The "World" Comes to Visit Our Western Montana Lodge

Just when I get to feeling things are bordering on the 'everyday', a visitor (or two or half a dozen) comes to visit and reminds me not only how lucky I am to live here, but how 'big' the world is. This week has brought visitors from Italy and the Neatherlands. These two special families have given as much to us as they say they have received from us.

The first family - a mother, father, and son - found us by 'accident' this past weekend. A one night adventure turned into two days of exploration as the checked out our area and visited with our family. By the time they left, Susanne was inviting us to come to Italy for a visit (and not just 'us' but the girls working for us, and our extended family who were visiting at the same time). In addition, their obvious pleasure at being part of our family for a couple days warmed our hearts and endeared them even more to us.

The second family - a mother, father, and two sons - have taken the Internet to the maximum, planning and booking their entire US vacation online. When asked how they found us? They typed in "unique lodging" and "unique vacation". That was a good heads-up for me as I revamp our web page - I definitely want to leave that keyword.

Although our time to visit with our new friends from Italy was a bit limited, we were able to spend several hours learning more about our Dutch friends and their homeland. In addition, because the 'mother' in this case is a lovely lady who grew up in the US, we have been able to get an even broader picture of how the Neatherlands and US are similar - and how they are different. So, to add to my knowledge that some of the world's most beautiful flowers come from this little country, what have we learned?

Their countryside: The Neatherlands, as most people know, is land reclaimed from the sea by a series of dikes and an intricate "Delta Works" (pumping system) which keeps the sea from flooding the land. What I didn't know was this land used to be a marsh - a river delta area. In addition, I learned the process of reclaiming the land started a LONG time ago.

Their heritage: Apparently the early ancestors of the Dutch were people who came down the Rhine River long before the Angles and Saxons were fighting over Britainia. In fact, there are huge stones (how did their early ancestors move these monoliths?) which the Dutch have identified as grave markers from the Stone Age.

Their homes: To build in the Neatherlands - because the land is a combination of clay and sand - one must first drive pilings deep into the ground. In fact, in some places these pilings are as long as 30 meters. In modern times the pilings are made from concrete. However, years ago wood was used. As a result, some of the old buildings in Amsterdam lean drunkenly. According to Pat (the US raised part of the family), the leaning buildings only add to the charm of the old city.

As one might expect, however, there are times when an old piling must be replaced. Now, consider this. Once the pilings are seated on a firm foundation, a building is built on top of them. So, when the piling rots, it is no simple job to replace it. In fact, according to Marcel (the father), to replace an old piling they actually go into the 'basement' of the existing building with a portable drill (I'd say small but it must be fairly large to do the job) and commence drilling. Once the old piling is drilled out, they pour concrete into the hole to create a new piling.

And, these basements led to another revelation. The word 'subterrainian' comes from the Dutch, via a combination of the French words 'sub' (under) and 'terrain' (ground). It seems the Dutch are hard up for living space (at least in the cities). Therefore many apartments are in basements (these subterrainian rooms) which boast windows high on the wall which look out onto - well - a nice large patch of "pavement".

Houses, Dutch style, are small - very small - by most US standards. While I live in an area where the square footage of many second homes is 2000 - 3000 square feet, the apartment which my new friends live in - in the city - is less than 700 square feet (and this is for a family of four). If my memory serves, they said to buy this apartment would border on 1 million dollars. Yes, you read that right! In addition, they are blessed with a country home. Two and one half hours by train from the city they have a small home (less than 1000 square feet) with a small patch of lawn. This 'country estate' cost them over $500,000. And, when I looked surprised at the price for such a small place, they told me they are considered lucky. To have a home in the country with a small 'garden' is considered a real luxury in the Neatherlands.

Their schools: A delightful conversation with Tim and Bob (the two sons) revealed quite a bit about their school system. Dutch children start school at the age of two. From two to four they attend a 'play school' which sounded much like pre-school in America. However, I got the impression play school in the Neatherlands is required. At the mature age of five the children start their primary education. With school starting in September and ending in June, the students attend until they are sixteen. During this time a typical Dutch student learns two or more languages (apparently up to four is common - German, French, English, and of course Dutch).

