Greg Shapiro Volunteers for Autistic Kids Project, Gets Killed. Autistic Students Take Dutch Directness to the Next Level.
30 November, 2021
This past October, I volunteered for a school project. The school was set up by the mother of an autistic child. (aka ‘a child on the autistic spectrum.’) And the school is called SBTK: Stichting Brilliant Future Kids. Since the mother is an old friend of my wife, she asked if I could help teach an improv workshop for her students. I said “Yes, AND.”
Yes, I’d taught improv classes before. Yes, I’d taught high school students before. But no, I’d never taught kids with autism. What I had done is hosting an event for adults with autism, and the interviews were great. I remember they were brutally honest, which was hugely entertaining.
At Stichting Brilliant Future Kids, they wanted an improv workshop – but also they wanted me to make a quick appearance in a video they were shooting. In fact, as soon as I arrived, that’s all they could talk about. The students were all mid-teens, male and female (and perhaps non-binary), and ‘the spectrum’ was well-represented. Practically, there were only a couple students who wouldn’t make any eye contact at all.
It turns out they were pretty big fans of the ‘Netherlands Second’ video. And they asked me what was my life was like now that Trump was out of the White House. I gave them my standard answer, which is: “I’ve got other projects, so it’s not the end of the world. Whereas, if he had stayed – it might literally be the end of the world.”
So then they showed me the script. They said it was inspired by me. How flattering!
…It’s about a washed up Trump joke comedian, who dies onstage and then dies in real life. Wowzers, no one does Dutch honesty quite like students on the autistic spectrum. I died laughing.
My scene partner was a demonic doll baby purchased from a Halloween store.
The baby would play the bartender, who serves me a poison drink. Then there’s somehow a motorcycle ride.
And then we crash and die. The end.
It turns out I never got to do the improv workshop with the lesson plan I has prepared. But we did end up improvising enough in their video studio. And the one student, who didn’t want to make eye contact, he finally looked up and said, “When you are dying in front of the crowd, can you really show how painful it is?” Yes, and. I did. Afterward, the teacher said that was one of the few things he said at full volume all day. Glad I could help!
3 REASONS WHY DUTCH HONESTY IS BETTER by Greg Shapiro, The American Netherlander
as seen in Speakers Academy Magazine, 2021-22
Dutch people are known for being ‘direct’ – which is an indirect way of saying ‘rude.’ At least that’s how I have experienced Dutch directness as an American expat. But the longer I live in Nederland, the more I appreciate how Dutch folks tell it like it is. Here are 3 ways Dutch Directness is better than the alternative.
As stereotypes go, Americans have a reputation for being politely indirect. The British have a reputation for being completely indirect. And Dutch people pride themselves on being brutally honest – sometimes at the expense of politeness, or tact, or respect for human dignity. If you go on a diet and lose a couple kilos, most people will say, “Wow, have you lost weight?” Whereas your Dutch colleague will say, “Wow, you used to be so fat!” Yes, Dutch people have a reputation for being tolerant. But they’re also judgmental as hell.
When I introduced my American mother to my Dutch family for the first time, someone told her: “Nice outfit.” But it was my Dutch father-in-law who said, “I don’t think so. You have a nice figure, but in America you can’t get clothes that fit you properly. All the sizes are too big. But that is because most Americans are so fat.” So now my mother never speaks to my in-laws – which honestly makes my life much easier.
While many world leaders visited the Trump White House being pulled against their will into pop-up arm-wrestling contests, it was Nederland’s Mark Rutte who stood up to the bully. In a joint press conference, Donald Trump said “On trade, we’ll work out something positive. And even if we don’t work something out it’ll also be positive.” But Mark Rutte couldn’t help blurting out “NO!” Rutte laughed in Trump’s face as he continued: “Not positive. We’ll have to work something out.” And if not for Dutch diplomacy, Rutte would have added: “Not positive. And you are too fat. And your tie is too long. And your face makes you look like an angry monkey.”
