THE BLOG

Why the Dutch Are Better Than Us...

10/02/2015 15:22 | Updated 11 April 2015

If you want to see how civic society is done properly, go to Amsterdam. Walking through the manicured Vondelpark, I witnessed a jogger bend down, pick up a discarded bottle and deposit it into a recycling bin mid-stride. These people are self-cleaning! Contrast this with a Brit in comical drag on a stag night accosting a stranger with "Can you take a selfie of me and my mates?"

Now it would seem a bit unfair to stereotype my countrymen on the basis of one drunkard in stockings with an appalling grasp of photographic concepts. So let's base it on the night life. The area in which we were drinking was the Amsterdam equivalent of Leicester Square. But, unlike Leicester Square, it wasn't like a scene out of Day of the Dead: No glaze-eyed marauders (other than the ones we brought with us), no vomiting, no scuffles, no litter, no heavy sense of palpable hostility. People ate delicious international street food in an orderly fashion without even the threat of an Angus steakhouse. Let's be balanced. Britain is coming on leaps and bounds. It's now perfectly acceptable, for example, to put mayonnaise on one's chips.

Now, this is not to say that the Dutch don't know how to get drunk. Any showing of the Dutch football team is always accompanied by reveling giant oompa loompas. We went into one bar where there was a private party, although no one seemed bothered by our presence. They swilled beer, sung boisterously to what sounded like the Dutch Oasis ('Don't Look Back in Alkmaar'?), formed a huge drunken rowing formation on the floor and somehow tore down an impressive light fitting, which was then methodically tidied away under a table. Despite all this there was not a single note of hostility. Not a cross word or a fight. The light was probably just acknowledged and added to their bill. No need to call the clog squad.

Getting out of the centre, we found ourselves at a cool, minimalist bar. As the eight of us rollicked in there was an audible sigh from the other patrons. Apparently getting Brits in your bar is a bit like cattle rustling desperados entering the Last Chance Saloon just after you've had the place re-glazed. I ordered a gin and tonic and typically beautiful, blonde barmaid brought it over. I stood up to take it off her - in my hazy state thinking this might be chivalrous. She handed me the gin and seemed to linger with a little bottle of something herself which she held towards me. Mistaking her helpfulness, I clinked my glass with her bottle, holding eye-contact and saying "Cheers." She looked pitifully at me. "This is your tonic...don't have much more to drink, okay?" This was witnessed by my whole group. As I slunk down in my seat she went back to talk to the male bar staff who were all 6'6 and sculpted from marble. We Brits have a booze-fueled self-confidence, but the very stuff that gives us our audacity also makes us splotchy and shapeless. When we asked for the bill, the waiter brought over a large handful of Worther's Originals - successfully appeasing the stoned morons in the corner.

Amsterdam is a city almost designed to be enjoyed on foot. It's not like trying to walk along the Thames in London. It isn't okay and picturesque for a bit and then you have to take a backstreet through a car park and down an alley to get back on to the path. The buildings are also immaculate. Although Amsterdammers didn't go through the Blitz, they nevertheless keep their buildings immaculate - as if they're given a rigorous sponge bath every Sunday night.

It probably helps that Amsterdam has a much smaller populace and has far less traffic than London. It has proper cycle lanes running parallel to the roads where cyclists can comfortably ride two abreast and chat, although they can be a bit of a hazard for the unthinking pedestrian and trying to cross any road at any time is a four lane marathon. London has introduced 'cycle super highways' - painted areas of blue road that are general full of buses and taxis or disappear onto the pavement. Official London cycle routes meander through back streets like a river with Attention Deficit Disorder before mysteriously depositing you in sinisterly deserted housing estates.

It seemed that the Dammers really do have it better than us. For a brief moment, we all resolved to become better people by relocating. But then our montage was interrupted as every café and restaurant seem to be afraid of properly runny eggs, they have no proper pubs with any decent music that seem to have one toilet for every thousand people, so with much straw-grasping we decided we were better off going back to where we came from. In the Kingdom of the full bladders, the single-cubicled venue is most definitely not king. Perhaps they're afraid that too many flushing toilet might return this little piece of paradise to the sea.