Big Chests

What I find fascinating about living in another culture is discovering how things are done differently than in my home or other countries.

An example is when people are required to wait in line. One culture will queue up neatly – with near military precision – while another culture’s line resembles a full-contact rugby scrum. The amount of personal space allowed – or the feeling of lack thereof – is another example. Getting utilities turned on, making arrangements to procure a mobile phone or renewing a driver’s license are still more.

Do you know what makes you feel even more proud of your accomplishment than learning how to do a familiar task in a different place? Learning to do something entirely new, for the very first time, in another culture.

For Husband and me, it was our first time participating in an auction. Online, and conducted entirely in Dutch.

It had disaster written all over it, which made it all the more exciting.

We’ve always been enamored of old and unusual furniture, pieces valued more for the story they tell than any provenance or value as antique. We also enjoy collecting items destined to remind us of treasured memories of places we’ve traveled and lived, different cultures we’ve visited. No trip is complete without an earthenware vase, small print of a street scene, ceramic plate, historic map, carved wooden box or holiday ornament in the suitcase.

So you can imagine our delight in discovering the antique house Onder de Boompjes a few years ago while strolling in nearby Leiden. The shop is always crammed full of Dutch, European, Asian and the occasional African artifacts. Several times a year they hold auctions over the course of four evenings, selling everything from rugs to furniture to decorative items to paintings and prints.

Whenever we headed over for a weekend visit to Leiden, we’d swing by Onder de Boompjes to check out the latest haul. Every time, as we were leaving the shop, we’d turn to each other and say the same thing.

‘We really should try the auction next time.’

Well, a few months ago that refrain turned to ‘Let’s do it!’

Online registration and a phone call to verify I hadn’t hosed it up, and next thing you know, we’re registered complete with ‘an account’. That sounds so glamorous, but all it means is they know where to find us should we fail to live up to any purchases we make.

So it was on a cold, dark – and since it’s Nederland – and rainy evening, Husband and I were found huddled on our family room sofa, wine glass in one hand, list of potential items to bid on in another. As we kept an eye on the items being auctioned, Husband laid out our grand plan of attack.

When it comes to territorial acquisition and offensive campaigns, the greatest military planning masterminds have nothing on Husband.

With our procurement strategy and bidding tactics in mind, we commenced in stages. Having already logged into the live auction for viewing purposes only, we dared switch to ‘live’ mode. We were in the auction, able to see and hear what was going on. More importantly, we could bid.

‘Careful, watch where you point the mouse. You almost bid on that 18th century commode!’

‘Here, leave the cursor over there before you buy that hideous table.’

I understand a fair bit of Dutch, but – all together now – not when a person speaks very quickly.

Guess the pace of the Dutch auctioneer. Go ahead, I dare you.

Suffice it to say I was reduced to listening as intently as possible, my mind trying desperately to recognize repetitive phrases and the odd word here or there. After awhile, I began to sense a cadence as the auctioneer got close to dropping the gavel to signal a sale.

We had our hearts set on acquiring a Dutch chest, historically used to store blankets, linens and out-of-season clothing. There were a half dozen to choose from, all varying in age and condition. And as with the other bidders, we hoped to score one on the lower end of the estimated price range, if possible.

We were outbid on one of the first of our top preferences, and I can only say thank goodness Husband had insisted on determining our bid limits before bidding began. The thrill of an online click to try to win something you desire is immense. Let’s just say it’s incredibly addictive, and leave it at that.

Soon another top contender on our list appeared. Fingers poised, eyes riveted to the screen, ears attuned to the auctioneer’s rhythm, we each held our breath. Then it was a mad jumble of words streaming, pointing, clicking, amid cries of ‘bid higher’ and ‘one more time’ and ‘are you sure?’…

Next thing we knew, we were the proud owners of this late 19th century carved lovely:

Dutch late 19th century carved chest on www.adventuresinexpatland.com


Forgive my limited photographic skills, she’s not quite as reddish as she appears.

Somehow we managed to snag her at an incredibly low price.

Flush with excitement, we toasted our skilled execution and sat back to enjoy the rest of the auction.

We were basking in the glory of our success when she came up for bid: the true objection of our affection, a nearly black beauty with the original date carved across her front.


Left front corner of the lid slightly warped from age and use.

We took one look at each other, and knew we had to have her, or end the night trying.

mid-18th century Dutch blanket chest at Adventures in Expat Land

We got her for a song, a real steal, and immediately logged out of the auction before we did any more damage.

These days, whenever I happen by one of the chests, I giggle a little and then launch into a rif on Sir Mix A Lot’s ‘Baby Got Back’.

I like big chests and I cannot lie…You other brothers can’t deny

Oh what the heck, you know you want to watch it:



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