The Shallow Man recently had the dubious honor of interviewing the world’s angriest not black man, Zwarte Piet. Like many of his supporters, I found him to be very emotional, irrational and downright aggressive. There were a number of questions that he failed to answer, so I’ve decided instead to talk to his boss, the main man, the Godfather of Dutch tradition, Sinterklaas. For the interview I was able to clock up some air miles and get some much needed sun, as it took place in Istanbul. I’m picked up at the airport, by two surly looking Zwarte Piets, I’m asked to sit in the back of a black rolls royce phantom and am blindfolded. We drive for what seems like ages, the blindfold is removed and I’m in the driveway of a palatial white brick mansion. I’m led through a seemingly never ending series of hallways and grand rooms, until I’m led outside where waiting for me is Sinterklaas.
An interview with Sinterklaas
Sitting on a lounger by an olympic sized swimming pool, with a Pina Colada in one hand and an IPAD in the other, is a white haired older gentlemen who could be aged anything between sixty to six hundred years old. His portly figure, shows the signs of years of good living. Strangely enough, in spite of his sunny surroundings, his entire skin is incredibly white, as if he’s never been in the sun. His long white flowing beard reminds me of another popular figure, Santa Claus. PR Piet, warns me not to be offensive and to keep the interview positive.
Shallowman: “Sinterklaas I’ve heard so much about you, it’s a pleasure to meet you.”
Sinterklaas: “Simon, I know you by your real name. Prior to this interview I had a chat with Santa Claus who told me what a naughty little boy you were and I must say, considering the way you annoyed my poor Piet, it appears that nothing has changed with you. One of my Zwarte Piets taught me how to use this (he points to his IPAD) and I’ve been reading your blog, it’s extremely annoying.”
Shallowman: “Well, I’m sorry that you think that way. So you know Santa do you?”
Sinterklaas: “Of course, Santa and I go back a long time, in fact we are business partners and distant relatives. He looks after most of the Western hemisphere and he’s allowed me to ply my trade in the Benelux market as well as parts of Germany.”
Shallowman: “So the first question I’d like to put to you is about your employment policies. Why is it that you don’t employ actual black people?”
At this, PR Piet starts raising his voice. “I WARNED YOU SHALLOW MAN, YOU BETTER BEHAVE OR THERE’S A WHIPPING AND A ONE WAY TRIP TO SPAIN PLANNED FOR YOU.” At this point Sinterklaas intervenes. “Piet, go and get me another Pina Colada, this time with less pineapple juice and more rum. Get to it boy.” Piet scurries off.
Sinterklaas: “My apologies, for PR Piet, he gets very defensive. But feel free to ask me anything you like.” I repeat my question about his employment policies.
Sinterklaas: “Let me tell you a little story. From the third century through to the eighteen hundreds it was just me and my horse, trotting happily over rooftops, dropping presents into the chimneys of houses where good children lived. All was well until 1850, when along came this kakker of a Dutchman, Jan Shenkman, with his silly little book Sinterklaas and zijn knecht. You have to remember that times were different back then. Slavery was still rampant in the Dutch empire and Shenkman invented the character of a black assistant. This book became very popular and I noticed that the following year, where I’d previously been warmly welcomed into the Netherlands, that now I was being questioned by suspicious officials, who told me that the real Sinterklaas had a black servant with him and as I didn’t have one, I couldn’t possibly be the real thing.”
“Now Shallow Man, you know how stubborn the Dutch can be once they have an idea in their heads. It was bad for business, I was being left with undistributed stock, so I had no choice but to buy myself some black “assistants” for my visits to the Netherlands and Belgium. Of course, I freed them from slavery and paid them near slave labor type rates, but they were happy, after all, what choice did they have? After that business was booming, until in 1863 slavery was abolished in the Dutch colonies. This seriously affected my business model as suddenly the black Piets who worked for me began demanding a decent salary. This was unacceptable, so I fired them all. Luckily for me, there were plenty of white Dutchmen who were happy to paint their faces black for free. Ok, I’ll freely admit that the dancing of the blacked up guys was nowhere near as good and the voices and accents were terrible but I’m a businessman and white men, that are willing to make fools of themselves and work for free, is almost as good as having slaves, which I never did of course.”
Shallowman: “So I’d like to know, why is that you arrive every year from Spain on a steamboat?”
Sinterklaas: “You live in the Netherlands, it’s bad enough that a Turk is entering the country every year, but a do you think immigration would allow a bunch of blacks – I mean Moors – and a Turk into the country, directly from Turkey? No way Jose.”
Shallowman: “You’ve lived a long time, don’t you think it’s time to consider changing the appearance of Piets, so that they are less offensive?”
Sinterklaas: “OFFENSIVE? OFFENSIVE TO WHO? THE BLACKS? IT’S TRADITION. I’LL QUOTE T van den B from the Expats in the Hague facebook. KEEP YOUR HANDS OFF IT. CHANGING THE PIETEN DOESN’T MAKE SENSE. IMAGINE THERE ARE RED AND BLUE PIETEN IS THEN SUDDENLY EVERYBODY HAPPY?”
Shallowman: “So you don’t support even minor changes to the appearance of the Piets?”
Sinterklaas: “This is a civil rights struggle, far greater than the abolition of slavery, or apartheid or segregation in the deep south of the USA. The civil rights of white men and women to dress up as blacks and dance around and hand out sweets. Don’t argue with the Dutch, it’s a fight you can’t win and one more thing..” I interrupt him and say “I know what you’re about to say, if I don’t like it, I should go back to my own country.” Sinterklaas nods his head and then looks around for PR Piet who was supposed to have been bringing him another Pina Colada. With a shake of the head and a loud sigh he says “these not blacks are so lazy.”
Shallowman: Thank you for this illuminating interview.
This article is previously published years ago on Amsterdam Shallow Man and on expatsHaarlem.
- An interview with Sinterklaas - December 3, 2021
- A common bond between Expats and the Dutch: manners - September 15, 2014
- Comparisons of the Dutch with other Europeans - September 2, 2014