The Netherlands. If I was to say that to you, I’m willing to bet one of two things will immediately pop into your head.
It will either be this:
Or if you’ve actually been to The Netherlands, it might be this:
But if you actually live in the Netherlands these things pale in comparison to some of the oddities you are bound to encounter… And learn to love.
The National Alarm
On the first Monday of every month in the Netherlands the government gifts you with this little melody:
Tuneful, no? And it definitely doesn’t force images of V2 rockets or strafing Messerschmidt machine guns unwittingly into your head. No, not at all.
But on a more serious note, despite the sound being enough to send any World War II veterans to the corner of the room, gripping their knees and rocking back and forth, there is something reassuring about such a scheme and such rigorous testing. Should anything potentially endangering to the Dutch population ever occur (and as you can see here, it regularly does) they have a system already set up to deal with it. The alarm goes off and everyone knows to shut their doors and windows and turn on their TV or radio for an explanation.
Look at this:
It looks like some kind of bizarre gardening tool, like a trowel mated with a hoe. The Dutch, along with other European countries, use these devices on a regular basis for slicing uniform strips of cheese (take that Dairylea).
Why don’t they just use a knife? you ask, and quite correctly. I tried using one of these things in the UK for slicing cheddar and I just ended up with a crumbled mess surrounded by a few shavings: it failed horribly. But the reverse is true in the Netherlands. You just can’t cut their cheese effectively with a knife, it’s far too… squidgy. Their cheese is typically young and creamy. If you try slicing it with a knife it will just bend and tear and you’ll end up with a similar situation to what happened with the cheddar. And so the Dutch use cheese slicers.
What a clever bunch.
It’s hard to avoid them in the Netherlands. They’re literally everywhere. Just about around rush hour they begin piling up next to bus stops, train stations, bridges… Pretty much anywhere you can lean a bike against without it falling over.
Crossing roads suddenly becomes infinitely more hazardous, and when the Dutch government helpfully decides to use alternately facing bricks to denote a cycle path (a la Dordrecht station) you could be quietly walking along minding your own business only to be abruptly harassed by a cacophony of bells ushering you out of the way. See that two lane road you want to cross that doesn’t have any cars on it? Surprise! It’s actually four lanes, two of which are deadly silent.
When you are one of them though (if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em), riding a bike in the Netherlands is a joyous experience. There are bicycle paths everywhere that are clearly labelled, all the cars expect bikes to be around them and will make allowances for you, and what’s more, the whole country is flat!
And not only is riding a bike good for your health, it’s also good for the environment and with so many people living in the Netherlands in such a small area, promoting easy and enjoyable bike travel is an incredibly wise idea.
Have you been to the Netherlands and do you recognise any of these things? Or have you seen/heard something else interesting we should know of? Let us know your interesting facts about the Netherlands in the comments!