Double Dutching.

Relationships. Something that I have discovered, over the past five years of living in The Netherlands, is that the Dutch do things differently in this department.

It’s common knowledge that the Dutch are known for their tolerance, equality and “freedom of everything” attitude, compared to that of many other cultures. Whilst this may sound like something of a hedonistic utopia to many, it comes at it’s own price.

I’ve noticed that many couples are merely couples by name, for the moment and that commitment does not seem to be on the cards for the long haul. So often, families are fragmented by this casual approach to relationships and, as is most often the case, the offspring of the relationship, the children, reap the disastrous rewards. At least the Dutch appear to be generally good at remaining civil towards their ex partners/fellow parents to their children, often living in close proximity to one another in order to facilitate a more equitable sharing of parenting responsibilities.

The disturbing aspect, coming from a very happily heterosexually married angle, is that there seem to be a large number of “marriages” ending in order to become same sex partners, or “double Dutching” as I call it. I have no issue with those who choose to find a life partner with someone of their own sex and am not in any way a homophobe, beliving that our choices carry consequences, no matter which side of the divide one stands. Again, in these situations, I feel for the children who might grow up in some confusion and who may become the target of bullies, both on the playground and behind the screens of social media profiles – it’s a nasty world out there, especially for this growing generation. 

In order to make this somewhat lasaisfaire arrangement all the more convenient, marriage, if one is to even contemplate that “ancient institution”, does not require the woman to take the surname of her husband, making it far less of an administrative nightmare, should the relationship not go the distance.

I discovered this on our arrival, five years ago, when I tried to open a bank account. The kind clerk asked me for my name, to which I replied with my known name and surname. This was apparently the wrong answer as she said no, she wanted MY name. I then gave her my first and second names, along with my surname. Again this was the incorrect answer – she wanted my maiden name!  I was taken aback as I have not used my maiden name in 20-odd years! 

So, on a slight digression, I hasten to add that I rather like the idea of keeping my maiden name, since it is the name that I was born with but, as I am a great fan of the institution of marriage, I would happily add Darling’s surname to the end of mine. Perhaps this comes from the fairly patriarchal, chauvinistic society that is South Africa’s heritage? None-the-less, I am still getting to grips with the fiercely-feminist-independant society of our new home country.

All of the above sounds rather judgemental, which is not my intention, rather that these are my personal observations and I hasten to add that 90% of our wonderful native Dutch friends are very happily married couples with well adjusted children, living in stable home environments, thankfully!

What I do find most charming about the Dutch couples is their rather quaint, and somewhat old fashioned romantic ways of dating, or at least, the transport arrangements of dating!  Each time that I see a loving couple riding along, side by side on their bicycles, I find myself smiling. Not only the young are adept at riding side by side, holding hands, but the elderly are too. If not holding hands then lending a helping hand by assisting with the hand in the small of the back to maintain pedal pace – how sweet and how talented as I still need to maintain a safe following or leading distance from Darling as side by side makes the cycle path feel scarily narrow!  Add the need for both hands on my handlebars, I would certainly not be able to lovingly hold his hand whilst in motion!

The most daring for me is my other version of  “double Dutching”. This is when a talented cyclist gives a lift to an even more talented partner on the back of the bicycle! The best way to achieve this is to allow the peddler to get going and for the passenger to run alongside and at just the right moment, to hop, side-saddle style, onto the parcel carrier behind. My shattered nerves!

It is part and parcel of the Dutch DNA to ride a bicycle and culturally they all grow up knowing that option 1 is always 2 wheels. Children learn to “double Dutch” from tiny as they sit in front of their parents, bundled up with smiling faces and ruddy cheeks. From the front they progress to the seat directly behind the parent, often to make way for the youngest in the family to take the front seat. 

Next phase is taking to their own 2 wheels. This is where the helping hand first comes into play as patient parents add a little push to help those tired little legs. The best part about this wonderful bike based culture is that the cars on the roads are acutely aware of the bikes and ALWAYS give way to them. Generally, drivers are especially patient when it comes to children learning the rules of the bike path, often smiling indulgently as the little ones pedal past, traffic backing up without a single blast of a hooter!

Double Dutch is actually a children’s playground skipping game, one that I love to see on my way past a “basis” (primary) school on my way to my morning clients. I have fond memories of this skipping game as a young boarding school pupil enjoying the playtime with my friends  before the supper bell rang – a lifetime ago…!

So too is Double Dutch the name of, in my opinion, the BEST Dutch language school in our local city of Haarlem. (Sneaky plug: if you are wanting to learn Nederlands, then sign up with the lovely Marlene, owner of “Double Dutch Haarlem”)

Certainly a variety of takes on the “Double Dutch” title – bottom line, I’m thankful to be in this extraordinary life where I have the privilege of experiencing a Dutch adventure, first hand!

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