Attitudes toward sex in the Netherlands can result in culture shock for many people. But if you spend a bit more time here, it becomes what I call Culture Shock Therapy. Yes, it’s different than what you might be accustomed to, but then you realize: “This way is better! ANSWER =
Many cultures advocate a getting-to-know-you phase before engaging in sex. An American colleague of mine was explaining to her Dutch friends that “I’ve been dating this guy for a few weeks. And I think it’s the right time to invite him to bed.” The Dutch women found this idea to be ridiculous: “Why would you spend three weeks on a guy, if he might be bad in bed?”
In America, it’s: “Take me to dinner, then maybe you can take me to bed.” In Nederland, it’s: “Take me to bed, then maybe we can go to dinner.” (“But I’m only going to pay half.”)
In closing, I find Dutch Directness better than what I grew up with. The only disadvantage is nowadays when I’m on a Zoom call with my family in the US, and they’re shocked when I say things like “Your country is shit.”
[Author Greg Shapiro offers Masterclasses on Dutch identity based on his books such as THE AMERICAN NETHERLANDER. Shapiro has appeared as Event Host and Keynote Speaker for multinational clients such as Philips, Shell and ING. His has hosted events for heads of state, the King of the Netherlands, and once for the Business Class section of a KLM 747 to Chicago.]
Greg Shapiro ‘How to Be Dutch’ at NBTC Netherlands Board of Tourism & Conventions
3 June, 2021
I remember when the NBTC was simply called the NBOT ‘Netherlands Board of Tourism.’ (That’s when I did my first events for them back in the 2000’s.) These days, it’s the ‘Netherlands Board of Tourism AND CONVENTIONS.’ Which is handy, because – during a pandemic – tourism you can’t do easily online. But conventions, yes!
As the Corona rules loosen, it’s time to ask: What is the future of conventions and events? Back to Live and In-Person? More online? A bit of both? Will conventions and events ever be the same? The NBTC organized an online event in early June. As it happened, it was right before Step 3 of Loosening the Dutch Corona restrictions. So, if they had rescheduled by a few days, then they could have had up to 50 people in a live audience. !
The fact they did NOT reschedule perhaps proves their point: the role of online and hybrid events is here to stay.
As it happened, I was glad they went with the online setup. The stage was inspired by the TV show Even Tot Hier, with the audience projected onto an enormous back wall. So yes, I could see the audience on two big monitors under the livestream camera. And also the audience could see themselves behind me. Okay, maybe it’s not a great recipe for laughs – being able to see yourself and get self-conscious every time you laugh. But I got laughs anyway!
I was asked to give a reading from my book The American Netherlander: 25 Years of Expat Tales. It’s a module I like to call ‘Culture Shock Therapy.’ And we had a ‘bubble’ set – everyone on set had to have a negative Covid test. And between the speakers and the crew, there were just enough live bodies to be able to play to audible laughs.
Thanks to Host Sophie Hoytema for recommending me for the gig. Thanks to Producer Paul Gruijthuijsen for making us look great. Thanks to the location CitySense in Utrecht. And thanks to NBTC’s Eric Bakermans for having me – and for making the photos of my performance!
First came the US elections in November 2020. Then came Trump claiming the entire election was fake – and leaving the White House anyway. Next up came the Dutch national elections in March, 2021. De Tweede Kamer Verkiezingen. And my friends at Dutch NPO Radio1 asked me to do a CNN-style report from the polling stations in the Netherlands. In Dutch! Ik zei JA.
First, I reported that there was no evidence of long lines, no people of color being forced to wait hours before they could come near a voting booth. And there were no claims of voter fraud – except for one very thin-skinned politician named Thierry. But it turns out that all you have to do is look Thierry in the face and call him a racist, and then he runs away out of the studio. Just ask Martijn Koning. (Radio 1 cut that part.)
The only irregularity in the voting for the Dutch Tweede Kamer was a certain fellow named Hugo, who tried to vote – without a valid passport! And he happens to have been the Health Minister. (Well, technically the deposed Health Minister.) He apologized for his mistake, and he drove back home to get his proper ID – only to find out he also had an expired driving license. After Finally, he returned with his passport. His vaccine passport. For his dog.
