Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Yawner

We've been pretty confused...perhaps perplexed...by pharmacies in the Netherlands. Outside of more traditional/old-fashioned Dutch pharmacies, figures such as the following exist (these were taken at the pharmacy on our street, Doezastraat, and inside, the owner has about 40 of these figures decorating the small store):

Anyways - these are called "gapers" in the Netherlands, which translates to "yawners" in English as the figure depicts a person (most commonly and historically, a Moor) with an opened mouth and often a pill on the tongue. Apparently this was the symbol for pharmacies in the Netherlands and can be dated back to ~16th century. We were definitely confused as to why the figure was always a Moor. I would like to think that this representation came about because as a colonial power, the Dutch recognized the wealth of information that their colonies provided them in terms of new therapeutics. However, I have heard that the figure came about because apothecaries would go to markets and take along a Moorish assistant who would pretend he was ill and then take the pill that was to be marketed, after which he would be cured and dance around with joy at this outcome. As apothecaries became less mobile, these images were used to indicate that a store was a pharmacy - the symbol was one that could be discerned by even an illiterate population. This may bring up the question of race in the Netherlands - the Dutch are known for being pragmatically tolerant and subscribing to the attitude of "live and let live." In the brief time that we have been here, I can say that we've met only very helpful and friendly people. I also must say that I came here with preconceived notions on the racial/ethnic make up of the country and have been continually surprised by the diversity present here.

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