I was recently shocked when a fairly new arrival to The Hague from Baltimore started complaining about recycling in Holland. She claimed that it was way easier – in Baltimore of all places – than in The Hague. Naturally, I started defending my adopted country. But we recycle everything here, I nearly shouted, plastic, paper, batteries, appliances, glass! She, very reluctantly, agreed with me but then added, “You have to do it all yourself!” This is when I shut up. Not because I didn’t have anything to say (I always have something to say), but because I was having an aha! moment. Dutch culture is all about doing it yourself and standing up for yourself. In fact, in my humble (albeit somewhat loud) opinion, it defines the culture.
Health care is a good example of this ‘do it yourself’-culture. Health care in The Netherlands is very affordable and is available to everyone. You don’t have to have a job or much income to get health care. When I returned to The Netherlands without my husband (and his income), I merely signed up with the provider of my choice and started paying. No long lists regarding previous existing conditions or any of that rigmarole. The only difficult thing was figuring out how many physical therapy sessions per year this worn out body needed.
Nevertheless, foreigners complain about the health care system here ad nauseum. I initially thought this was a language problem. After all, I didn’t have all these complaints others had and I speak Dutch. It must be a language barrier, I assumed. Here in The Hague, however, I nearly have to fight native Dutch to speak their language with me. The language can’t be the problem, then, but what is the problem?
After an extensive and totally unscientific study, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s a culture issue. Dutch women know that if they want their doctor to perform a study or send them to a specialist or whatever, they have to demand it. Demand makes it sound like you need to yell at your doctor or something, but that’s not really how it works. As the Dutch saying goes, je moet sterk in je schoenen staan. (You have to stand strong in your shoes.) Basically, you need to be self-confident.
For example, you always have a right to a second (medical) opinion. No one’s going to help you with it, though. You are responsible for starting the procedure with your insurance company, getting your general practitioner’s approval, finding a clinic to go to for the second opinion, and gathering your medical file. It’s a total pain in the ass because no one is going to help you. Sure, the insurance company will answer your questions, but it’s up to you to make sure all the boxes are ticked before you show up at the specialist for your second opinion.
The same applies to recycling (at least in The Hague). No one’s going to come pick up your glass bottles, batteries, or plastic and metal containers. Nope. You need to collect these items separately before taking them to the collection points throughout the city. (If anyone from The Hague government is reading, can you please add more places to collect plastic?) We live in an apartment with no storage opportunities, so it’s a pain to find places to store paper, glass, plastic bottles, and returnable plastic bottles. But, like the majority of residents, we just get on with it and do it ourselves because it’s important.
What about your country?