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Memoires of gedenkschriften van minister Pieter Bas (The memoirs of Minister Pieter Bas) is a satirical biography of a fictional Minister of Education. The book is mostly about the man's youth in the second half of the 19th century. The book was first published in 1937.

Early in the book, the author describes the social status of various members of the future Minister's hometown of Dordrecht, and how some of them fell down the social ladder.

Translating from Dutch:

Well-known is the case of doctor Jolles. His whole life had been one masterful tactic to hide the fact that his father had been a butcher. He married the daughter of Bille, he bought a house at the Wijnandt Bridge; and slowly ascending via the tax receiver, past the apothecary, past Boddens, yes past Venemeyer, he found himself in the space between Sanders and Simons, and would soon have been allowed to tap Simons' shoulder, saying: "Would you come to me, Jan, tonight?" when that fatal event happened on the card-playing evening of Mrs Beekman.
"Do you want more tea, doctor?" Mrs Beekman had said (she spoke those words at the window, according to others however she stood on the doorstep). "No", Jolles had answered laughing, "I still have a full pot at home".
The moment he said this, he went pale. But it was too late. His life's work was destroyed. He fell deep beneath the tax receiver, still made a few attempts to get out of this swamp until death surprised him.

The author goes on to suggest that death was a release, after this fall from grace.

The work is highly satirical, and the paragraph can be seen as poking fun at the value people ascribe to social status.

It seems that both Jolles and Simons are medical doctors. Since it is set in the late 1800s, and written in 1937, it makes sense that a lowly origin affects Dr. Jolles' status, putting him below Dr. Simons in the eyes of the other people of status in town.

There doesn't seem to be much analysis of the book; most of what's on the internet is written by school children reading it as homework. (Here, in Dutch and here, also in Dutch).

The question is, how does having a pot full of tea at home betray his lowly origins and cause his fall from grace? Since the work is satirical, there may be a joke here that is lost on 21st century readers? The best we could think of is that it somehow showed him being too frugal to be a part of high society; but we were unable to establish if that was the case.

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Compare this with a situation where someone visits you, you offer them food, and they say: "No, thanks, I have lots of food at home!"

This would be extremely rude in many cultures. It may imply any of the following:

  • Guests eat because they don't have food at home
  • The host may not have enough food, so the guest may be putting considerable strain on them
  • The food provided by the host is not good enough for the guest

Any of these may be true, but one does not say that out loud.

To me, who's not Dutch, Dr. Jolles's response seems to be a reflexive repudiation of poverty - something which a member of the gentry would never need to do. Dr. Jolles feels the need to say that he has a full pot at home because he didn't have a full pot of tea at home in his past. To quote George R. R. Martin:

Any man who must say 'I am the King' is no true king.

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