After spending a little over a week in the city, so many unanswered questions circled in my mind: Why didn’t every city in the world adopt bicycles in such a way? How was I ever going to avoid getting run over by a fervent Dutch cyclist? And, would I forevermore need a stepladder to reach all cupboards in a Dutch apartment? A decade or so later, I’m happy to report that most of my questions have been answered, but the Dutch and their unique cultural quirks continue to fascinate me on a daily basis.
You may have noticed more than a few wheeled contraptions whizzing by you in this city. In fact, it sometimes seems impossible to separate where the Dutch begin and their bicycles end. Rain or shine (or rain or rain), the Dutch can be found criss-crossing this bridged city on their trusty (and rusty) two-wheeled friends. Of course everyday cycling in itself is not such a special feat, but the Dutch certainly bring their own distinct flare to the sport.
Firstly, don’t expect to see any fancy, sophisticated, titanium-suspension-rigged bicycles in Amsterdam. Nope, the Dutch prefer their gearless, rusted, chain-just-barely-hanging-on variety. Why, you ask? Well, practicality and frugality run through every Dutchie’s blood. Why spend more for fancy features when your thighs and lungs can make up for the rest? Heck, the Dutch even prefer to power their necessary bicycle lights with their own leg-pumping-power; again, a reliable solution at no extra cost!
Most importantly, don’t be surprised by the Dutch’s uncanny ability to ride a gearless bicycle while talking on a mobile phone, carrying two children, six bags of groceries, a television set, and a mattress! Having grown up on wheels, the Dutch conduct daily superhuman acts with laid-back casualty. With over 880,000 bicycles in a city of less than 790,000 people, you are sure to see some interesting spectacles on wheels!
Why are the Dutch so tall?
Isn’t it ironic, that the nickname for the Netherlands is the lowlands. Quite frankly, a more descriptive term would be the highlands or at least the high-people-lands. If you haven’t noticed, Dutch people are tall. Really tall. Tall enough to make even a “normally” tall person feel quite short.
The odd thing here is that the Dutch haven’t always been tall. Ever been inside one of Amsterdam’s 16th century canal houses? Those tiny doors and quaint low ceilings were indeed for built for much smaller people. However, in only a century’s time, Dutch people went from being amongst the shortest nations to being the tallest peeps on the planet!
A recent study linked the number of cows per capita to the height of a country’s people. We all know the Dutch have no shortage of cattle, so perhaps the copious consumption of dairy (think cheese, cheese, cheese) can be blamed. Whatever the cause, there always seems to be a bicycle (and a pair of pants) built for even the tallest of chaps!
So, what do ubiquitous bicycles and Dutch giants have in common? Well, they are simply two charmingly unique elements that make up the endearing nature of Amsterdam, a city that will capture your heart and imagination at every turn. It certainly has mine.