The travel books are piling up. Early on, while Betsy was still interviewing, I bought a picture-filled, tourist facing book of The Netherlands. I was afraid to read it in depth before we knew if our dream was a merely a puff of smoke or a beautiful flower blooming at our feet. So, I carried the book around, a rather cumbersome four leaf clover, taking it out to touch the cover, glance at the super saturated photos of tulips and windmills and peek between the covers at a life that might be ours, but not yet.
Then, as the interviews continued, the call finally came offering Betsy the opportunity to do what she loves – teach literature – in Holland! So the book took the top spot on my night stand, the cover covered in images of our future.
Not too long after Betsy said yes to our new address, and I said yes to the dress, we walked down a sandy aisle and promised before God, Buddha, family and friends to love and hold one another – in sunshine or rain. And for what we are learning, there’s gonna be a lot of rain! But I am getting ahead of myself.
A colleague and friend gave us as a wedding gift the first book to begin truly opening my eyes to the world that we will soon call home. Why the Dutch Are Different by Ben Coates is a pleasant, entertaining read that’s also jam packed with facts about the history and current culture of Holland. On more than one occasion Betsy and I have been heard reciting newly learned fact after another (such as: “Hey, do you know what the windmills are for? Like, what was their original purpose? No? We do! See, much of The Netherlands is below sea level and the windmills – get this – pumped the water away and made it possible for the Dutch to CREATE Holland!). Many a party guest were both thrilled, and soon tired of, our little game of Did You Know? But, fear not, we’ve also heard our fair share of “just what the Netherlands needs, a couple more dykes!”
Then more books arrived as more or less assigned reading for folks preparing to expatriate to The Netherlands. Books such as Holland Handbook and At Home in Holland, are full of history and helpful hints on current cultural norms (such as – it’s highly recommended to be prepared to offer a guest coffee the moment they step across your threshold). The books also take a generous a look at Dutch society at large.
And the more we read, the more excited we get. And a little sad to realize America is just not what we have long thought she was.
See, it seems that everything we have long fooled ourselves into thinking that America is, the Dutch are doing a WAY better job of actually realizing. I know we are in the beginning stages of our new nation crush and we both fully realize that the social and political landscape is far more complex than can be captured in a handful of tourist and expat books. We are painfully aware of our own broken hearts over the current state of cray-cray in our homeland. And yes, we know that NO place is perfect, not this side of paradise, but damn, y’all. The Dutch do seem to be a whole lot closer to getting it right.
To be fair, the Dutch have gotten some things VERY wrong – from brutal colonialism to their despicable role in the transatlantic slave trade. And the recent, disturbing rise of Geert Wilders is something to watch closely. But overall what they have become seems to be what America has long pretended to be. A nation for the people.
From all that we are reading (yeeeesss, we know this is just what the books are telling/selling us), the wind that powers the windmills, is permeated with living, breathing sense self determination, a genuine concern for the well being of their neighbors and a clear commitment to consensus all with an underpinning of equality that may indeed be too good to be true. The result appears to be a pattern of life, politically and privately, that privileges the good of the community over the prosperity of the person. And guess what? They actually eschew legislating mortality. What the what? You mean if you don’t create a perplexing and contradictory codex of morality laws, civilization will not crumble?
So, Betsy and I are rapidly preparing to trade in our cars for bicycles, leave the sunshine state for a country soaked by over 200 days a year of rain in search of another, possibly better way of life, where teachers are highly valued professionals, the common good outweighs personal profit and gay marriage is just plain old marriage.
Coming up next: 10 things I will miss about America.