterklaas and his lost substitute (doodgaan) just before the arrival, issues about relationships and cheating (overspel) and, most obviously, issues about commitment, marriage and impossible love (liefde). At the end, when it’s finally Pakjesavond (Presents Eve) on the 5th of December, all problems seem to have been resolved and it can finally get gezellig.
If I were to teach Dutch to foreigners, I would definitely use this movie in class, since it represents so many aspects of Dutch society and shows the beautiful scenery of Amsterdam. Nonetheless, this movie is can be stereotypical. Although the Dutch themselves know pretty well how to distinguish the true reality from cinematic reality, students of Dutch as a foreign language might not. Therefor, it would be good to not let the students take for granted the cultural contents, but talk about this cultural and stereotypical aspects instead and address those topics that might cause controversy, such as racism, same sex couples and monarchies.