Dutch children are encouraged to be self-aware and opinionated from an early age and while opinions in the Netherlands are divided on this particular subject, adults generally listen to good arguments, even if given by a seven year old. And if the adult thinks the child is wrong, he will try to educate the child on the matter rather than tell him off.
Sure you respect authority and rules, but only if they’re convenient for you. After the smoking ban was introduced, a good portion of all bars kept placing ashtrays on the tables inside, risking high fines with the motto ‘Dat moeten we toch lekker zelf weten’ (It’s our own business and no one else’s).
You see your bike as a natural extension of yourself. It’s not just your bike, it’s your primary means of transport and without it you are nothing. You commute to work on your bike, you drop your children to school on your bike and you’ve mastered the skill of cycling and whatsapping without causing accidents while navigating crowded intersections and ‘accidentally’ passing stop signs.
It doesn’t matter that you live in one of the happiest and richest countries in the world, there’s always something to complain about. If not the weather it’s the health system, the government, that guy next to you in the overcrowded train who came into your personal space and especially all those other people that are always complaining.
You prefer to go for the casual look and even on a night out you’re spotted wearing jeans and sneakers. But behind the scenes you’ve made an effort to pick out the exact right combination of jeans, shirt and sneakers, wishing to awe with your nonchalant-but-trendy look.
You’re not easily shamed and you don’t care if people watch what’s going on in your living room. You have nothing to hide after all, right?
Me: “Congratulations with your son.”
Future mother-in- law: “Congratulations with your boyfriend,” followed by three kisses on the cheek. And onto the next family member, friend, or acquaintance. You personally congratulate all the guests that have arrived before you before you sit down to enjoy the party.
You go Dutch and you share bills. As a student you make a meal with friends and spread all costs of the ingredients evenly, calculated to the last cent. They will call you out on it if you forget to transfer the money into their account straight away, even if it’s only a euro.
Generally you see yourself as a ‘global citizen’, unless you’re watching the European or World Championships in football, during which even your cousin — who normally dislikes sports — turns into a fanatic screaming and shouting ‘Oranje’ supporter.
You don’t like to part with money, so nothing cheers you up more than an unexpected discount. Except if you can get something for free. The fact that you don’t like mints is irrelevant — you happily walk by that girl who’s freely distributing a new brand of peppermint-flavoured sweets twice to add another bar of ‘happy’ to your day.
You wear your heart on your sleeve and you’ve been labelled as ‘rude’ more than once, but you prefer to think of yourself as being ‘direct’ or ‘honest’ and you wish more people would appreciate that. You’re also known to have an opinion on everything — even subjects you hardly know the first thing about.
But you’re not interested in smoking pot yourself and you wouldn’t want to be found dead in the red light district. You’re also aware all that liberality here is a façade, as lately the government has been on a behind-the-scenes quest to close down as many coffee-shops and red-tainted windows as possible.
Even if it’s only 12 degrees Celsius, at the first sign of sun in March you dig a skirt out of the back of your wardrobe, jump on your bike and meet your girlfriends on a ‘terrasje’ to celebrate the end of winter with as many as glasses of wine you need to make you forget about the goosebumps on your bare, white legs (because in reality it’s still freezing cold).
Marriage isn’t seen as a big thing and church weddings are an exception rather than the rule. Marriage is mostly seen as a way to arrange the legal paperwork for a partnership. On the other hand, most of us Dutchies hold the firm belief that everyone has the freedom of choice and lifestyle — as long as they don’t harm anyone else with it — and thus should be able to marry.
If it’s your turn, it’s your turn, and you rather start a full blown argument in a crowded shop than allow anyone to jump the queue ahead of you. You know many will try, so you watch everyone like a hawk.
Planning is key. After all, besides your work, you need to keep track of your fitness schedule, your yoga class, next week’s sale at your favourite store, your best friend’s birthday, that undisturbed evening of ‘quality’ time with your boyfriend, Friday night dinner with your colleagues, your old high school reunion and your weekly Vegan meet up. You want to go and have a drink? Sure, I have a spot in my schedule Thursday next week between 5pm and 6pm.
Photo: Garry Knight