He would have been able to do all of this online, but it seems his Corona app was again not working properly. And again, the health minister’s name? Hugo. Hugo de ‘Sjonge Jonge Jonge.’
More CNN news from the Netherlands, as it breaks!
CNN Breaking News! Proving that news in the US is broken.
[Anytime Radio1 needs American-style reporting – in het Nederlands – I will be there.] [Sometimes I call in for a live chat. But this time I made a recording from my home studio.]
ACCESS MAGAZINE REVIEWS GREG SHAPIRO’S THE AMERICAN NETHERLANDER: 25 YEARS OF EXPAT TALES
HOW DUTCH ARE YOU?
by Giulia Quaresima (ACCESS magazine, April 2021)
Greg Shapiro’s The American Netherlander, with its sense of humour and sharp eye for detail, is a good starting point to understanding life as an international in the Netherlands. The author is an American comedian, a member of comedy group Boom Chicago, presenter of Comedy Central News, and author of two books now collected together in The American Netherlander: 25 Years of Expat Tales. This book tells the story of Shapiro’s personal cultural adventure and assimilation in the Netherlands, from when he first arrived 25 years ago and stayed for love. It is not a scientific guide, but a manual to understand and familiarise yourself with the country, using the author’s personal anecdotes for a subjective and hilarious point of view.
Shapiro tackles Dutch common sense, a pragmatic approach to problem solving, openness and tolerance, multiculturalism, politics, education, and even customer service. While his personal experiences really bring out the humour and irony, he also shows understanding. For instance, the renowned ‘Dutch directness’ is really brutal honesty that isn’t intended to hurt feelings.
Shapiro uses paradoxes and oxymorons in Dutch culture: How can Dutch identity be so independent-minded, yet also so obsessed with consensus? How can Dutch identity be so liberal and open, yet also so Calvinistic and conformist? How can Dutch identity be so proud, but then be so quiet about it? “Dutch police won’t stop you for having an un-helmeted ba by strapped to the front of your bike, like a human shield. In fact, Dutch police won’t stop you if there is a kid on the handlebars, one on the crossbar, two on the back rack, and another one standing on top of those for a playdate. But if they’d been riding at night without a light? That’s a fine of €50.”
The second part of the book is a Dutch assimilation test, a collection of all the questions that should be included in the inburgering exams. According to Shapiro, these reveal more than the exam ever intended.
Give it a try and see how Dutch you are!
“Hi! My name is Greg Shapiro, or you can call me Gregory. Or – in Dutch – ‘Krek.’ That’s my name in Dutch: Krek Tja-piero.’ Prime example of Culture Shock: When you move to a different country and realize ‘Wow – I’ve been pronouncing my name wrong my whole life.'”
There are plenty examples of Culture Shock in the Netherlands. Like having a Dutchman introduce himself and say “Hello, my name is Freek. I am Freek, and this is my colleague Tjerk.” But if you can keep a sense of humor about it, you experience Culture Shock THERAPY: when you realize that cultural differences can be hilarious.
“I am a bit of both: a bit LOUD AMERICAN and a bit ‘Doe Normaal‘ Nederlander. And yes I am tweetaliggggg. But I don’t like to speak Dutch, because it makes my mouth feel sad. What is it about Dutch people and their Harde G? It makes you sound like angry, choking zombie people. Like that TV show The Walking Dead. Or – since it’s the Netherlands – it’s more like The BIKING Dead.”
And here’s another example of Culture Shock Therapy. As soon as I started learning Dutch, I realized “Oh, you don’t need to yell the whole time.”
“Other cultures might say things like ‘Wow, you look good! Have you lost weight?’ Dutch people will say ‘Wow, you used to be so fat!'”
Dutch people are known for being DIRECT. Which is an indirect way of saying RUDE. If Americans have a reputation for being politely indirect, and the British have a reputation for being politely indecipherable, Dutch people pride themselves on being brutally honest – sometimes at the expense of politeness, or tact, or respect for human dignity. But at least you know where you stand. And HOW you stand – which is much shorter, once their comments cut you off at the knees.
