Our man [formally] of Amsterdam


I don’t like to generalise, but …
November 9, 2009, 19:25
Filed under: Amsterdam, Netherlands

After being here for almost 12 weeks now, I’m more than qualified to pass judgment on the Dutch.

For starters, they are no more tolerant than most western societies; their much touted soft drugs policy has oft been held up as a model of civil tolerance. It’s not; it’s pure pragmatism, that’s all. Why waste valuable police/judicial resources and money on an activity (personal cannabis consumption under strict rules) that bears minimal relation to civil unrest or adds to the crime rate. This policy has been in force since the mid 70s and the Netherlands has about the same percentage of pot smokers as do most European countries. For the record, Italy has the highest. The policy is pragmatic, not necessarily evident of a particular Dutch brand of tolerance. The rise of anti-immigration political parties and sentiments here suggests a degree of intolerance in keeping with many similar movements in other liberal democracies (including Australia).

To support this gross generalisation of being a particularly pragmatic people, may I present the Dutch pee pod. See photo below. It is what it is; these portable contraptions are winched onto public footpaths in advance of expected large crowds. They are self contained, in that all waste is collected in internal tanks, though there is no facility to wash hands. Let me tell you they take some getting used to. I first tried my hand, so to speak, at one situated a discreet distance (yet still alongside a public walkway) from a very crowded cafe with a large outdoor seating area. This in broad daylight. But, when you gotta go … No such facility for ladies, though.

pee_pod

A nominee for World's Greatest Invention - the portable pee pod. This one located near popular outdoor book market held every Friday on Spuistraat.

Elsewhere, the Dutch are the tallest people in the world. Why they don’t dominate basketball and netball and volleyball and darts (think about how close they could lean to the board) world cups is beyond me.

Obesity hasn’t spent a night in the Netherlands, yet the local diet, particularly with its emphasis on processed starches and meats, is obviously no more healthy than that of the typical Westerner. The difference is activity; they walk or cycle a decent distance most days. And therein lies the simple and pragmatic answer to the GOC (global obesity crisis): put down those remotes, extricate yourself from the lounge and get moving.

The Dutch are not morning people. Try retail shopping before 11am on Mondays and you’ll be kept waiting. Ditto for the few shops open on Sundays. And don’t bother before 10am on most other days.

To our more sensitive and decorous ways, the locals are a bit gruff. They’re more upfront than most races I’ve come across. There is a brutal efficiency to this, once you get past the bold, in-your-face assertions. A spade is spade is a spade! I think they should package and export it somehow, along with the civilised bruin cafe culture (much better than French or Hungarian equivalents).

They waste water. The Dutch have no concept of conserving H2O. They live on it, under it (most of the country is below sea level), beside it and generally see it in abundance. And it rains so bloody often that the notion of resource scarcity does not enter their mindset. This is not their fault; just an observation. Most bars, cafes and nightclubs have taps running constantly behind the bar where staff manually wash glasses after each individual use. You can hear the constant trickling stream in the quieter moments, which makes me want to wee occasionally: Now, where’s that pee pod?

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