Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Fabulous things about the Dutch #1

There are no hugely fat Dutch people.

I was told (repeatedly) that there are, in fact, obese people in Holland, but they must keep them all in one very large room somewhere, because you don’t see them on the streets. Rather, you see energetic folk of all ages and styles enthusiastically riding their bicycles hither and thither (and often right up your arse, if you don’t get out the way quick enough). Above: Dutch people cycle to the train station, then commute to work. These bikes are at Naarden-Bussum station (a relatively small stop) - every single one belongs to someone who's gone to work, and will cycle home on it at the end of the day. When it rains (which it does all the time), they cycle one-handed, with their umbrella open above them.

South Africa now has an obesity problem to rival America’s, and it’s amazing how quickly one becomes accustomed to seeing gigantic people heaving their huge bulks through shopping centres, into movie-theatre seats (usually next to me) and up to the KFC counter.

So one of the first things I noticed about Amsterdam (and Den Haag and Rotterdam, although admittedly this may not be true of other major centres in Holland because we didn’t go to all of them) was that most people are of the normal size. Some of the women are buxom (and I mean this word as it’s intended, not as a euphemism for obscenely fat) and some of them men are portly (ditto), but in 10 days I genuinely didn’t see one single person who made me think, ‘Golly, I wonder how many pies made that?’

Oh, except once. At Schiphol airport, the morning my sister and I left Holland. There was a very large couple sitting in the air-side waiting room, between them occupying three chairs (but only just). Because the flight was full, my sister and I had been separated, and I (I thought) had drawn the short straw: it was my seat that had been re-assigned. I whispered to my sister, ‘See them? I’m going to end up between them, wait and see.’ ‘Think positive,’ she whispered back to me.

Two things: first, the fat couple were South Africans (I heard the wife say to her husband, ‘Ek hoop hulle bedien ontbyt op die plane want ek’s honger.’) (Okay, I didn’t really, but seriously, you can tell a South African anywhere, can’t you?) And, second, I ended up in a bulkhead seat, with plenty of legroom, between two normally sized and perfectly wonderful gentlemen who adjusted my TV, stowed my tray, ordered me orange-juice-and-vodkas and didn’t mind when I fell asleep on their shoulders and drooled down their shirt-fronts. (And I didn’t even think positive!)

We were way too afraid to ride bicycles in Amsterdam, where simply stepping out into the street is challenge enough, but we did hire bicycles on the North Sea island of Ameland, and my Dad, my sister and I cycled for miles along pretty, friendly bike paths. It was fabulous.

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