~ Ann Davis
My recent trip to the Netherlands reawakened my appreciation northern European folks. It has been a long time since I traveled outside of the US. It was a pleasant deja vu from childhood trips and residence in Germany. I experienced a brief but intense “fling,” with the Dutch people, and it was intoxicating, a pleasant “high.” No, I didn’t indulge in any of the “funny food” (cannabis laced edibles) as the maître d’ on the riverboat named it. It was the people and the culture that lifted my spirits.
Perhaps, it is my age or the way I was raised in a friendly but formal manner of interacting with strangers. This is what I encountered in conversation with tour guides, a tulip farmer, and a young mother, and a family who hosted some of us for tea. We were able to learn a good deal about the government and social service programs, including universal healthcare. They have high tax rates (middle class folks pay 50%) but also receive many services.
The program that impressed me the most is the development of housing complexes that welcome people of all income levels. The housing units are similar, with wealthy people living next door to those with more meager means. How humanistic! That makes so much sense to me. Many former convents and monasteries have been converted into housing for all ages, but especially the elderly. Our hosts volunteer at a senior citizen center and praised the care that the residents receive. The progressive nature of this society impressed me with its focus on the individual as a means of providing for the welfare of the whole.
Sixty percent of the Netherlands is land reclaimed from the sea. Generations of Dutch have had to work very diligently to create the land they live on and to maintain their dominion over it. The dikes are highly engineered, but water management is a constant occupation. They have a very strong work ethic with respect for previous generations, as well as for their contemporaries. The Dutch pass along high expectations for their children. They are enterprising and innovative, taking every opportunity to improve their “lot in life.” The country is clean and orderly, but not cold and rigid.
The people I encountered seem at once focused and deliberate, and relaxed and fun loving. On “Kings Day” (May 2nd) folks dress in orange, hang banners of orange, have street fairs, and celebrate the monarchy of the House of Orange. I did not particularly enjoy the highly repetitive techno music that was blasted in a park near our riverboat dock. But I did smile while watching the large, tightly-spaced crowd of people “dancing” to the pounding rhythm. It looked like an over-subscribed aerobics class.
I know that a short exposure to another culture is not a full understanding of its nature. However, if I were a little bit younger, I truly might consider moving to Holland. But I’d have to give up my Eastern Shore home, and that would be difficult, because that would include UUFE.