Ingeborg van Teeseling

“Aansteller”, the Dutch word which accurately defines 2018


2018 is a confusing, grating place, where those with opportunity cry loudest. Fortunately, the Dutch have a word for it: ‘aansteller’. 



Let me introduce you to a Dutch word you might want to adopt into your vocabulary. It is a disease called “aanstelleritis”, with its sufferer called the “aansteller”. It perfectly suits these times of entitlement and fake everything, so you can use it in almost every situation. It describes a mixture of self-pity and privilege, with a dash of man-flu symptoms and victimhood thrown in. If somebody presents with it, the right response is to roll your eyes, tut-tut and tell them to man up and move on. Let’s look at some prime examples. We’ve got, for instance, the wife of a Russian billionaire, a woman called Tatiana Akhmedov. She was 17 when she married somebody with a lot of cash and no morals who was twice her age. “He was wearing a suit,” so she concluded that he would be a perfect gentleman. Yes, smart. Fast-forward a few decades and some serious jet-setting later and she is filing for divorce. The sticking point is a $500m yacht called the Luna. It is the billionaire equivalent of the food processor normal people fight over when they split up, the thing that really doesn’t matter, but is a symbol of “fuck you”. As a spokesman for Akhmedov’s ex husband said: “He would rather see the Luna rot in the Dubai heat than see it handed over to Tatiana.” This, of course, is a sorry state of affairs. Who would do that to a boat? So sad! And so this is Ms Akhmedov’s statement to the papers: “I don’t want to play the victim, but…” Typical aansteller. In what world, honey, are you a victim? Isn’t the saying that if you marry for money, you’ll earn every penny? So after years of all the shoes, handbags and private planes you could get, you have to give up the yacht? Boo-hoo, poor baby. Suffering from aanstelleritis.

Talking about marrying for money and paying the price: exhibit number two is, of course, Melania Trump. Another poor little rich girl. Last year, and this was before the unexplained absences and the public silences, Vanity Fair wrote an article about the First Lady called “Melania’s burden”. It described the “golden Fifth Avenue fortress”, the public humiliations and her husband’s “boorishness”. It featured a great, horrendous picture of the happy couple in earlier days. Melania, in a skimpy dress and knee-length black velvet boots is sitting very close to the Donald, with his hand going for her naked thigh. This is not a girl being harassed, but a woman willingly selling her “assets” to the highest bidder. So, sorry tweeters who are now lining up to “#SaveMelania”: she is not a victim, she is an aansteller. Or, to roughly translate another Dutch notion: “If you are silly enough to burn your bum, you have to sit on the blisters.”

Also sitting on blisters, and also blaming everybody but themselves, are our Barnaby and his new squeeze. Oh no, excuse me. Non-adult mother of his “grey area” son. Lots of aanstelleritis going on there too: about the media who were camping on their doorstep, the MPs colleagues who were nasty to them, the naturally completely undeserved furore about the money paid by Channel Seven, and of course, the priceless remark that “you can’t help who you fall in love with” that left parents all over Australia scrambling to have conversations with their teenage children about bullshit and taking responsibility for your own actions. It reminded me of an article in the New York Times that described ex-president Bill Clinton as one of the “sultans of self-pity”, after he had done a boohoo about “leaving the White House with 16 million dollars of debt.” As Frank Bruni rightfully wrote: that money was spent on lawyers to get the then-president out of a great big hole of his own making, the Lewinsky affair. But because the little prince thought he had the right to play “follow the libido”, he was still angry at anybody telling him he was not – which, in #MeToo times, is maybe not the smartest thing to do. But aanstellers can’t help it. They are convinced they are better than anybody else, and that anything they do is brilliantly well done.

Look at the masters of the universe now in front of the Banking Royal Commission. Or George Pell, who had the temerity to ask the readers of the Catholic Weekly to help pay for his court costs. It gives new meaning to the word “pontificate”: not being the shepherd giving the right example at mass, but the ponce letting others pay for your mistakes. And then there was, of course, the red menace from Queensland: Pauline Hanson crying crocodile tears on television, complaining about the horrible man (in her own party!) who was trying to undermine all her good work. “I fought for years to get back here to be there…to help the people of this country… stabbed in the back.” And none of this, of course, has anything to do with the fact that you chose an idiot to run with you, did it? It all just happened, right, nothing to do with you? Aansteller!

So next time you see somebody who has had huge opportunities blame the people who gave them those breaks, remember the word. When you think there should be accountability and all there is is whinging and complaining, have it ready. Say it loud and say it proud: “aansteller”!


Ingeborg van Teeseling

After migrating from Holland ten years ago and being warned by the Immigration Department against doing her job as a journalist, Ingeborg van Teeseling became a historian instead. She endeavours to explain Australia to migrants new and old at her website, and runs, telling people's life stories.

Related posts