Greg Shapiro (Zondag Met Lubach, Boom Chicago, Comedy Central) is The American Netherlander. He has performed his masterclass in Dutch Culture Shock Therapy for heads of state, the King of the Netherlands and once for the Business Class section of a KLM 747 to Chicago.
Greg Shapiro on ‘Weet Ik Veel’ with ‘How to Be Orange’
Last fall, I got a call from the Dutch quiz show Weet Ik Veel. They wanted to use a clip from the ‘How to Be Orange’ standup special I made for VARA in 2013. The episode aired in 2021. Beau van Erven Dorens was there, talking about Dutch terms that don’t translate well into English.
And that’s when they played my video.
We start off with a company called HILARIUS ASPHALT.
Then there’s a health drink that’s pronounced AIDS.
There’s the product (or service?) called BABY DUMP.
And the revenge of the dumped baby, which is a Nutricia ad featuring the phrase MAMA DIE! DIE! DIE!
But the moment they really wanted on Weet Ik Veel was the shampoo for removing tangles in your hair. It’s called ANTI-KLIT.
Watch and enjoy what I call ‘CULTURE SHOCK THERAPY.’
Lockdown cardboard is overflowing on the streets of Amsterdam! Ever wonder what would happen if an entire city would start working from home, ordering everything online and then dumping their used cardboard boxes all at once? Welcome to Pandemic 2021.
In Amsterdam, the annual Garbage Collection fee went up by a huge amount this year. But the pace of garbage collection hasn’t noticeably increased. One thing that HAS increased is the Handhaving / BOA’s and civil servants who give out cash penalties to anyone caught leaving their garbage / recycling outside the underground garbage containers. Never mind that they’re often choked up and overfull! The sign says ‘IF this container is full, it is your responsibility to continue on to the next available one.’
I had one neighbor tell me she went to recycle her cardboard, and she ended up going to 5 different containers before she gave up and put her stuff right next to a container. The next day, she realized she had left her address on one of the pieces of cardboard. How did she realize? Because she had uniformed police at her door to give her a €95 euro fine.
I have a paper recycling container across from my house. While it frequently seems full, often it’s simply jammed. If only I could get the key to that side panel… And then one of my neighbors told me – you can get that key by adopting a garbage container. SO I did it! In January, 2021. I got the key to open the side panel and clear the paper jam, just like a good old copier machine at the office.
Last weekend, there was even an article in Het Parool about the amount of people who are adopting containers. Like me! But now I’ve realized something extra: my key also works on any number of underground containers in my neighborhood. SO when I’m out walking my dog, and we see a paper recycling container that seems to be overflowing… I can check to see if it’s just jammed. In the case of this video, yes it was only jammed. SO I unblocked the jam, I tossed in the excess cardboard, and I saved any number of people from getting a €95 penalty. Including Chygall White, the physical trainer, who ordered from Bol.com. SO now Chygall and I are connected on Linkedin. And maybe next time she’s ordering a book online, she can order mine.
BOOK PRESENTATION GREG SHAPIRO + Great First Review
Presenting Greg Shapiro’s third book, THE AMERICAN NETHERLANDER: 25 Years of Expat Tales. The first copy was given to reviewer Michael Hasted of ARTS TALK MAGAZINE. Watch as Shapiro gives Hasted approximately 30 seconds to read the book before conducting his interview.
Good news: the interview was good. And the book review was excellent. THE AMERICAN NETHERLANDER
One silver lining to the corona cloud has been that it has forced us all to be pragmatic, stoic even, encouraging us to be resourceful and find new ways of doing things. Performers, especially those who depend on live audiences, have had a very hard time. You can’t act in a vacuum, there’s no point in singing alone in your room and you can’t tell jokes to yourself. So, it’s good to have another string to your bow.
