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.