The stories of a couchsurfer

Defining a Dutchman

Amsterdam Architecture

Good luck defining a Dutchman. It’s a difficult task to perform. Often one can tell a Frenchman before he even speaks, easily determine a Swede or pick an Italian from afar. Not so with the Dutch.

The fact is that the people here are so varied. There are no generalisations that can be made, besides perhaps two. The first is that they are all open minded people. And perhaps it’s because of this open mindedness that it’s impossible to typecast any further. The people here do what they wish, when they wish.

There is no better example of this than it’s capital Amsterdam. Amsterdam is the sin city of Europe. Europeans from all over gather to this canal riddled capital in search for fun and parties. It bears no shame in being host for these partying tourists. It proudly displays it’s collection of hash smoking cafés. It beams it’s red lights to display it’s prostitutes in the building windows even in the middle of the day. It is the epitome of the Dutch mentality – the liberal and idealistic world that they live in.

And by in large it works. The transport systems are advanced and efficient. The environment is clean and abundant with playgrounds and sporting fields. The people here are respectful, graceful and generally happy. They are well educated and they all speak English perfectly. They agree with their current liberal system. They aren’t, as many people assume, all potheads. Some are without doubt, but the fact is that they have the choice, and many of them have experimented and chosen to go without.

The majority of potheads in Amsterdam are in fact British and Americans. Amsterdam recognises this and so it seems as if there is more English language in the centre than Dutch. Cafés, restaurants and pubs are all signed and display their menu’s in English. Besides from the many canals and bridges, and the overuse of the colour orange, one could easily be mistaken for being somewhere in the United Kingdom.

But this is a strange quirk about the Dutch. They enjoy using English but there doesn’t seem to be any consistency. Enter any McDonalds restaurant and the menu will be half Dutch, half English. Not due to a translation underneath, they will just use the English words when they feel appropriate. The latest Hollywood films will be shown (and advertised) in their original English. They have adopted the English language at a much higher level than any other non-English country that I’ve traveled before.

The Dutch can do this because they are a well prepared and a smart group of people. It seems they can do anything and do it successfully. The only thing they don’t do is construct cars. But why would they? Everybody rides bicycles.

Everybody.

The stereotype and images of The Netherlands doesn’t even do it justice. At first, it’s literally unbelievable. The rows and rows of bicycles stationed on the side of the street stretches on and on. This is perhaps the second commonality to be made of the Dutch; their embrace of the cycling culture. And the country is adequately built for it. Dedicated cycling lanes are everywhere. Most traffic lights have an additional bicycle crossing and corresponding light in addition to the standard pedestrian crossing.

It is the most common form of traveling and it can be quite daunting as a traveler to become immersed in it. Low powered motorised scooters are also allowed on these bike paths. Just because they are low powered doesn’t mean they aren’t fast and they fly through cycling traffic, passing mere inches to the side of cyclists.

As a pedestrian, the sheer weight of cycling traffic can become a more daunting obstacle to pass than what’s on the road. To a foreigner it appears like some sort of anarchy on the footpaths. But, just like the liberal views of the rest of the country, it works.

It’s not an anarchy of course, but instead a constitutional monarchy. One which has just changed the head of power recently. The Dutch seem to embrace their royals, but don’t seem so keen on the new King Willem-Alexander, instead preferring the now retired Queen Beatrix.

As long as the new King doesn’t interfere with the liberal philosophy of the country however, I don’t think they’ll care too much. The Netherlands comes across as a social experiment. One that is providing evidence that relaxing the laws may not be so detrimental as some other countries believe.

Pardon the pun, but perhaps we should all be taking a leaf out of the book of the Dutchman.

3 Responses to “Defining a Dutchman”

    • christopherbadman

      You’re right, the average size is tall! But I’m not sure that if I saw a tall man in the streets of NYC I would be able to assume that he was Dutch.

      Reply

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