It was short. And unfortunately I have not been able to meet up with all the people I would have liked to meet up with. It is not because I don’t want to see you/them. It is really because there was not enough time.
Even so, we had a great time. It was fun to see my family and our friends again. Share experiences, discuss developments in the world, Europe, the Netherlands and Amsterdam, and spend time together.
And it was a pleasure to enjoy all the facilities there. Well organized public services, an extensive network of public transport, a large variety of walking and cycling paths and trails, pavements and cycling lanes in the cities, lots of museums, well maintained parks (Amstel Park is our favorite as there are no cyclists), in general friendly police officers who take their time to report an incident and so on. Facilities that can be found in most parts of the world. But not always in the same amount, and as well organized and maintained.
Every time I am back in the Netherlands, it amazes me how well the provision of basic services and public facilities are organized, and how well off we are living in a country with access to all these services that we decide on and together afford to pay for.
And if a service does not fully meet our needs or wishes, there seems always a possibility to report this and request for more or something different. If there are too many bikes in your street you can contact the municipality to take away the old broken ones. If then there is still a lack of space, you can ask for additional racks to park your bikes.
If there are rubbish bags on the street on a day they will not be picked up or besides a full container, you can make a call during office hours and the municipality will make sure the bags get picked up as soon as possible (before the end of the day). Experience a delay while travelling by train? They cannot give you back your time, instead you can easily claim some of the money back. And after a national holiday, such as King’s day, the streets look spotless, just as if everyone has dumped their rubbish in the many extra bins and as if all the men actually bothered to use the temporarily outdoor urinals provided by the city council.
And with all these facilities and services at hand, I find it difficult to ignore and not judge the small breaches of the rules in the city of Amsterdam. Such as leaving your old bike for years in one of the parking racks, just because you don’t use it anymore, dropping your rubbish next to the bins because they are full (instead of going to the next one or taking it back home), or dumping large items of waste on the wrong day of the week.
And I don’t understand the need to cycle on the pavement, requesting pedestrians to go out of their way or clearly, audibly sighing, hoping you will let them pass. Crossing through a red light while hindering others who are trying to cross or turning or changing lanes without looking behind.
And I find it tiring constantly being on my guard not to bump into the many people walking, cycling or driving watching their screen, reading or typing a message, and not being aware of what is happening around them.
Not to give in too easily in the feeling of being annoyed, I have tried the last couple of weeks to approach it in a mindful way (notice the feeling of being annoyed, and let is pass instead of dwelling on it), tried not to let it annoy it (avoidance), tried to see it from a funny happy side, and even tried to experience cycling through Amsterdam as a game in which you can gain points when you succeed not to scold another cyclist who cuts you off. Unfortunately, without much success.
I appreciate the fact that there are discussions ongoing on whether the Netherlands needs more or fewer rules. When discussing this with friends, one suggested that in a country where individualism reigns there is a need for more rules, to inform citizens about correct way of doing things. Interesting reasoning.
Considering the available service level, the possibilities to request an even better or more appropriate service level, just one phone call or a few internet clicks away, and the number of times simple existing rules aren’t complied with now, I wonder whether more rules will really make a difference. Neither do I think that fewer rules will have a significant impact.
Considering all the above, I’m afraid I’m becoming an old nag.
To my relief, I also hear others, friends and family, complaining about the litter that roams the streets, their annoyance of the constant violating of rules just because it suits the offender that little better and the current dominant individualistic culture where I and my own comfort seems to be central point of attention. And I see how it affects their moods. But in most cases, to a lesser extent than mine.
Instead of complaining, I try to understand the cause of my discontent. Talking with others, I try to assess whether the problem has increased, and if so, whether this is because habits and morals have changed, or whether it is because the city has become busier. Or is it because we take the availability of the services for granted and feel no responsibility anymore to contribute and therefore free to blame any inconvenience on the incompetence of the suppliers when not well provided (on a regular basis I hear people justifying their actions, for example, by complaining that the council has not organised the pick-up of rubbish well or badly organised major traffic crossings).
Or is it because I have changed, and become less tolerant and willing to live in a mess and in place where it can even be risky to say something when someone e.g. drops their bags besides the bin.
I still am not sure what the answer is. What I do realise, however, is that I don’t really enjoy it anymore, to live in places where too many people live together, that don’t really care about the rules and trying to make sure that it a pleasant place for all – and not only just for themselves. Places, where, through a high population density and the constant breach of rules by a few and the incidental breach of rules by most of us (because I don’t think any of us is blame free), can’t be ignored and can become a nuisance to some of us, and to me in particular.
I don’t think anybody wants to live in a place like that, and yet we all contribute to the situation. Instead of complaining, maybe we can do the one thing that can really make a difference: change our own behaviour. Or at least that is what I will try.