From America to Holland (or the other way round!)

John & Susan Simpson
Wed 17 Aug 2022 17:51
Back in the USA, John and I were walking away from a restaurant where we’d just had dinner one evening when the manager of the restaurant followed us out and hailed us. He wanted to know why we’d only tipped 6%. Was the food terrible? Had the waitress been rude? Neither the meal nor the service had been noteworthy but we’d just rounded the amount to the nearest $100 (!) and hadn’t thought any more about it. Virtually every transaction in the US gave us a choice of amount to add as a tip, always 18%, 20% or 25%. We asked a few local people what they would normally do and all confirmed that they would expect to add 20% every time they bought food or a drink.

Fast forward now to Holland and dinner in a restaurant where the food was freshly cooked by the lady who also served us. The way in which she greeted all of her customers and the delicious food made for a great experience overall, such that John added a tip, to the evident astonishment of the lady! The contrast in approach between the US and Holland got me thinking about other differences between the two cultures.

There’s the obvious difference that we’re cycling. Here in Holland we’ve been blown away by the way the country is set up for cycling, walking and public transport. We’re able to cycle everywhere we want to go on well marked paths and all of the junctions with other traffic either give priority to cyclists or have traffic lights. Many of the bus stops also have cycle storage so it’s easy to combine cycling with public transport. One of the cycle paths we followed appeared to end at a train station built on a raised platform with no apparent route down again for bicycles, until we realised there was a bike-sized lift to take us down to ground level again.

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In the cities and towns it’s not unusual for streets to have separate dedicated pathways for pedestrians, cyclists, trams and cars, all running alongside each other. That does make for a bit of a nightmare crossing the street, particularly as the Dutch drive on the right and we have to look both ways to be sure! By the time we’ve crossed five lanes of different vehicle tracks and survived we do feel we should give each other a high five!

Granted Holland is a lot smaller than the US so cycling as we’re doing here isn’t an option but we did feel that there’s little expectation that people will walk or cycle even short distances in the US. One day we walked from our US hotel the half mile to a food store. There was a (completely empty) footpath/cycleway alongside the road so it wasn’t difficult. On our return to the hotel we were greeted with shock that we hadn’t taken a taxi!

I could go on about the difference in quality of food, portion sizes, the fact that children play unsupervised in public places but you get my gist. Holland feels healthier, safer and a better place to be than the USA, albeit that we have yet to see any live music!

We arrived in Holland in Amsterdam where we collected our bikes to cycle around the country. Whilst we were in Leiden, our first stop after Amsterdam, we discovered a link, previously unknown to us, to the pilgrims who sailed to America and who are seen as the founding fathers of the United States.

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Although the pilgrims sailed eventually from Plymouth in the UK, they had lived for 12 years in Leiden after having been exiled from England in 1607-8. The pilgrims had found in Leiden the freedom to worship as they wished, outside the confines of the Church of England, but eventually the pilgrim fathers felt the group was becoming too assimilated into Dutch life (which then, as now, was a permissive society) and needed to find somewhere new where they could find “a better, and easier place of living” and avoid being “drawn away by evil examples into extravagance and dangerous courses”.

The first party to head for America left on a ship called the Speedwell from Delfshaven, Rotterdam. The pilgrims knelt down in prayer on the quay by the church before they left. We visited Delfshaven on a beautiful evening to see the church and quayside today.

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The Speedwell sailed to England and joined the Mayflower in Southampton. The intention was to take both ships to America. However, the Speedwell suffered a number of leaks and could not be made seaworthy enough to risk the journey. The ships had turned back to England to try to repair the Speedwell, hence the reason why the Mayflower alone left from Plymouth.

I wonder what would have happened to the pilgrims had they stayed in Leiden instead of making the journey to America, and what America would be like now if they hadn’t decided to go there?