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The DUTCH People

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DATED: APRIL 2003

I'm sitting here looking out the window of our small caravan...

  • The most obtrusive structure blocking the view of the wide canal, and the land on the other side, is the monstrous gate, because it looks so much like the bars of a prison cell. The view would be heavenly otherwise, but since one of the biggest items on Karl's (manager of the site) agenda seems to be that people should shut the gate, it must remain closed, and an intrusion of my view. One of Karl's "solutions" to keeping the gate closed was to put a lock on it, and only give a key to the persons actually living here. It seemed funny, though, that he happened to put a lock on it later on in the day of Jay asking if there was a lock on the gate, or if we could just walk out - as if Karl thought that we were hinting to put a lock on it. Mind you, the "lock" was literally no bigger than your thumb, and the key about the size of your pinkie fingernail...it seemed to serve the purpose of looking more like an ornament on a tree, rather than "this gate is locked, and only he who has the key can enter..." and Jay making numerous jokes to Karl about the "huge" lock he put on the gate! The ornament didn't last long when an Amsterdam citizen on a motorcycle looked upon this trinket as a small, but irritating barrier of his shortcut to the city of Weesp (as otherwise he would have had to take the long way around), so he kicked the trinket until the small latch gave way (which didn't take much force). Jay witnessed the mutilation, and asked the man if he just broke the lock, to which he said "Yes, who put that there?" Jay told him the manager of the property did, and the man drove off. The funniest part of this incident (except for the size of the lock) is the fact that here is a man on a motorized vehicle who could quickly take the long way around, while one of the workers on the property who had to throw himself and his bicycle over the fence should have been the more likely candidate to break the lock, but didn't. Okay, the really funniest part is that once the man broke the lock, he closed the gate, and put the mangled latch back through the gate! And not only that, but everyone else continued to do so afterwards! It remained this way for some time, until someone eventually removed the broken lock, and the gate is now held by a pin.

    Since leaving "the States" (as we now call it, since that's how Europeans refer to the country), my standard of living has greatly diminished. For example, at "the squat" (what we refer to as the place we lived in Amsterdam), we lived without a shower for about 5 months because of the fact that we didn't have a propane tank to heat up the water; we lived without electricity when the person who "controlled" the electricity demanded that we pay an exorbitant amount or else...and now, we live without a bathroom inside the caravan. In the States, all the amenities of a "proper" house are jammed into trailers and R.V.'s so that they can be lived in, but it seems that in Holland at least, a caravan (or camper) is meant to be camped in, not lived in. So, everything you need to camp, a refrigerator, stove, and bed are included, but if you have to use the bathroom, you go outside or find one! So now, I squat at the squat (except, of course, for #2!) Of course, by American standards, we would probably be considered "trailer trash," but you never know what you can live with (or without) until you actually do. And then you realize that what you thought would be terrible to live without was actually taking more of your life than adding to it, like TV for instance...but I'd still like to have a bathroom inside my dwelling!

    What's the biggest difference between Holland and the States? I'd thought about this question more than once since being over here for nearly a year. At first, I just thought that maybe their "tolerant" behavior was because there were so many people crammed into such a small space that they had to get along, but what about New York City? Then, one day, as I was waiting at the train station, I heard what sounded like a terrible crash behind me, but what turned out to be a boy who threw down his skateboard on the ramp and rolled down to the depot. Then I see someone light up a cigarette directly underneath a no smoking sign. Then I see a man peacefully drinking a Heineken (beer) on the train. Then I see kids lighting firecrackers directly beside a business on New Years Eve. Then I see people walking and cycling a few inches from an un-fenced tram screaming by. Is there anything wrong with any of these pictures? How often have kids been reprimanded for skateboarding, except on an "approved" ramp? Doesn't "no smoking" mean no smoking? And don't "peaceful" and "drinking" form an oxymoron (in the broad sense)? What business would want kids disturbing their customers by making loud noises outside? How can people - in a city where smoking marijuana and drinking are tolerated - possibly be responsible enough to be around a dangerous machine without getting hit? What is wrong with this country? Don't they CARE? Keep in mind that there are times when kids are reprimanded, people don't smoke, drinkers are disruptive, businesses don't want kids disturbing their customers, and, unfortunately people are hit by trams...but these incidences are FEW AND FAR BETWEEN! They are the abnormal rather than the normal. But whyyyy?

    Both times that we came to Holland, we had to first stay somewhere until we could find our own place, namely the Shelter Jordan (a youth hostel), where we spent 2 months total time, and a lot of money. However, we met quite a few interesting and generous characters, and this last time we came here, we met a man by the name of Gheorghe from Romania. Gheorghe's English was pretty good, so we talked quite a bit, not to mention the fact that he was one of the cleaners with me at the Shelter Jordan. When we went out for a break, Gheorghe would inevitably ask why about something. "Why is it raining?" "Why won't this tobacco roller work?" "Why are we having soup today?" "Why can't I find a place to live?" "Why doesn't anyone buy these magazines?" And on and on, but mind you, he didn't just say why, he over-enunciated the word until it sounded like a spoiled little child saying "whyyyyy can't I have that toy?" So, after a while (and especially when I was in a bad mood), it got a little bit irritating. "I don't know why it's raining, Gheorghe, it just is!" And then one day, for no prompted reason at all, Gheorghe explained why he said whyyy all the time (and a good thing too, because I was getting to the point where I was going to punch him in the nose if he said it one more time). Apparently, he was working for an Italian (I think) man at a pizza restaurant, and paid Gheorghe approximately 1 Euro an hour. The boss would complain about everything: "Why is this pizza so flat?" "Why are you late today?" and so on with the why's. It drove Gheorghe so nuts that he now says it as a jest for himself. So anytime you think to ask the question why, just think of Gheorghe, and ask whyyyy...it will make you feel better, and maybe make you laugh about whatever it is that's making you nuts.

    But I digress to whyyy the people in Holland are so "tolerant." It's that they generally just do their own thing, and let other people do their own thing. Their dogs perfectly reflect the peoples' attitude. WHAT?! Well, it occurred to me the other day that if you want to judge a culture's attitude, pay attention to how their dogs act. Not their cats, or rabbits, or hamsters, or any other animal but a dog, because as we all know, dogs are more faithful to their "owners" than other animals, and therefore, want more to please them, so they will act according to how their owner wants them to act, and also how the owner themself acts. In Holland, most dogs are not on leashes, and when they walk past you, they usually don't bark or snarl at other dogs...they just do what they're doing and let you do what you're doing...just like their owners. Again, this is mostly commonplace (no generalization is completely foolproof), but it's funny how often it's true. As a matter of fact, there was once a time when we saw a dog who looked like he was walking himself, looking both ways before crossing the street in Amsterdam and such. Look at the dogs in the States...they're almost all on leashes, partly because it's the law, but mostly because the owner can't "control" the dog from fighting with other dogs, or biting other people, because the dog is reflecting the general attitude of America, which is "If I'm walking here, this is my territory, and don't bother me, or I'll bite your head off!"

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