Week Seven: The One with a Multitude of Bikes

     I continued to work on the Oligarchy Project at work this week. At this point, Elliot is working on writing a draft of the discussion paper and I am assisting him by writing my own section of the paper, which relates the findings of my constitutional analysis. The portions that I am writing also incorporate my research into the effectiveness of the institutions that have been described in the various constitutions I have read. For example, I have looked into the practical effectiveness of various economic and social councils, which theoretically aim to increase public participation in policy making. I have also spent some time reading a book called Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer- And Turned Its Back on the Middle Class. Elliot gave it to me to both enhance my understanding of the issues we are studying as well as to get some more insight into how "oligarchic democracy" appears to be panning out in the U.S. 

     Since my work week was relatively routine, I wanted to spend some time this week talking a little bit about Dutch culture. Specifically, I want to talk to you about bikes. Because there are so many bikes. Everywhere. I read somewhere that there are more bikes than people in the Netherlands and I believe it. Although that statistic doesn't necessarily make sense at first, I figure that it has something to do with making sure that people have bikes available in case of visitors. Or maybe, people just keep old bikes around after they get new ones. The Dutch care a lot about recycling too, so they may just not want to throw old bikes away before they figure out what else they can do with them.

     My favorite thing about the "bike culture" (as I call it) here is that no bike is the same. Much like a Buffalo snowflake, bikes are both abundant and unique. I've seen bikes with wagons attached, used for carrying suitcases or other people; bikes with seats and harnesses attached (front and back) so that parents can lug their children back and forth across town; tandem bikes that have up to three seats, which are my favorite because the seats and handlebars can be raised or lowered significantly, meaning that a parent can ride with their children without having to get a new bike every time the child grows; bikes with baskets for carrying groceries or briefcases, so that important businessmen can ride effortlessly to work in their crisp and wrinkle-less suits; bikes with small tires and low frames that can be folded in half; bikes covered in rust and resting on trees, as if their human forgot to take them home before a rainstorm; bikes with tarps that cover their entire frames, which protect them from that ever-likely rain; and bikes with frames so low to the ground that the person riding one has to do so while lying down and looking like an ice-less tobogganer zipping through town.

     I love my walks to and from work every day because there is always a new bike to see. Although there are cars (and a lot of mopeds) here too, I think the bicycle is the closest thing to the American car insofar as it is used in this country. For example, whereas in the U.S. there are parking lots for cars at airports, in the Netherlands there are covered bike parking lots at both train stations and airports, so that people can travel without worrying about what the weather might due to their bikes while they are gone. Also, I can tell something about a person just by looking at their bike. Just like with minivans in the U.S., if someone has seats attached to their bike, it suggests that they have kids. And if someone has nothing attached at all, it suggests they are younger, with fewer responsibilities than those with more attached to their frames.

     It's really fascinating to watch everyone pass me by on their bikes and it's something that I'll miss when I head home. Don't get me wrong, I miss driving quite a bit, but there's something a little bit magical about the bicycle dance here. No one wears a helmet ( I've seen two year olds without them) and everyone rides in the street, and yet I haven't witnessed an accident. Perhaps if I learn some more Dutch, someone will share the secret with me.

P.S. Happy Fourth of July, America! Enjoy the day and eat some potato salad for me. It is strange to be working today for the first time in my life, but I think a summertime of European adventures makes up for one missed three-day weekend.