My friends often ask me what are some defining traits of the Netherlands? What do I find very singular to the Dutch?
While I could probably name a hundred things that are singular to the Dutch, there is one very, very vital thing you absolutely need to know if you want to live in the Netherlands, or have a fairly nice conversation with one of its inmates.
You Absolutely Have To Be Doing A Sport.
Like I’ve said before, I’m a big girl. Significantly overweight. I know. I own a mirror. And I’m okay with it, for various reasons. Not everybody else in the world is okay with it, however, and that leads to altercations everywhere I go.
I’m not saying fatphobia is a ‘Dutch’ thing – but it is rampant, it’s in your face, and Dutch people will hound you about it. I’ve known a lot of fatphobic people from a lot of different nations, and it’s not like being fat is a good thing, but my word, are the Dutch ever intense about it!
It would not be the first time, nor the second, nor the 10th, that I leave my house to pop over to the shops and have some type of self-important Dutch lady come up to me, press her face into my personal space and violently ask me ‘Are you doing a sport?! Because you need to be doing a sport. This [pointing to all of me] is not okay!’.
In the Netherlands, it’s pretty much considered a matter of fact that you ‘do a sport’. It should be mentioned that unless you’re a tall thick man, working out at the gym is not considered a sport. Not even a little.
The Dutch obsession with sport is instilled very young – everybody in the Netherlands can swim. Even me, and I’m scared shitless of drowning. Children go to their first swimming class as young as 2 and a half: it’s considered a necessity, considering the bevvy of moats, canals and rivers that flow through the country, and I won’t argue with that. Most children receive their A-Diploma between ages 3-5, a certificate to prove that they can, in fact, swim. This is the only swimming diploma that is legally required of adults to have, but most kids follow up by getting B-diploma and C-diploma, which finishes off their ‘basic swimming training.’ Anybody who really likes swimming after that is able to take lessons for Swimming Ability, Snorkeling and Survival, but the most popular post-C-diploma swimset is the Life-Saver’s Swimming Diplomas, and there’s a tonne of them.
Needless to say, the day I got my A-diploma I high-tailed it out of there and never looked back.
After the initial swimming has been completed, most kids are encouraged to get involved in a different type of sport – roughly from the age of eight or nine they will take part in after-school sporting clubs where they play games with peers. The most popular sports are football (or soccer, if that’s how you want to say it), hockey, volleyball, basketball and gymnastics, and you’ll find a school gymnasium almost solely equipped to offer these sporting options to kids. Children can and absolutely will continue doing these sports 2-5 times a week until they leave high school.
(Note: I am not one of these children.)
Why not? I’ll tell you why not. I’m an extremely talented individual, with the absolutely unique ability to trip, fall, bruise, flail, sprain, break, or otherwise injure myself without expending much energy whatsoever. I’m extremely clumsy. I once fell down without moving. I was just standing there, next thing I know, I’m on the ground. Before I was 16, I’d sprained or otherwise injured my ankles over 20 times. I’ve broken both my wrists before, too. Last time I played badminton I tried to serve the shuttle, missed it, and hit myself in the head with the racket. Try explaining to your teacher how you got perfect gridlines in your forehead.
It’s considered entirely normal to be exercising in a sport setting: what’s more, it’s entirely expected. When meeting somebody at, for instance, a party, there are natural questions to ask – name, age, and for the Dutch, what sport do you do? is simply a natural extension of that conversation. They expect you to be doing a sport, no matter age, gender or lifestyle.
(Note: surprise, muufuckah, my only sport is trying to live a life where I don’t fall down and accidentally kill myself.)
Everybody gets asked the question of sport, it’s not just me – but there is a difference between the fat and the thin, and here it is.
When my skinny friend who doesn’t work out says they don’t, their conversational partner goes ‘oh, that’s pretty unhealthy, but it’s okay you’re still skinny’ and they talk about something else. When I say I don’t work out, my conversational partner tells me just what the current obesity rates are, what kind of precedent I’m sending young children, how my lifestyle is changing how I produce insulin and the sugar in my blood is rising to an all-time high.
(It should at this point be noted that I’ve had my blood pressure, sugar levels and cholesterol checked, and I’m one of the healthiest people to ever walk into my GP’s office, regardless of excess weight.)
It’s not just a question of ‘looking out for your health,’ although most people will claim that. They really, really don’t like fat people. They don’t like anybody who falls outside of their conformist views, but the Dutch RE: Conformity is a can of worms for another day. The Dutch are horrified by even the smallest bit of fat.
When I was about 10, the GGD (read: government doctors who check up on primary-school children’s health throughout the years) called me in for a checkup. I was 1-2 kilograms overweight for my height. That’s about 3lbs. They were so distraught over this, they pressured my parents to send me away for a summer to fat camp.
I repeat: three pounds was enough to send a child to fat camp.
But now that I’m older, wiser and a lot more overweight, absolutely nothing has changed. People get upset just at the sight of me. Complete strangers walk up to me, asking me what’s wrong with me for me to be this fat? Why am I not exercising regularly? They would be mortified to leave their houses if they were as enormous as me!
Hunni, calm down. Ya girl ain’t dyin. She just a lil too fond of chocolate. Let her live.
Many people agree that I should join a sporting club – a team sport, like football. Or maybe something with less running, like tennis or volleyball. There’s a couple of problems with this.
1. Team sport = dealing with people. Ew. People.
2. I have kicked (and missed) footballs so hard I fell backwards, hit myself in the head with tennis rackets and fallen into volleyball nets. If the Lord Our God had meant for me to be the sportive kind, ya girl would be up there in the Olympics, reppin’ for Ireland. But she ain’t.
It boggles the mind why anybody, from Stranger Lady Mc.Have-You-Seen-Your-Own-Butt-How-About-You-Stop-Worrying-About-Me-And-Do-Some-Squats-Hunni to my best friend, thinks they need to be expressing their opinions about what I should be doing with my body.
Because if you’re not fucking me, feeding me or financing me, it ain’t none of your business.
But the Dutch don’t see it that way – my fatness is an affront to them, and therefore, I’m a threat to the entire country. I’ve had doctors here willing to pin anything on my weight – headache? It’s because I’m fat. PCOS? It’s because I’m fat. Nausea? It’s because I’m fat. Bad eyesight? It’s because I’m fat. No, I’m not joking, an actual optometrist looked me in the eye and told me my eyesight would get better if I just lost some weight.
That machine she uses to measure my eyes must have decided I have some magical typa eyesight, but ok.
I digress – the point is, the Dutch absolutely NEED sports, they need YOU to do sports, and they need YOUR MOM to do sports. (I wish I was joking, but no, my sixty-year-old mother is being told continuously that she needs to find herself a sport to do.)
Anybody who does not do sports is An Outsider and will be Pressed Into the Service of the God of Sports, one way or another.
Me? I’m just gonna sit here and have another stroopwafel.