In June, our part of France is pestered by mosquitos. In July, one sees the odd snake. And in August, the Dutch come.
They overrun the area, driving their caravans, vans or cars with trailers attached. Like tortoises, they carry their houses on their backs.
These mobile shells are filled to the gunwales with every necessity of life: tinned food, slabs of mediocre cheese, booze and even bottled water. Bread is the only thing they have to buy. The Dutch may be among the world’s wealthiest people, but why waste their hard-earned on frivolous purchases? God created money to keep, not to spend.
Such frugality run riot doesn’t endear the Dutch to the locals, particularly those who sell things, from food to hotel beds. They call them ‘moy-moys’ – this is how the Dutch word for ‘nice’ sounds to the French. Those Netherlandish misers utter that shibboleth when browsing in shops without ever buying anything.
Lately there have been violent rallies against mass tourism in places like Majorca and Barcelona. That’s an extreme manifestation of resentment seething all over Europe.
Locals everywhere detest seeing their home becoming a receptacle for swarms of boisterous, ogling tourists turning streets into bottlenecks and befouling what they see as tourist attractions. What helps the locals put up with the influx without too much grumbling is the soothing thought of the money poured into their pockets by those rampaging throngs.
Since the Dutch offer no such redeeming excuse, one can overhear our villagers describe them in terms covering the entire lower tier of French argot. The Dutch don’t care. They’re proud of their parsimony.
Now German tourists don’t mind spreading around their Deutschmarks disguised as euros. Why are their Germanic neighbours so different?
I’d suggest two reasons: unlike the Germans, the Dutch have little aristocratic past to inoculate them against the extremes of bourgeois ethos; also unlike the Germans, they’re mostly Calvinists.
Actually, the two reasons easily morph into one: Calvin reformed the Reformation, making it even more egalitarian and therefore bourgeois than Luther did.
Calvin pushed Augustine’s idea of predestination married to his ‘prevenient grace’ theology to an absurd extreme. We’re predestined for either salvation or damnation, pronounced Calvin and, as we live in “total depravity”, we can do nothing to affect the outcome. The idea of good works as restitution for sin is dangerous Catholic nonsense, a way of keeping the masses in check.
Frequently asked to put a number on the lucky winners of this divine lottery, Calvin tended to change his mind, presumably depending on his mood. The range varied from a miserly one in 100 to a generous one in five. In any case, how can we know which of us drew the lucky ticket?
It’s Calvin’s answer to this question that led Weber to regard capitalism as a predominantly Protestant phenomenon. God, according to Calvin, gave those to be saved a sign of his benevolence by making them rich.
Their wealth would be acquired not the Old Testament way, as God’s gift; not the aristocratic way, through inheritance, martial valour and pillage; but the bourgeois way, through hard work and thrift.
That’s why God wouldn’t just rain gold on the elect. Rather he’d guide them to a way of life that would deliver wealth as a reward. Hard work would be an important part of it, but frugality and austerity also had a role to play, if only as a way of thanking God for the lucre he had allowed the righteous to make. Virtuous conduct was thus an equivalent of a thank-you note to God.
This was nothing short of a revolution, a crucible of class war. For the first time a major Christian figure upgraded wealth from an object of bare toleration to a sign of divine benevolence. Grace became quantifiable in pieces of gold.
In common with all other successful revolutionaries, Calvin sensed the mood of the masses and told them exactly what they yearned to hear. For the good burghers of Geneva had already come to believe what Calvin so clearly enunciated.
Money was for them a tool of self-assertion and a road to political power. And the only way for them to make money was by offering sweat in return. So they worked their fingers to the bone, resenting prolonged fasts and other Church restrictions on hard work.
Secretly they had always known that God rewarded righteousness with money, just as he did in the Old Testament. Now they no longer had to be secretive about it.
Frugality, spending money only on necessities and never on whims, was an essential part of it. The burghers were happy to eschew opulence both out of inner conviction and also to emphasise the difference between themselves and the idle, degenerate aristocracy, secular or clerical.
Calvin taught other things as well, such as piety and a life of virtue. But those fell by the wayside with the advent of our predominantly atheist modernity. However, selfless, disinterested love of money qua money has survived, having left a particularly adhesive residue in the Dutch soul.
They do pay homage to Calvinist virtue by eschewing curtains on their ground floor windows, letting inquisitive passers-by peek into their drawing rooms. We have nothing to hide, seems to be the message; naughtiness is reserved for the bedroom, and only at night.
In parallel, windows in Amsterdam are used for the less righteous purpose of exhibiting semi-nude whores flogging their wares. Calvin meets Hegel here: thesis – Calvinist asceticism; antithesis – vulgar sleaze; synthesis – a country pioneering every possible modern perversion: euthanasia, legalised drugs, homosexual marriage, even cannibalism on live TV (see my post of 13 January, 2012).
Some American Protestant sectarians sport bumper stickers on their cars saying “Jesus is my navigator”. Replace Jesus with Calvin, and those miserly Dutch tourists would be well-advised to display that message on their caravans. Nothing like truth in advertising.