What’s the Netherlands like?
First thoughts: partying in Amsterdam, bicycles, cloudy, cold and rainy. Oh, and the color orange, the national color.
I took the winding roads out of Cuxhaven on the North Sea (27, 437, 436, A7), my kids and I determined to enter a second country while we visited Germany. We had no real destination, and we could have stopped at any one of the towns just over the border, like Nieuweschans, Beerta or Schmeeda.
We were drawn to Gronigen.
It just so happened that the Swingin Gronigen festival was kicking off for the weekend. Pure luck it was. Top jazz musicians, a foodie heaven and happy people everywhere was our taste of the Netherlands.
It’s tough to drive in a new and unfamiliar city and this one had the added challenge of hundreds, maybe thousands, of bicycles. There were more bikes than cars, more bikes than people I think. So, after being scolded several times for being a bad driver, I parked it. It’s not that I’m a bad driver, but with cobblestones, trolleys, cars, bikes, motorbikes, and pedestrians added to one-way streets and canals in the middle, the problems were insurmountable. I took the dirty looks and hand gestures personally, but I suppose any New Yorker would shown me the same.
We listened to music. We sat in the square and had coffee and sweets. We walked the streets and wandered into centuries old churches. We had Rijstafel at a restaurant we found by following a hand-drawn map by the guy who ran the local Chinese food restaurant.
Everywhere were signs of happiness and love! What was going on here? I thought the Netherlands was cold and dreary and everyone shuffled about their own business?
But then I remembered that I once read the Netherlands had the happiest population in the world. The reason for this was that they generally, as a population, had low expectations. One man in the article had no qualms about admitting on the record that he didn’t expect his days to be extraordinary and this was quite OK with him. Less disappointment.
The more I think about it, even though I’m one of those sunnyside-up Americans, I can see the point of the Dutch people. Low expectations does not inherently come with cynicism. Maybe the article should have used a different term, like satisfaction. Maybe the Dutch are just more satisfied with what they have and how they live than those of us who feel the need to strive, strive, strive.
And maybe being satisfied opens up some room for other feelings. When you are not preoccupied with your disappointment (either dealing with it or avoiding it), maybe you find yourself more happy and full of love for what is, rather than what isn’t or what might not be. Maybe these are the benefits of being Dutch.
Evidence was everywhere that all you need is love. Doo, doo, doo, doo. All you need is love, love. Love is all you need.