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Typical NL: Bike theft

Fietsen (bikes) – is there anything more typically Dutch? Your standard omafiets by Gazelle or Batavus is so emblematic for Dutch culture that it's not only the most popular motif on postcards besides windmills and tulips, it's even simply known as the 'Dutch Bike' outside the Netherlands. But of course, Dutch biking culture is about much more than just these city bikes. Bikes are great for transportation, too: I love the bakfietsen and the trailers for children. For recreation as well, it's almost impossible to spend a day in the countryside without encountering at least one group of brightly coloured racing cyclists. Sometimes you even encounter people who cycle for the mere fun of it, neither to get anywhere specific, nor to clock as many kilometres as possible. I find it especially rewarding in the region around Maastricht, because it's not quite as flat as the rest of the Netherlands and there are many beautiful places to discover.

An ugly aspect of Dutch biking culture, though, is the very common problem of bike theft. Even the head of the Delft police recently found that his bike had been stolen – while he was attending a public debate on the problem of bike theft. Oddly enough, although no-one is happy with the current situation, it seems to be an accepted part of Dutch reality. I get the impression that the Dutch perceive a stolen bike just as they would a flat tyre: it's annoying, but it’s just something that happens from time to time. The University of Amsterdam even informs foreign students that they should calculate one or two bikes per year into their estimated living expenses, because it would be unrealistic to expect a bike to last much longer.

It's difficult for foreigners to accept, but maybe we can try to understand it as a Dutch lesson in stoicism. Don't get overly attached to your bike: accept it as being in constant flux, the Dutch circle of life. Soon after you lose your bike, you’ll receive an offer of another stolen bike for €30. You won't own that bike either, but merely use it until it too is stolen. Or you’re stopped by the police, in which case you can expect a hefty fine. If you don't actually want to subscribe to this view, you can register your bike with the local police, and check www.fietsendiefstalregister.nl to see whether a bike is listed as stolen before you buy it. This might ease your conscience; but whether it helps you to keep your bike any longer is a different question.

 

Tim Aretz

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