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Dutch Envy

So yesterday we woke up in Amsterdam and today we're back in the good ol' US of A. Home in Madison, but without an actual building to call home. It's a strange feeling. The last week of our 9 week European tour went by in a blur. It seemed that by the time we got to Holland it already felt like the trip was winding down, and exhaustion was creeping in. Not that we didn't have a great time there. In fact, this was my third trip to the Netherlands, and I have to say that I like it more each time that I visit.
When coming back from a long time abroad, America can smack you in the face with its. . . well, American-ness. And this seems especially apparent when coming back from a- -ok, I'm going to use a naughty word here- "socialist" country like the Netherlands. When we were there, I kept commenting to Josh on how nice everything is. Sure, there are jerks who live there (though I didn't meet any) and of course they have their problems. But, there are some really noticeable differences between Holland and America. For one, there are no homeless people. As my friend Muriel told us, "no one is super-rich, but no one is super-poor." Of course, they pay nearly half their salary in taxes (something most Americans can't fathom), but they want for nothing. No one worries that they might go bankrupt if they get ill. No one has to take to robbing convenience stores to feed their family because they got laid off or are unable to work. There are safety nets for everything and everyone. Also, the roads are fantastic, as well as public transportation, and it's very clean. I think these things make the general standard of living very high, which makes people happier and nicer.
Another thing I noticed is the lack of billboards. This is also true in most other European countries. I don't think most Americans think about it when they're driving down the highway, but billboards are everywhere.  And they are such an eyesore. In fact, advertisements of every kind bombard us everyday here in the States, and it seems to get worse and worse every year.
Finally, something that is very noticeable in Holland, is that there are almost no fat people. I know, this might sound harsh, but it's no secret that one-third of adults in America are obese. And of course this is due to diet and lifestyle- mainly lack of exercise. In Holland, everyone bikes everywhere. I'm not sure when this trend started, but it seems to be a well-rooted part of their culture at this point. When you arrive at any train station, you will find a sea of thousands of bikes locked up outside. There are bike lanes everywhere, and bikes always have the right of way. With such an active lifestyle being an everyday part of the culture, it's no wonder most people are healthy. Not to mention equal access to excellent healthcare, and a diet that doesn't typically include foods laden with preservatives, which we are so fond of in this country.
I know what most Americans think of when they think of the Netherlands. . . the legalization of marijuana and prostitution. That's an unfortunate fact, because in reality those things aren't noticeable at all. On this trip, we ended up not going to Amsterdam at all (except the train station), and so we avoided seeing a lot of the touristy side of Holland. I can't remember ever seeing a woman, or man, dressed "slutty" this past week. . .a  common daily sight anywhere else. In general, the Dutch seem very modest and practical. Supposedly, there are brothels and "coffee shops" in every town, but they just aren't noticeable unless you know where to find them, I assume.
Well, I hope I don't sound like a traitor to my country. It really is good to be home, but I think traveling is so important because it gives you a realistic picture of your own country- it's flaws and its greatness. It's really sad to me that only 38% of Americans hold a passport. How can you say that America is the greatest country in the world if you've never been anywhere else?  There is so much we could learn so much from other countries, small and insignificant though they might be.

but for now I've got some serious jet lag to get over....

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