It’s March 2020. I’ve just returned from a trip to Suriname, days before the lockdown went into effect. I spend my days staring out of my window. I live across from a Lidl and watch people carrying giant stacks of toilet paper. Enough to build castles.
There is a code that dictates our behavior in familiar situations. Using public transport, at the office, at the doctor’s office, or at the supermarket. In supermarkets, our behavior is determined by logic and efficiency. But when the status quo is disrupted, we change our behavior. Random things suddenly seem very important. Things like toilet paper. We try to regain some control, by hoarding supplies.
The word ‘hamsteren’ (hoarding) was first used during World War I. A journalist called Amsterdam ‘Hamsterdam’. Food was running out fast, and the citizens were stocking up on whatever was left. Women in the Jordaan needed potatoes, especially. God forbid they put rice on the table. One day, a boat full of spuds was docked in the Prinsengracht canal. The brown gold was meant for the soldiers stationed in Amsterdam. A group of Jordanese women raided the boat and commandeered its entire freight.
Suffice to say, potatoes are important to the Dutch. One of the names for a Dutch person in Surinamese is p’tata, meaning, of course, potato.