(While on vacation in Amsterdam Gerkin said…)

My husband and I are on vacation in Amsterdam and Alberta is a hundred light years away.  So rather than making a feeble attempt to stay current with Premier Redford’s latest shenanigans (Fort Macleod springs to mind) I’m going to tell you what Gerkin said. 

I was in the back of the tour bus, drifting into the stupor zone (eyelids at half mast) when our tour guide Gerkin (really, that is his name) said that Dutch children are the happiest children in Europe.

What?  One minute he’s telling us that the Netherlands is the second richest country in Europe and quoting house prices (the average house costs 250,000 euros, the super expensive houses run about 1.5 million euros);  then bam, a bolt from the blue—Dutch children are happier than children anywhere else on the continent.

Leaving aside the challenge of measuring the happiness scale of a small creature who can go from joy to misery in less than 10 seconds, and assuming that this is true—Gerkin hadn’t led us wrong yet—why are Dutch children the happiest children in Europe?

Gerkin didn’t say. He blithely continued his recitation of interesting facts—Amsterdam has 750,000 people and 650,000 bicycles.  They’re stolen at a rate of 200 a day.

Of course!  It’s the bicycles!  From the time a child is a toddler he’s perched on a bicycle gliding through the streets and alleyways like the mini-god that he is.  He starts as a tiny tot stuffed into a wheelbarrow-like thing slung over the front wheel.  Soon he graduates to the crate on the front handlebars or if he’s lucky, his own little bike seat which is fastened just behind the handlebars or right behind the seat.  When he gets a little older his parents allow him to straddle the back wheel.  And before you know it he has a bike of his own and is free to go anywhere he likes.

From this vantage point the Dutch child observes the world with a faint air of superiority.  And why not, cyclists have the right of way…period.  Pedestrians step into the bicycle lane at their own risk.  If they don’t hear the warning bell they’re flattened and no one gives them an ounce of sympathy because it’s their own fault!

The first few years of a Dutch child’s life are filled with excitement and adventure; but think how liberating the bicycle is for his parents.  No more fighting with the child to get him into the car because we’re going for a bike ride!  Furthermore if the child gives the parent any sass—poof! He’s ejected!

Okay, I got a little carried away there.  Time for some serious contemplation.  I think that Dutch children are happy not just because they’re born to bicycling parents, but because they’re born to bicycling parents who live in the Netherlands.

Gerkin told us that the Dutch tax rate runs from 10% to 50% (the 50% rate is triggered for those who earn more than 90,000 euros).   The Dutch are prepared to pay what some would consider an exorbitant tax rate because they believe in a social safety net which includes universal healthcare.  (The Dutch pay 1200 euros/year for basic coverage).  Their education system is ranked as the 9th best in the world.

So, let’s see, access to good healthcare and an excellent education, plus those magnificent bicycles—no wonder Dutch children are the happiest children in Europe.

Note to parents concerned about the angst of their own children:  Start with the bicycle but quickly work your way up to demanding universal healthcare and quality education.

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7 Responses to (While on vacation in Amsterdam Gerkin said…)

  1. Baldwin Reichwein says:

    Susan, I can see that Gerkin was not too pickled with what he told you about life in Amsterdam and in the Netherlands in general. They know “gezelligheid.” Check that in your Dutch dictionary.

  2. Baldwin Reichwein says:

    I did not say anything about moderation. I’d say instead “live it up Susan!”

  3. How very like the Dutch (and you Baldwin) to present us with a wonderful word that has no exact English translation! I googled it and came up with…fun, cosy, quaint, a special feeling…and you know what, it’s perfect. This is a wonderful country. We loved every minute of our stay here.
    PS. Now that you’re a “recognized” contributor you won’t be “moderated” anymore! So we can both “live it up!” Thanks for your comments Baldwin!

  4. Rose Marie MacKenzie-Kirkwood says:

    It appears that life can be quite simply if you stop side stepping and head straight forward. Good for the Dutch.

  5. What a lovely way of putting it Rose, that’s a motto we can use in all parts of our lives. Thank you. OK off to Copenhagen, who knows what wonderful things we’ll discover there!

  6. Hello Susan. I love the name Gerkin. Makes me think of pickles but I love the name. Best education in the world and universal health care. Wow. I don`t mind paying taxes as long as I have a feeling that it`s going somewhere besides a politician`s pocket. One of my pet peeves with our current education system is that I have noticed the younger are in the workforce (20 – 30s) are quick to cut and paste paragraphs in a document; and have no sense of grammar. If whatever they are typing isn`t picked up in spell check (such as the words through and threw) you will be handed a document where written you`ll find, `The man walked threw the door.“ Where is our education system ranked in comparison with The Netherlands?

    Healthcare, well, I`ve lived in Victoria for 10 years now, and it was just through knowing someone in the healthcare field that I was able to finally get a family doctor. Hmmm, do they have that problem in the Netherlands?

    About the bicycles, I have recently become a HUGE supporter of cyclists. In August I took up cycling to and from work (approx. 20 kilometre ride one way). I was shown the Galloping Goose Trail as well as a safer route which does not involve many vehicles. I LOVED IT! No wonder the children of The Netherlands are the happiest in the world, when I rode my bike to work, during that one-hour ride in I`m able to “work out“ any “stuff“ going on in my life. I would get to work and feel GREAT. When I left work, and rode my bicycle home, I can`t say in enough words the feeling of euphoria as I rode across the Johnston Street bridge and then made a right onto the Galloping Goose Traill. That right-hand turn was such a physical and mental exercise of “leaving the work behind.“ I`d arrive home, look at my husband and be happy. No stress anymore about the dayjob. My dream one day is to see the Patricia Bay Highway pact with cyclists. That would be cool! I have both male and female Dutch friends and both sexes have said to me over a cocktail, “You`re not much, if you`re not Dutch.“ Maybe they`re onto something?

  7. Dear Champ (may I call you Jo?) you’re absolutely right about the added advantage of cycling which is that it clears the mind as well as tunes up the body. In Calgary we’ve got quite a few kilometers of bike lanes but we don’t have the same level of respect for bikers that they have in Amsterdam so it’s more of a challenge to become a cyclist on a full time basis (the excruciatingly cold winters don’t help either!).
    Given the success the Dutch have with their education system and healthcare system I’d have to agree with the comment: “You’re not much, if you’re not Dutch”!
    Thanks for your comments Jo. Safe riding!

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