At some point, near the end of the this segment of their education, they take a test to determine whether they are at the high, medium, or low level. This testing then determines the number of years they will spend in college (or university - I'm not sure what they call this upper level of education). The low level students spend 4 years, medium 5, and high 6. However, apparently just because a student tests at the low or medium level when they leave what I'd call high school doesn't mean they are 'locked in' at that level. Apparently their marks over the next few years can raise their level. So, if I understood right, a low level (high school) graduate could end up performing (and being educated) at the high level.

Their work system: Every country (mine included) has its issues and problems. I'd say the work system in the Neatherlands is one of their country's biggest problems. Not only do the rules regulating businesses favor the larger corporations while greatly restricting smaller 'mom and pop' type organizations, but the system also 'rewards' the lackluster, lazy worker instead of encouraging entrepreneurs and hard-working employees.

For example, lets say I am a small business owner in the Neatherlands (instead of here at Elk Lake Resort.) I work hard; my business grows; I hire an employee to help me. Everything seems normal up to this point. Then, my employee gets 'sick'. Now, this can be really sick or just sick of work. As I understand it, I now have two options. I can try to convince my employee to come back to work, and then get them another job (thus releiving me of the responsibility for them), or I can continue to keep them as my employee - thus making me responsible for them for at least 2 years.

Now, to make it worse, the employee can call in sick (and get paid) whenever the urge strikes. Therefore, I am penalized for having an employee - and my employee has no incintive to do a good job because I'm 'stuck' with them - regardless of how they work. In addition, it seems the bigger companies are so used to this type of employee, they think nothing of this type of behavior - and, as amazing as it seems to me, may actually tend to reward it. It doesn't make good business sense to me!

Their government: The Neatherlands has a royal family, and like England, the royal family is mostly a figure head. They also have a prime minister and parliament. However, there are some differences. There are a LOT of parties (unlike the US which has 3 'major' parties) and it sounded like the most 'popular' person in the party which is elected (elections occur every 4 years) becomes the new prime minister. And, although the people vote for leaders and parties, my impression was their vote didn't play as important of a role as our (US) votes do (or at least are supposed to).

Their taxes: Like Germany, the Dutch function under a 'huge' tax burden. In fact, over 50% of their income (off the top) is gobbled up by taxes. And, yet, if I understood correctly, it is possible for a big corporation to send their earnings out of the Neatherlands and thus protect it from this exorbitant taxation. And, while this may make the country more interesting to big corporations, it has to put an even greater strain on the smaller business owner and the individual too.

Their religion: The Neatherlands offers religious freedom. In other words, they have no state church and the government does not regulate religion. However, I found it interesting that all businesses closed on Sunday (or at least all 'Dutch' businesses). Apparently it is not illegal for a Jewish grocer or a Turkish baker to stay open on Sunday - and to close another day of the week as regulated by their religion.

Another interesting point which relates more to their work ethic than religion is - almost all of the stores close at 6 p.m. Now we're talking about in the middle of a big city - in fact a whole big city. Although those of us who have lived in a small town can relate to this, those living in large cities in the US are used to businesses being open 24 / 7. This is not the practice in Holland. In fact, it is not uncommon for a store which opens at 10 a.m. to actually open 10 - 15 minutes later. And, the same store may close 10 - 15 minutes before 6 p.m. Obviously this reflects some of their work ethich (or lack of).

One last piece of 'trivia'. In the Neatherlands it is legal to drink at 16, but you can't get your drivers license until you turn 18. Now, how's that for a bit different?

I could go on about their money, their ideas on the European Union, their recreational activities, their emigration policies, and so on. Obviously I thoroughly enjoyed our visit - and I learned a LOT about another country - one I would love to visit, but one where I don't think I'd want to live. In fact, the more I learn about this great big world, the more I treasure the opportunity to live in my sheltered little world!

Lady of the Lake

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