Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte was walking into the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport building in The Hague on Monday when he dropped coffee. In a bid to clean up his mess, the head of a major European government reached for a mop — and started swiping at the spill.
As they saw what he was doing, the building's uniformed cleaning staff stood next to him and clapped and cheered. “Do you have a bucket?” the prime minister was overheard asking, according to Dutch broadcaster NOS.
Rutte's act of cleaning up after his mistake wasn't a big story in the Netherlands. Some Dutch readers criticized outlets such as NOS for picking up on the story, saying it was not news and just normal for people to clean up after themselves as Rutte had.
But the video of the Dutch leader mopping his coffee spread quickly on social media on Tuesday and Wednesday, with many readers in other countries voicing surprise that a world leader would take the time to clean up his own mess.
The video was shared on BBC Arabic's Facebook page, where it has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times. The top comment on the story suggests that in some other countries, the reaction might have been to “execute the coffee seller.”
A variety of Indian outlets also picked up the story, often quoting social media users who groused that their own leaders would never do such a thing. “People across the world are lauding the PM for this, and on the other hand, it also gives a glimpse of the elitist mentality that other political leaders project,” the Indian Express newspaper wrote.
The Netherlands is a relatively small country of 17 million people, and its leaders have traditionally adopted a less formal approach to governing. Last year, when Rutte was finally able to form a new coalition government months after a contentious national election, he was photographed cycling to King Willem-Alexander's palace for a meeting with the Dutch head of state.
However, some Dutch journalists noted that the images of Rutte cleaning up his coffee or riding his bike were not only symbols of humility — but also of the prime minister's media-savvy side. Ireen Oostveen, the NOS reporter who filmed the coffee spill, noted that Rutte “knows very well when the camera is rolling and when not.” When the camera is on, Oostveen said, Rutte will go “all the way.”
However, Emilie van Outeren, a Dutch journalist with the NRC Handelsblad newspaper, suggested that what was so special was not Rutte's reaction, but that of the cleaners. She asked on Twitter: “In what country is there so little hierarchy that the cleaning ladies dare to react like that?”
According to reports in the Dutch press, Rutte and President Trump will hold their first official meeting next month.
Amar Nadhir contributed to this report.
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This post has been corrected to note that Rutte was walking into the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport and not parliament, as it originally stated.