The American Netherlander is Amsterdam-based comedian Greg Shapiro’s third book. Put together over the past nine months when gigs were cancelled or greatly restricted, Greg has brought together his two previous books, added a lot of new material and presents us with a memoir of his life in his adopted home, along with a comprehensive guide to living in it. The book is full of apposite observations, canny advice, witty asides and some nice cartoony illustrations. It could well have been titled The Netherlands – The Good, The Bad and The Ugly because, like the Dutch, it does not pull its punches and is proud to tell it like it is, warts and all.
We start off with the back story about how the author first came to The Netherlands twenty-five years ago to work in and help establish the Boom Chicago comedy venue in Amsterdam. He nicely describes the culture shock and disavows numerous stereotypes and preconceptions. He discovers that what he had grown up in the States believing to be Dutch Apple Pie was in fact nothing like the genuine article and that the chunky real thing made his American usurper mere apple pulp fiction. After a while, as he marries and settles down, he loses track of his identity and begins to suffer from MND – Multiple Nationality Disorder.
Greg takes us, chapter by chapter, though the different aspects of Dutch life and how to cope with, sorry, appreciate them. We learn, of course, about sex and drugs and the ubiquitous Coffee Shops. We find out more about bike etiquette and how the Dutch fail to reconcile their desire for personal freedom with the necessity of conforming and keeping a low profile.
But there is a more serious side too with the vexed and contentious issue of Zwarte Piet being covered in some detail along with the problems of immigration.
If you are an expat in The Netherlands, Zwarte Piet will already have raised your eyebrows by an inch or two. If you are elsewhere in the world you will find the phenomenon of Zwarte Piet (Black Pete) hard to believe in this day and age when black live really do matter.
The Dutch have Santa Claus with the best of ‘em, or Sinterklaas as they call him, but that’s of no matter. The difference is that while most Santas are content to have a horde of helpful elves and reindeer as acolytes, old Sinterklaas rides a white horse and has a swarm of black helpers dressed up in gold and red velvet. Piet is a sort of black Robin to Sinter’s bearded Batman. These kids are unashamedly blacked- up à la Al Jolson and parade around with their sacks dispensing candy to the children – but politically correct they certainly are not. Greg examines the question in some detail and is able to see the Dutch point of view. This year the big parades of 5th December were cancelled and it seems the Dutch might surreptitiously use that as an opportunity to phase out Black Pete. Some have started calling him Sooty Pete instead . . .
Serious though it is, the subject is treated in an easy going, unpreachy, unjudgemental manner by Greg and he gives us an insight as to how the phenomenon was considered normal and acceptable and how it might continue and/or change.
The last section of the book re-utilises Greg’s previous book How To Be Dutch: The Quiz. This is both funny and informative. Questions are posed and you have to select one out of three possible answers. The correct answer is given and an explanation of why it is. Again, this is broken down into sections like bikes, health care, politics and . . . err . . Zwarte Piet.
There is even a Oh, I never knew that section which lists, in rhyming couplets, things we never knew were Dutch, like half the place names in New York City, LED lights, multinationals Philips and Shell, the microscope, the discoverers and namers of New Zealand etc etc.
To round it all off there are pages of photos of shop signs taken by Greg over the years, showing how Dutch can produce names and words that we English speakers find amusing, For example a hairdresser called Down Under Hair or the Bad Hotel or the Dutch senator called Tiny Kox. You’ve gotta love ‘em.
The American Netherlander provides us with lots of information about the Dutch persona and way of life and is the result of, not only, Greg’s personal experiences and insights but a lot of thorough research as well – oh, and the laughs, don’t forget the laughs.
This book works on the level of allowing other expats to smugly sit back with a knowing smile on their faces but also as a guide book exploring the mores of a tiny nation that has contributed more to civilisation and to its fund of knowledge over the past five centuries than most people are aware of or care to acknowledge.
Nicely laid out with lots of cartoons on classy coated paper Greg Shapiro’s The American Netherlander is recommended on all levels. Michael Hasted 8th December 2020
FOR ONLINE REVIEW & INTERVIEW, GO TO ARTSTALK MAGAZINE: