The Dutch people seem to be moderate, civilized, and friendly. They strike up conversations with me in the market, at the gym, and on the metro, and when I tell them I can't speak Dutch, they immediately and warmly switch to English and try again. I have experienced almost no instances of public rudeness or anger. The couple of times I've even observed inconsiderate behavior, the culprits have been drunken foreigners. (there are a lot of those, here.)
I was quite surprised at the gym the other day, though, by an older gentleman named Levi, working out beside me, who wanted to chat. He appeared to be in his 60s, in good shape, and, when he learned I was American, told me all about his vacation last year to the West Coast of the U.S. He was very sweet and enthusiastic, raving about the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas, but then also rhapsodizing about how much he loves Holland, and how he never wants to live anywhere else.
Our conversation started veering off track, however, when he began to lament that the Jewish people are becoming displaced once again in Holland, and that the Arabs are taking over everything. There was a real concern and sorrow in his voice as he described classrooms full of headscarf-wearing schoolgirls, and mosques proliferating all over the country. My attempts to interject with "really? I hadn't noticed that..." or "are you certain?" or even "it's a common problem around the world, different cultures trying to come together...." were quickly steamrolled over. According to Levi, his beloved Holland is doomed, and it won't be long till everyone is forced to speak Arabic.
My workout was over and I excused myself, as he exhorted me to visit his hometown of Utrecht, which he claims is just as beautiful as Amsterdam. After I left the gym I kept thinking about our conversation, and his fears. I'm sure that there are plenty of people, in all countries, with feelings like his. This type of xenophobia surprises me, though, and I am at a loss for words. It reminds me of the feeling I had a couple of months ago, when I was asked by a Russian friend if the black people in the United States are dangerous. How to respond appropriately... how to even get my head around the question??
While we're talking about "People", we had the happy news of a new baby born on the tour the other day. Russian Georgi was born to Pavel (of the perch act - he's the guy who balances the perch pole on his forehead) and his wife Nastiya! It is their first baby, and it's very exciting. They are living on the floor below us, and I'd like so much to be able to help with the newborn; but this Nastiya doesn't speak a word of English, and I'm afraid that my efforts to help/communicate might just be exhausting and frustrating for her. I will give it a little time.
And one more photo for today. In the kids' schoolrooms, they normally use road cases as their desks. But they recently acquired wooden desktops to lay over top of the road cases, and spent a few days carefully painting and lacquering them. Here are the three youngest kids - Ayla, Baz, and Yahor - displaying their desktops.