Liz Hession assumes the role of Fraternity Spy extraordinaire in the heart of the Netherlands
I’m aware that ‘Erasmus’ isn’t the most exciting topic contained in a student magazine. The last few weeks have been somewhat un-surprising as far as Erasmus-beginnings go. It’s lots of fun — pretty much just as I expected. Except I didn’t know I’d be moving into what is, essentially, a frat house.
“What can I discuss with our Motley readers this month?” I’ve been pondering to myself.
The weird supermarkets? Over-dependency on Google maps? 11% Dutch beers? The bicycles? Oh lord, the sheer magnitude of bicycles. The canals? Cobble-stones? The devil’s lettuce? God help us, how about the culture shock? Clogs? Or Dutch frat culture?
Or pears? Pears. Not what I was hoping for.
I certainly wasn’t hoping to be suddenly surrounded by a cacophony of shattering glass only nine days into my stay – especially not in my own bedroom at 4PM on a Tuesday. I was FaceTiming my mum; she started screaming, I was hyperventilating. Oh, the fright of it all.
At least, I am now confident that pears do in fact have a weight and mass suitable to exhaust an entire bedroom window from its panels, and that Dutch teenagers have a shot that’s truly above-par in both accuracy and execution. I’m also sure that my newfound relationship with the humble pear will develop into lifelong resentment. Maybe I don’t want to talk about pears.
I whinged to a Dutch friend. “Why did it have to me be?” I exclaimed, mourning the cost of repairs and the depletion of my financial safety nets. I don’t even like pears. Had I unknowingly exposed myself as a pear-hurling target? “Well, you do live in a Minerva house,” he replied. Does ‘Minerva’ translate directly to ‘please throw pears at me’? “What the hell is Minerva?” It sounded like a kind of disease — perhaps an ailment of the sinuses, or the bowel.
Minerva is the oldest and most prestigious Dutch fraternity and I became intrigued by this Dutch breed of frat bros. In the wild, they flock through my quaint, Medieval university town in uniformed squadrons, barraging between bars, in a constant state of mutually-dependent social satisfaction. Mostly stereotypically Aryan in demeanour, easily identified by crest-laden ties, matching suits and signet rings; often heard to be discussing various personal connections to the royal bloodline, party members, and corporate playgrounds.
I probably would’ve thrown pears through my window too. I needed to know more about this bewildering sort. 2AM Wednesday morning: I took to google, and the Fear began to set in.
Reddit forums and public blog-posts on the subject abounded; I slowly began to grasp the mentality and customs of the Dutch Frats.
So, I’ve been trying to observe them. The Minervans. The Augustines. The Quintuses. (Quinta? Quintee?). No Greek letters here. Much more civilised than that. The old boys with old money; the descendants of clerical gentry, perhaps. Famous in these parts for popularizing the ‘boot-cut jeans, brown shoes, shirt, tie, and suit-jacket to lectures’ combo. Hair-oil particularly completes the look. Although there’s women, too. Femme-fratale, I’ve called them. Blonde and swishy.
In their natural habitat, they reside in the upper-floors of my humble abode, confining themselves mainly to the mulch-made party attic in the roof, surfacing only to return to their large boudoirs, each clad with life-size posters of models and porn-stars. Often ambiguous in their political alignment, the frats serve as a form of social pathway that ensures eternal validation to the fact you are a wealthy fart, and you can rest assured that all your friends are too. They don’t speak to me, really, but they’re despicably polite.
U.S. films come to mind; the ones whose comedic enterprises are based firmly upon Greek letters, toga-parties, pool-side sorority sisters: Elle Woods, American Pie. It’s not entirely dissimilar to their Dutch frat bros and sisters; I’m pretty sure they’ve replaced Greek letters with owls and owl-related logos, and that’s the only difference.
The poor owls might as well be illuminati symbols. Owls and pears; now a troubling presence in my life. But I still endeavour to bring the news of these strange beings home to Ireland. I shall continue to infiltrate their lair, and invest in some decent binoculars. At least, if I fail my exams this year I can compensate by writing a detailed research essay about my new life as a Frat Spy, and why pear trees in residential areas should be banned.
“Must I shield my identity lest they come for my blood?” I enquired of my Dutch comrade on the inside. “Liz, stop. The culture-shock is getting to you. Go back to Duolingo.” Duolingo. The owls, there they are again. Hooty-hoo.