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Fifty Years of My Life (1939 - 1990)
A Memoir by Jeff R. Noordermeer

The Dutch melting pot

Although I went to bed very late I was up very early in the morning. All my life I was never a late sleeper. Dutch people like to sleep until late in the morning. When I got up so early in the morning, my mother asked me why I had to get up so early. She said she would never get up that early in the morning because most of the time the weather was very cold and there was nothing to do around town. I don't know about the other Dutch people, but I know I didn't have to call my sisters before eleven in the morning as all of them were still asleep. So I got up in the morning and told my mother that I would go out for a long walk and would be back for breakfast.

As I walked through town I couldn't get over the changes. There were so many new neighborhoods and streets that the first few days I even got lost and couldn't find my mother's house again. but after a few days I got used to everything. I visited many of my old friends and most of them had grown children and some of them were married already. Every one of my friends had their own home. One home looked better than the other one. I noticed their furniture in their homes were very modern and expensive. Everything was so neat and clean. The Dutch people have no large homes, but they are used to it as they live in a small country. I noticed they dress very well and the younger generation likes to keep up with the latest style in clothes.

Amsterdam Centraal Station

Today Holland is a land of ethnic minorities. When I left Holland in 1957 there were about 9.5 million people living in Holland. The only foreigners I remember were the ones who worked in the coal mines. Today, this kingdom (15,892 sq. miles — half the size of Maine) is the home to 14.5 million residents making it one of the most densely populated nations in the world. At least 540,000 are foreigners. That number doesn't include the people of Indonesian ancestry who have Netherlands nationality and speak Dutch "with a sweet, singing tone" as some say. We consider them fully Dutch, one man told me.

Perhaps 10% of the Dutch population now comes from exotic stock. This melting pot now bubbles with a national unemployment rate that hovers around 13% though among some minorities the rate is far higher. Generous health insurance and other benefits cushion the hardship. I was told that in the city of Amsterdam a quarter of the population is on welfare or social security.

I saw Surinamers, some of African stock, people from Turkey and Morocco who lived in our neighborhood. The Dutch government stoutly opposes ghettos and therefore most foreigners live among the old Dutch family working class neighborhoods where you can smell strange foods cooking and hear the sounds of alien music. Traditionally tolerant, the Dutch levy fines against anyone caught making racist jokes in public. For all the Dutch diversity, many people still follow traditional pursuits. They make cheese, balance accounts, tend tulips, paint canvases, fish for herring, and wear wooden shoes in muddy gardens. Their standard of living remains among the highest in the world.

I met some of my old friends who hadn't worked for more that ten years and were still getting their weekly unemployment checks from the government. Their unemployment checks are so unbelievably high that you don't even need a job. Even if you owned a home, you wouldn't have to sell it because you had no job. If you do sell your home and you were getting unemployment benefits for several years from the government, the government will take a certain amount of money back from the profits of the sale. Senior citizens like my mother were well taken care of. They have certain apartment buildings for the older people to live, and when they get sick and need nursing care or they are too old to take care of themselves, then they are moved to a special nursing home which is right across the street. As long as the senior citizens are able to take care of themselves they let them live on their own where they can have their friends around. In my mother's apartment building there were many people who were in their nineties and were still able to take care of themselves. There is not such a law that says if you are not able to pay rent then a marshal will come to your house and put all of your belongings in the street. If you can't pay; the government will pay. Because there are so many social benefits the taxes in Holland are very high. You pay taxes on the most idiotic things you can think of, but the Dutch people don't mind at all paying those high taxes to the government as they live a comfortable life and are well taken care of. The Dutch people are also very careful with their money, and do not spend too much. I couldn't understand with the little money most people were getting that they could live such a neat and clean life. There wasn't a spot of dust in their homes.

CONTINUED: Remembering how things were
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© Copyright  - Antonio Zamora

- Foreword
- Old Rotterdam
- World War II
- After the War
- Coming to America
- Washington, D.C.
- Southeast Asia
- Philosophy of Life

- Book Index