Ever since it is no longer allowed to eat, drink and shop out of the house after five in the Netherlands, Flanders has been swarming with Dutch people. And after another general lockdown was declared a week ago, things have gotten worse. Restaurants in border towns are overflowing with ‘Ollanders’ who, sometimes with some embarrassment, enjoy the dishes and beer.
Restaurateurs in the Belgian border town of Hoogstraten say they are happy with the guests from the north, a single waitress even defends the statement that the Dutch are naturally much more open and friendly than Belgians, although there are also owners who complain about the crowds. Recently, one of them even had to disappoint her own sister because too many reservations from the Netherlands had already been placed.
The invasion is not limited to the border towns. There are hardly any Belgians to be seen on the highway to Antwerp and a ridiculous number of Dutch people drive – it is as if Flanders does not exist. All these Dutch people get stuck in traffic jams in the narrow streets of the city center, waiting for hours for that one motorist who leaves a parking garage and leaves an empty space.
Read also this report about how Antwerp manages to boost a lot of people in a short time
It is always busy in Antwerp in the days before Christmas, says a parking attendant. “But this is not normal. With the Dutch there and also due to road works in the city, it has become really busy.” You can walk over the heads on the wide Meir shopping boulevard. “We understand you’re coming here. But it’s not good for you to bring corona here. On the other hand, we can’t forbid it either,” says student Lizy Boogers (17), nodded by some friends.
The temptation is too great
The Dutch are also buzzing on the Groenplaats. “I’m on vacation and I was at home,” says Joris ten Dam (17) from The Hague. “You can’t do anything at all. The only thing you can do with friends is sit outside on a bench with up to two people. That is unbelievably depressing. So I’m glad this is possible. I’m not ashamed of it either.” He is shopping with Willem Heemskerk (16) and Berend Veltkamp (16). The comrades also visited some museums. A nice side effect is that alcohol is sold in Flanders from the age of sixteen. “You can have nice beers here.”
Some of the Dutch tourists have realized that the governor of Antwerp, Cathy Berx, has warned the Dutch not to head south, in order to prevent extra infections with the Omikron virus. Others have also heard what Prime Minister Rutte has said in the House of Representatives: that he advises against crossing the border to Belgium, and also to Germany for that matter. But the temptation is too great. “We are taking a lovely stroll, and stock up on our last Christmas presents,” say Monica (62) and her son Diego (27) from Rotterdam.
A little further on, Dirk van der Sar (19) and Emma Welbergen (18) walk from Maassluis, loaded with bags. They mainly buy Christmas gifts that you could have ordered online in the Netherlands, but which might not have been delivered on time. “That was the main reason for coming here,” says Emma.
I’m glad this is possible. I’m not ashamed of it
Four students from Utrecht, Leiden and Rotterdam are sitting on a heated terrace. They traveled by train for “two hours”, says Sam van der Does (20), and they will stay for two days. “We were going to go to Maastricht. But we canceled that when everything closed.” The students find it ‘double’ that they can do what is prohibited in the Netherlands. But they certainly do not feel guilty, because according to them many rules in the Netherlands are somewhat nonsensical. They understand that large parties or crowds in cafes are undesirable. But what’s wrong with chilling out on the patio like here?
They think that you are not allowed to exercise the worst. Sam van der Does: “First they say you should live a healthy life, and then sports are banned in all ways.”
‘Belgians are much nicer’
The three friends Esmee van der Stelt (18), Kim Bergakker (18) and Chloe Peeters (19) from the Rotterdam area did not notice that Belgians prefer not to receive too many Dutch people. They had booked their trip a few weeks ago and didn’t cancel it. They feel welcome. “Belgians are much nicer than the Dutch,” says Esmee. In a store where they could not make a choice from the wide range, they were given plenty of time. Chloe: „In the Netherlands you would be snubbed. Here they are more patient.” Kim: “Here they say: it is difficult to choose because everything is delicious and it is just what you feel like.”
Bart Fiers (61) and Jay Akhom (39) from Voorburg are also part of the Dutch invasion. “Just to have a good time. We like it so much that we are going again next week. The atmosphere is great”, says Bart Fiers, interim manager in daily life. He has a strong opinion about Dutch corona policy. “We have a very weak government. I was happy to read recently that there is now finally a study on the pros and cons of mandatory vaccination. Without mandatory vaccination and hefty fines for people who do not comply with it, we will never get rid of it. I think it’s outrageous: people who cannot be operated on, children who cannot go to school, the catering industry that is without income.”
Koen Kennis, alderman of Antwerp, does not consider the arrival of the Dutch a problem. “Many come to Antwerp often anyway. And it’s not forbidden, is it? As long as they follow the rules.” Do they? We shoot two heavily armed police officers. “We have the impression that it is.”
A version of this article also appeared in NRC Handelsblad of 24 December 2021
A version of this article also appeared in NRC in the morning of December 24, 2021
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