Vincent van Mechelen


The expats Quentin and Andrea discuss the motto GOD ZIJ MET ONS (God Be With Us) on the edge of the Dutch 2-euro coin. This conversation forms part [Instalment 8] of the document in Deze Taal, entitled "Het randschrift op de Nederlandse euro" (The Motto on the Edge of the Dutch Euro). Q is Quentin and A is Andrea*.

Q   "Do you know what GOD ZIJ MET ONS* means?"
A "My goodness, you still don't know what those simple one-syllable words mean in Dutch? I thought you were smart enough to guess at least what GOD means."
Q "I may not even be smart enough to guess what the English GOD means exactly. I always thought he was supposed to be male. But how can God be a man in English and a woman in Dutch?"
A "Good Heavens, what on earth makes you think so?"
Q "Well, GOD ZIJ MET ONS means God she with us, doesn't it?"
A "Quentin, zij doesn't only mean she. In old-fashioned, very formal Dutch zij is also the subjunctive of the verb zijn. So, i fear GOD ZIJ MET ONS doesn't mean God, she with us, which would be kind of revolutionary, but nothing else than God be with us."
Q "Could you tell me, then, who the ONS or us refers to ?"
A "It depends. Where did you hear or read it?"
Q "Here. It's on the edge of this two-euro coin. It must be Dutch, because Queen Beatrix's portrait is on the back of it."
A "Oh, then it's the royal plural, like We for i. When the queen says 'God be with Us', it actually means I hope God will be with me. Probably troubled by something or other."
Q "Jeez, Their (royal plural) problem can't be that serious! Why ought Their lofty wish to be engraved on the edge of every two-euro piece?"
A "Maybe Beatrix von Lippe is afraid of losing Their job and the exclusive status and privileges of Their family in an increasingly united, republican Europe. Not every monarch in Europe is on edge for that reason, but apparently the Dutch one is."
Q "Why was the same motto on the guilder then, before the European Union even existed?"
A "You're right, i must be mistaken. Unless it's an invocation directed at the god of the Abraham religions asking Him to protect the Dutch monarchy from Dutch republicans. The Netherlands was originally a republic, you know; or rather, a federation of republican provinces."
Q "Are you sure ONS is a royal plural?"
A "No, not completely. Perhaps, ONS refers to the Ministry of Finance instead, or to the whole Dutch government, who had the coin minted. It would not surprise me if they wanted God to safeguard the guilder, and now the euro, against inflation or something."
Q "Why then GOTT MIT UNS*?"
A "GOTT MIT UNS? You're kiddin' -- that's not Dutch, that's German! And it's not on the edge of the German euro coin either. The Germans put EINIGKEIT UND RECHT UND FREIHEIT on it, which means Unity, Law and Liberty. A more admirable motto for a coin is hardly possible, i'd say."
Q "But this GOTT MIT UNS means the same as GOD ZIJ MET ONS. You agree?"
A "Yes, except that the UNS definitely is not a royal plural, because Germany is not a monarchy. It may have been one in the time of the German Empire, but GOTT MIT UNS was still the motto of the nazi-SS during the Second World War."
Q "That's what i was trying to get at. I saw the motto on the buckles of their belts. But who, then, does the German UNS refer to?"
A "Obviously to the SS themselves, or else to the whole German army, or perhaps to the German nation of those days. All armies and all countries in war want their god to be on their side. They may even demand it. In that respect militant Christians are no different from others. America is God's own country and so is every other god-centered nationalist country in the world."
Q "Does that, perhaps, hold for the Dutch ONS too?"
A "Well, it won't refer to the Dutch army, because the motto is on their coin. So it'll probably refer to the Dutch nation as a whole, or at least to the poor taxpayers."
Q "Do you find it plausible that all Dutch citizens or taxpayers ask God to support and protect them?"
A "Of course not! Rubbish! It's only a few people who decide to put a motto like God be with us on a coin, or In God we trust on a bill. It's even fewer people, sometimes only one person, who make others decide such a thing."
Q "In other words, if us means the nation, God be with us is never decided by 'us' but is decided by 'them', real or royal plural?"
A "Er ..."
Q "If only because in the Netherlands, like anywhere and everywhere else, there are people who believe in a god and people who don't believe in a god, people who believe in the primacy of norms and values and people who don't believe in the primacy of norms and values over gods and demons. So GOD ZIJ MET ONS means God be with those citizens who do not believe in the primacy of norms and values but in the existence and primacy of Himself instead?"
A "Possibly. But it doesn't really matter. If the supreme being exists, such a text on the nation's dough will never meet with 'er approval anyhow."
Q "Provided it's a person, that is."
A "Provided it's a person, that is."
Q "And you said they were only four one-syllable words?"
A "Yeah, very long one-syllable words indeed."

Andrea's name is pronounced as |AEN-dree-a|, with stress on the first syllable. The Dutch phrase God zij met ons is pronounced approximately as |GHOT ZAI MET ONS|, with guttural |GH| as in one pronunciation of the Scottish word loch. The German phrase Gott mit uns is pronounced approximately as |GOT MEET UNS|.


[To instalment 9 / Naar vervolgonderdeel 9]

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