It Takes Some Sh*t to Bring Out The Beauty

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When I came to the Netherlands I’ve learnt that the Dutch go astronomical on spring and start counting it from the March equinox. So not only that the weather here is not the warmest in the world (sarcastic smiley), but you can’t actually start thinking about spring on the first day of March. You have to put in more effort of course: check when the spring equinox takes place that year, try to remember the date and then rejoice with everybody on March 20th or 21st – almost at the end of the month – as spring has arrived… Funny? Not! But wait, it gets funnier.

My dear Dutch friends, I have news for you: the spring started even sooner than March 1st! How do I know that? It’s easy: from the smell of sh*t in the streets. Ok, in all fairness, by sh*t I mean manure, which starts to be spread around apparently everywhere once the growing seasons starts (mid February – beginning of March). Growing season, hello? Doesn’t that mean spring is here? 🙂

Last year I could smell it as well, but this year was much more intense. Maybe because it was more windy and less rainy… I really don’t know. But let me tell you how intense it was. (Oh, I’m so bummed there is no such thing as smelly pictures…)

I felt it so strong at home that I thought the mounted police was walking the horses in the little square in front of my apartment. Like every day. It must have been an entire squad doing that. So no, that couldn’t be it. But just FYI, mounted police is very popular in The Hague and there are especially women that ride the horses. Oh, and there are a lot of people in the Netherlands that have horses as pets, in the cities I mean! But that’s another story.

“Both me and my favorite statue are holding our noses because of the “spring” smell”

“Both me and my favorite statue are holding our noses because of the “spring” smell”

“Mounted police is very popular in The Hague”

“Mounted police is very popular in The Hague”

The smell also struck me when I got off from work, in Amsterdam. At first, I naturally thought my mind was playing tricks on me from losing so much oxygen (and brain cells) after sitting in the office all day…

But when I left the gym in Amsterdam, there it was again. So I said to myself: I know I broke a sweat, but come on, I’m not a stinkie! (Ok, maybe it’s not a gym, it’s a physiotherapy center, but totally looks like a gym. Except that instead of hot young men working out, you have nice old ladies).

So, there can only be one (well smelled) conclusion: yes people, there’s a distinctive smell of manure INSIDE the cities of the Netherlands.

And it is not from the horses! No, no, I did my homework.

The Dutch do take manure seriously, placing a lot of policies and regulations around it. Actually, within Europe, the Netherlands is one of the most intensive regions when it comes to livestock and production of manure. Ok, it’s starting to make sense! Because Netherlands is such a small country with a large numbers of livestock (4 mil cattle, 12 mil pigs and 100 mil poultry), the annual production of manure (around 70 mil tones) has a surplus of nutrients derived from it: phosphate (28 kg/ha/year) and nitrogen (119/kg/ha/year)!! And get this, 15% of the annual production of manure is exported, mainly to the neighboring countries like Belgium, Germany and France. How crazy is that? 🙂 (Ministry of Economic Affairs, Dutch manure policy, November 19th, 2013 report).

Don’t get me wrong, the smell doesn’t make me sick or anything, I just think it’s unusual to sense it in the cities. It is definitely not the horrible odor of the carnivores’ poo, but more the field-country-like milder smell of herbivore manure, which in a nostalgic way, brings back beautiful memories of when I was a child living in my grandparents’ home, surrounded by animals.

Once again, the Netherlands shows its pragmatic side: if it’s healthier than synthetic fertilizers and we have a lot, why not use manure to grow crops? And let’s not forget about the beautiful flowers that I see everywhere in The Hague and especially the ones in front of my building.

“Once I get off my apartment, I see the nicest flowers arrangements”

“Once I get off my apartment, I see the nicest flowers arrangements”

Nobody really minds or complains about the smell (except for new expats). One of my friends, who has 2 years of living here ahead of me, said to me in surprise: “Omg, you are absolutely right, it does smell like sh*t! I don’t even feel it anymore.” So yes, you eventually get used to it. And if this is what it takes to have the most beautiful flower fields in the world, than it’s fine by me too.

“Performing an ass-kicking YMCA in the breath-taking Dutch flower fields together with 3 of my best friends: Veve, Giani and Ble”

“Performing an ass-kicking YMCA in the breath-taking Dutch flower fields together with 3 of my best friends: Veve, Giani and Ble”

Nevertheless, to me spring will always start on March 1st. And I will always stay true to the Romanian tradition that says that you have to wear a “martisor” (a small pin celebrating spring, that has a special white & red string) at least in the first weeks of March. This year I got a virtual one from my little god-daughter (aka the cutest and most special girl in the Universe) and an actual one from my Dad, that travelled all the way from Romania and which I wear every day on my coat :).

“The martisor from Minnie, my beautiful god-daughter”

“The martisor from Minnie, my beautiful god-daughter”

“The martisor from my Dad. Thank you Dad!”

“The martisor from my Dad. Thank you Dad!”

Come to think of it, this whole spring story reminded me of.. well, life. Because most of the times, you have to go through a lot of sh*t, before seeing the light. 🙂



Julie Cirtina

Julie is the editor of XpatGirls.com. She's a Romanian girl, stranded in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

For how long, she doesn't know yet. But what she does know is communication and psychology. already a bachelor in psychology, she is now also preparing to be a life coach. This is due to her genuine interest in people and the every day joy to be there for those who have questions about themselves. Working in communication for the last 4 years has helped her pursue the life-long dream of writing. But her secret love was and will always be painting, along with piano and shoes, because yes, every girl has her thing.

2 Comments

  1. LauraNOC

    March 20, 2014 at 3:20 pm

    Yes, the sweet smell of manure which reminds me of home. Luckily, it’s rained enough in the meantime to make the smell go away. One must love the Netherlands!

  2. Oana

    March 21, 2014 at 9:36 am

    So funny!!! I still notice the smell and I’m always swhocked by the fact that the whole city smells like a farm. Also, when I first went to work in the Bijlmer area of Amsterdam, took the metro like any other respected expat who does not want to bike for 9 km one way to get to work….and what interesting sight do I see out the metro window? a little sheep farm, right before my 16 floor office building!!!!

    Even funnier..I was also thinking that we should write and article about the sh*t smell:))

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