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December 19, 2011


Neat stuff. I always thought that the Dutch cleaniness was more of an areal feature rather than a particular attribute of the Dutch, but my explanation might be skewed on account of two particularly fanatical (in terms of cleaniness) German girlfriends.

I also recall that the Dutch (and all foreign observers) at Dejima were rather impressed/amazed at Japanese cleanliness, but I don't recall a difference between Dutch comments (something along the lines of "wow, they are as clean as us") and comments of other foreigners.

Speaking of cleanliness, my daughter has recently gotten into hair braiding, so we were on the interwubs and we followed a link to Polish plait (which you should only click on if you aren't eating). Pretty stomach churning, so one could argue that the Dutch had a relatively low bar on all this.

Actually, lj, at this period (at least) travellers all reported that Dutch women kept their houses much cleaner than they did their bodies.

One thing that struck me, reading that book about Japan's Medieval Population, was that the Japanese cleanliness thing didn't really get going much before the Dutch arrived.

I don't know to what extent non-samurai Japanese cleaned their houses scrupulously at different historical periods. Women (Japanese and gaijin) living in Japan report that competitive cleaning is definitely a thing, nowadays, and that there are many, many opportunities for housewives, especially mothers, to have what biologists call "dominance displays".

Wasn't there a sort of competitve cleaning thing here in the US in the fifties? All those housewives buying gadgets for cleaning and cooking? That's the impression oe gets from ads of that era: housewives achievig fulfullment from the operation of the new vaccum cleaner etc.

Yes, I remember that thread, but my point was how the Dutch viewed the Japanese in comparison to themselves rather than implying that the Japanese had always been clean freaks. so point about Dutch women is interesting. For Buddhist funerals, one washes the body as a more formal part of the ritual, I think, but I don't know what the dea is with western funeral rites.

The high low separation is particularly profound in Japan, so I wouldn't be surprised if there were a big difference in house cleaning, though now, house cleaning is a full contact sport.

I'd also be interested to know what your research turns up about the starting point in terms of time of Dutch cleanliness. The Americans (rather late arrivals, obviously,) were suitably impressed by Japanese cleanliness, but felt that co-ed baths were essentially lascivious behavior, which made for interesting 'well, they are clean, but isn't it kind of dirty' comments.


That was certainly what they were pushing, but it didn't completely work IMHO because it was too hard for housewives to monitor each other. I think one reason the Dutch cleaning mania got so pervasive was that it included the front steps, sidewalk, and front hall, so it was *really* easy to tell who was slacking.

...Umm Maha suddenly looked awed, "But isn't your freezer clean? Haven't you began with the Eid cleaning?!" I froze as I heard the words and peered around at my mother. She was looking uncomfortable- no we hadn't started with the 'Eid cleaning', but how do you say that to the Martha Stewart of Baghdad?

Yes, Umm Maha is the Martha Stewart of Baghdad- I defy anyone who can show me a neighbor with a cleaner driveway. Her whole house is spotless… rain, shine or cluster bombs. Her kids are always groomed and ironed. Their car, while old and dented, is spotless. She's always the first one to make the Eid kilaycha. She's the first one who is out of the door and washing down the house, the car, the driveway and the TREES after an infamous Iraqi dust storm. She's the neighbor who will know the latest cleaning fads (like using talcum powder to get out oil stains), and the one who'll be chasing the stray cats away from the garbage bins with (what else?) a broom.
Eid Mubarek...

hm. I may not have closed the italics quite properly, CharlesWT, but at least I closed them.

My apologies for the open tag.

Your post and the comments reminded me of the Iraqi blogger and her neighbor who kept her home spotless and shamed her neighbors into keeping their homes cleaner and neater. I think there may have been other postings in which the neighborhood housewives feared the neighbor crossing their threshold and casting a critical eye about their homes.

Prussia (or what would become Prussia) tried to import the Dutch ways with mixed success (starting with the Grand Elector). Friedrich Wilhelm I. got mocked mercilessly for his authoritarian attempts in this direction by other aristocrats. He even exchanged the furniture to make cleaning easier and came up with washing timetables (when, which body part, with or without soap etc.).

Someday I hope to convince my family to suspend the furniture by cables from the ceiling, so that one can vacuum under them easily, and keep the floor very clean.

So far, they just give me a funny look every time I bring up the subject.

Such furniture is available if you ever convince them.

The competitive thing still seems to run to this day. One of my Dutch wife's few failings is an almost obsessive need to completely clean the house (irrespective of other commitments and time pressures) when a female Dutch friend is expected to visit us in London. Dutchmen and Englishwomen merit a minor pre-clean and Englishmen rate no special activity. My Dutch mother and mother-in-law are the same, with a similar hierarchy of effort.

Well, I'll be durned. It's just as they always said: Cleanliness is next to godliness, and blessed are the cheesemakers!

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