Ian Le Breton
Ian Le Breton

GROWING up in the 1970s, I used to enjoy listening to Alistair Cooke’s ‘Letter from America’ on BBC Radio 4. It all sounded so very enticing given America’s international power and influence – and while transatlantic flights were still the preserve of the rich and famous. It was a bit of let down when, some years later, I finally got to know America well while living on its doorstep in Nassau.

Sovereign has this month given me the opportunity to write my own ‘Letter from …’. America? No. Perhaps then from one of our exotic outposts in Asia, Africa, the Caribbean or Middle East? Again, no. This month my dispatch comes instead from Amsterdam, where I have myself been dispatched on secondment. I am learning the Dutch way of doing things and, more particularly for our business, how useful Dutch companies can be. So if a Netherlands company set up is on your bucket list, you know who to ask!

I’m here to do a job but my colleagues have been less than charitable. Since my arrival, I have been the subject of a steady flow of comments concerning tulips, canals, ‘coffee shops’ and the ‘red light district’. My responses have by now shifted from the jocular through to the exasperated. By way of compensation, however, Amsterdam is justifiably known for its galleries and museums so I will admit to indulging my passion for art – when not working hard of course.

I have also been pleasantly surprised at how knowledgeable the Dutch are about our little Rock. Several recommended that I view the massive painting of Heemskerk’s Defeat of the Spaniards at Gibraltar, which hangs in the Nederlands Scheepvaartmuseum. It is hugely impressive but, in the interests of balance, I should probably remind readers that the Spaniards reversed the result 14 years later. I couldn’t find a picture of that one though.

Most Dutch people who know anything about Gibraltar also want to talk about our airport. It seems frightfully amusing, in their collective opinion, that the runway bisects a main highway. Or is it the other way round? Perhaps, given that Amsterdam has more than 1,200 bridges, they feel that this is a wasted opportunity, but I am a guest in ‘Koninkrijk der Nederlanden’, so I smile and agree how very odd it is.

And of course there’s the football. Quite a few seem to know about UEFA’s Country 54 – although they are less complimentary about our team. It might seem churlish to point out that the Dutch team, like Gibraltar’s part-timers, will not be at the European Championship finals in France this year. Perhaps they could combine a holiday on the Rock with a friendly fixture instead?

More fertile common ground is shipping, trade and business. After all, Amsterdam and Gibraltar both enjoy illustrious mercantile histories. We also both have robust and economically significant finance services sectors. Our financial centres may be very different in terms of their offerings – the Netherlands has one of the world’s the largest and most effective double tax treaty networks – but both have carved out important roles in the global market.

I am not sure at present how long my temporary absence from Gib will last – I am definitely missing the Mediterranean climate – but, rest assured, here in Amsterdam I continue to promote and talk about our home at every opportunity.