The Netherlands is a crowded and busy country. The love for planning allows people to make the most of their time, resulting in a labour productivity that ranks among the highest in the world. But how much time do the Dutch allow themselves for relaxation? And how do they spend their spare time?
The Dutch make little distinction between working and leisure time in the way they like tight schedules. Social meetings require planning and pulling agendas, forking a date, or What have you got planned for? are usual expressions that precede the establishment of an agreeable date and time for a meeting. A busy agenda counts as a recognised status symbol, and those who choose to do nothing are quickly thought of as lazy or insignificant.
..relaxes on Saturday mornings and Sunday afternoons
Gerard (30) thinks that Dutch people have a tendency to be slightly stressed on a continuous basis, but they do not often have instant nervous breakdowns like people from Latin-type countries. `Dutch people put a lot of pressure on themselves in the way they manage their time. They are always busy preventing themselves from falling short or missing deadlines. The art of relaxation is obviously not a Dutch invention`, he explains, adding that practicing sports, for him, is the best way to relax.
Thelma (27, photo) thinks Saturday morning and Sunday afternoon are the perfect moments for relaxation. She also enjoys the period between Christmas and New Year, during which she has taken holiday leave. `Watching DVDs or BBC documentaries are good ways for me to relax`, Thelma says, `I like to go see friends and have lunch with them for example`. Thelma`s friend Eva (26) has been at ease since she and her friends watched the sing-along version of the Sound of Music on Second Christmas Day. She and Thelma share their love for Sunday mornings: `That`s when the city is empty and that`s when you can really see what it`s actually like.`
Lucas (28) jokes at how Dutch always want to do things individually or in small groups, but how they always end up doing the same, at the same time. `Going to the beach on that one sunny Sunday, to IKEA on Second Christmas Day or to the limited number of nature reserves during the weekends and to France for holidays. In our attempts to be original and escape the crowd, we always seem to end up in the same crowd we tried to avoid.`
The holy have to
Nicolette (21) likes to relax by reading books, eating chocolate or going shopping. Seeing her girlfriends also helps her slow down, which is another Dutch peculiarity: every now and then, people feel the need to socialise with the boys for men, and with the girls for women. Nicolette does not understand why Dutch people keep putting pressure on themselves, even when nobody is forcing them. A lot of things just seem to have to. To have to in The Netherlands is not only a verb, but even a noun. The have to, which most closely translates as the obligation to do something is the very incentive for the Dutch to keep themselves running. Nicolette says: `It isn`t like that all the time, and the phenomenon is less strong outside the Randstad, the agglomeration of cities in the provinces of Utrecht, North- and South-Holland.`
Emma (27) thinks the Dutch are afraid of the void. `If people ask you what your plans are and you have none, it sounds kind of silly. If you haven`t got anything social planned in the evening, they will be quick to suppose that you are not a very interesting person. Having a full agenda means that you`re a popular person who is thought to make something out of his/her life. Relaxation in The Netherlands often means little more than fighting boredom.`.
It is not so much what the Dutch do to relax that makes them different from their fellow Europeans. They make music, listen to music, practice sports, watch sports, go out eating, engage in arty and creative or even spiritual stuff, escape to nature or to the broad world outside the Netherlands. They are different in their inflexible approach to leisure activities. Dutch people organising spare time can even get stressed about how they should relax and whether they will have sufficient energy to execute the obligation of relaxation. Dutch time management usually allows for little spontaneity, but, on the other hand, for a lot achieved in little time.
Noortje (24) has found a practical solution that works well for her: `When I get home after work, I spend one hour doing nothing. Just nothing at all. I first relax and only afterwards think about what to do next.` - a perfect(ly) Dutch compromise.
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