Monday, 21 May 2012

The Netherlands

I've just returned from a weekend in the Netherlands.  Every time I visit that fortunate country, I'm struck afresh by what a nice place it is.
The first time I visited was in March 1984.  I had two very small children in tow, one in a pushchair and one in a babysling.  I was amazed and delighted by the Dutch response: they liked small children.  In restaurants, instead of frowning or saying 'we don't admit children', they would ask 'May we give the little boy an ice cream?' (yes!)  I did a lot of travelling on trams and buses, and not once did I carry the pushchair onto the bus: if there was no one else waiting beside me to pick it up and carry it carefully aboard, a passenger would leap off the tram to do the office, grinning at the suspicious toddler and trying to talk to him.  It was no wonder, I thought, that the Dutch grow up so sensible and well-adjusted.
I've been back several times since.  I've even read up quite a lot of the history for the stalled next book. (Now I know where they get it from: they were founded by a guy who was in favour of religious toleration despite living in the 17th C., and they had the most developed social care in the world, with a comprehensive system of welfare back in 1650--which, pace the right wing, was a Golden Age economically as well as culturally.) Every time I go I'm struck by:
1) bicycles! They seem to outnumber cars ten to one.  All the civic amenities that other countries build only for cars the Dutch build for cycles as well: parking at station and in city centres, tracks and roads, etc.
2) public transport.  Trains and buses are frequent, cheap, and reliable.

3) cleanliness.  The air and water are so unpolluted that during the last visit--to South Holland--I saw in the city centres, breeding wildfowl that included crested and little grebes, white storks, herons, tufted ducks, coots, moorhens, barnacle and greylag and Canada geese, as well as a couple of exotics and ubiquitous mallard.
4) the way everybody speaks perfect English. It's uncanny. I don't speak perfect Dutch.  I speak some French, a bit of German and modern Greek--but nothing of it as well as everybody spoke English.
5) how livable it all seems.  In fact, the question I'm always left with after I return from the Netherlands is why other countries aren't more like them.

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