By Lorraine Nencel I clearly remember moving here in 1978 and one of my evening pass times was walking through my neighborhood on garbage night scavenging along with the professional scavangers for useable goodies – proletariat recycling. But for this New Yorker who grew up with small windows blinded by venetians, Dutch windows were a delight to my eyes. Big and open, if it would not have been so obvious I could have stayed for hours in front of the window watching people enjoy their 8 o’clock coffee, sitting around the television, in each home generally positioned in the same corner, with Father sitting on the arm chair while mother and children are sitting on the couch.
Far in the back you could see the dining room set with a lamp hanging over the table. Maybe there was a crochet fringe hung at the top of the window, usually made by the lady of the house, but the windows were open for all eyes to see. In fact I think I unreflexively discovered how standardized Dutch home culture was just by looking at/through the windows on garbage night.
Years passed and windows have changed. Some are covered by vertical blinds that let you look out but make it difficult to look in and the most recent development is the frosted contact paper in different designs that for a brief moment give you the sensation of frosted glass. But what gives it away is the frosted glass is at the pedestrians eye level, making it very difficult to look in and see anything, unless you are above or below average length.
Age: “Honk twice for Jan because he has seen Father Abraham”(it means he has turned fifty). Sara dolls of all shapes and sizes including giant ones that are kept inflated by a small generator for the woman of the house who has turned 30. Plastic inflatable numbers hung in front of the window to announce that someone in the house has turned anywhere between 1-65. Anniversaries of 50, 60 and maybe even 70 years are announced on preprinted cardboard posters, honoring the “bride and groom”.
Births: A variety of storks including one that appears to crash through the window with half of his body sticking out on the outside and half in. This is accompanied with paraphernalia that indicates in blue or pink what sex the child is and more often than not displays in some original way the newborn’s name.
And finally, every June the Dutch Flag with the school bag filled with books signifying that someone in the household has past their final exams and received their diplomas. Murmurs and gossip circulate the neighborhood where the school bag is not hanging out but should have, indicating that the boy or girl did not pass their exams.
As anthropologists we all know that inanimate objects are cultural artifacts and that they are more telling than one can imagine. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. What does your window tell us about you?
Lorraine Nencel is associate professor at the Department of Social Research Methodology at VU University Amsterdam. She focuses on anthropological and ethnographic research methodology.