There are two things I heard and saw this week that reminded me that I was not in America anymore.

First, the legal age for purchasing beer and wine in The Netherlands is 16 years. There is some talk of stopping happy hours in bars because so many teenagers are taking advantage of the early bird specials, like four beers for five euros. The government is concerned about the high number of young people who are drinking early and often. The bar owners say that it would be devastating to their business and it would not be fair. Others say it is good to have the teenagers inside a bar and off the streets in a safe environment.

You have to be 18 years old to vote and you have to be 18 years old to drive a car, but you can drink at 16? I was truly shocked to hear about this law and maybe I have to go with the flow. But I cannot imagine seeing one of our children walking into a bar and ordering a Heineken at the age of 16.

In America, the legal age is 21 years of age so you can understand how shocked I was at the idea of 16 year olds drinking. I did a quick survey of the drinking age in other countries, and it seems that the average age is 18. A few countries have it as low as 16: Belgium, Germany and Italy.

Okay, here is my second you are not in Kansas anymore moment: there is a store that we go to a lot because they have fabulous sales on shampoos, toothpaste, household gadgets, etc. As I was standing at the counter I looked at this tabletop display of mints. I thought it was interesting that they were selling them in individual packages and I imagined that you got 5 mints per packet. Or maybe they were packets of licorice, something very Dutch. But as I had time to study the display, I realized that I was not looking at anything edible. I was looking at hundreds of condoms. A variety of colors and sizes were on display and as my nose got closer to the packets, I thought that maybe I was a little too close and showing a little too much interest. In my defense, the text was all in Dutch and my language studies have not reached the condom category yet.

Condoms are openly sold in America. They are sold on regular shelves and they do not have to be behind the counter anymore. No one has to ask for a packet of condoms, they can help themselves. But I have never seen them on display like they were in this store. Right above the candy bars and next to the cash register. Is that a bad thing? No way. For the rushed shopper who is trying to remember everything, this would be a perfect reminder. And as the Dutch say, this is a fact of life, there is nothing to hide or be embarrassed about. The Dutch have a very liberal view of sex and because of that view, things that would be a big deal in the USA are not here. If you have been reading this blog, you know about the Utrecht houseboats. You may have heard about the window shopping you can do in Amsterdam in the red light district. Children are taught sex education in school without too much fuss…it is just the way things are here. All I can say is that Dorothy’s eyes would be opened wide by the Dutch life. She would not only have Toto in her basket, but a few bottles of beer too. And then she would remember to stop by the store for some toothpaste and oh yeah, some mints might be nice. Wink, wink.

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  • Jane Moore Houghton  On October 16, 2012 at 11:28 pm

    This story reminds me of what I saw when I was visiting Amsterdam: a beautiful delft porcelain object in a shop window. I thought about buying it for my mother-n-law until I realized it was a dil-doh.

  • Frits  On October 21, 2012 at 11:22 pm

    Tbf Jane Moore, what you saw is something that is specifically aimed at the tourist market. It is not typically dutch in the sense that dutch people would buy it, it IS typically dutch in the way that someone saw a business opportunity to make money of our image in the rest of the world and jumped on that opportunity.

  • janemh  On October 21, 2012 at 11:45 pm

    It never crosed my mind that it was anything else but a joke gift. The Dutch are much too practical to actually make such a thing for anything but a gag gift.

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