Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Nudity in The Netherlands

Nudity is much more excepted in The Netherlands as well as the rest of Europe. The beaches are the first place you will notice this. On our first few trips to our local beach, we saw many little children running around naked and a few topless young girls (up to age 8-10 I would guess). There were also a some topless women sunbathing and a few even changed into their suits right on the beach. You will also find a nude beach just a few kilometers south of the main beach in our little village. Because of this openness, there is less curiosity so there were no stares or awkward glances.

This leads to a story I recently heard at a program that I attended at the American School. The presenter was a Dutch woman who works for the school and was there to help us all learn a bit about the Dutch culture. She spoke a bit about the European openness in general which lead her to tell us the following story. The middle school band had recently gone on a trip where they were competing with other schools. There are young boys and girls from all over the world who attend the American School and are members of the band. Upon arrival at the competition they were to change into the uniforms in which they would be performing in. The boy's dressing room was just as you entered the building and the girl's was a bit hidden upstairs. In their hurry to change, a group of girls (who were from European countries) went right into the boys changing area and started to undress (keeping their undergarments on). The european boys thought nothing of it. However, for the young boys who were not, this was quite a treat. Their mouths were hanging open and their eyes were glued onto what was occurring in front of them. Unfortunately for them, this was cut short as a teacher came in and quickly told the girls there was a room for them upstairs. The girls popped their tops back on and headed upstairs much to the disappointment of these young boys. There were a few moms at this presentation whose boys had been on this trip and they had not yet heard this story. These moms were looking forward to their dinner conversation that night.

Another place you will notice a difference is the Doctor's offices. I was recently talking with a friend, "Laura" who is an expat from Canada, about the health care here in The Netherlands. She has not been overly pleased with the visits she has had over the past few months, and the last was the icing on cake for her. Having not lived in the Netherlands very long Laura is still battling with the ridiculously steep Dutch stairs and one morning the stairs won. She fell down quite a few of them. Laura quickly made an appointment with her doctor, who in turn told her she would need some x-rays, which would be done at the local hospital. She scheduled her appointment with the hospital and off she went. When arriving at the hospital she was taken by a nurse to a small dressing room and was told she would need to take all of her clothes off (including undergarments). After the nurse left and my friend had taken everything off, she looked around for a gown. There was none to be found so she waited for the nurse to come back hoping she would be bring the gown. A few minutes later, there was a knock on the door and the nurse asked "Is everything alright in there?". Laura peeked out and told the nurse there wasn't a gown. The nurse smiled and explained that they don't use gowns and that the x-ray room was just in the adjoining room. Laura was not comfortable with this but really had no choice, so she followed the nurse to the room where another nurse and a tech joined them (who happened to be male). Laura managed to complete her x-rays without making eye contact with anyone in the room and hurried back to the changing room to cover up.

My personal experience with the health centers here so far has only been at The Jeugd Gezondheids Zorg Centrum (Youth Health Care Center). This is where all well-baby checks and Immunizations are done for children up to age 4. Your appointment starts in the main waiting area where simple things like weight and height are checked. It is requested that your child then strips down and waits to be seen by the nurse. At the time of our appointment there were a few children running around in the buff (or in a diaper) waiting to see the nurse. I am hoping there are actual rooms in the health center I am registered at!

And last but not least... the family dressing rooms at the pool. Just this last Monday, I attended a mommy and me swimming class with a few friends from our playgroup. Since there were five of us, we decided to just use one of the family changing rooms. After we had our little ones changed into their suits and were getting ready to head for the pool, an older gentleman and his grandson opened the door to our changing room. I didn't think much of it and figured he would find another room so off to swim lessons we went. We had a lot of fun and before we knew it swim lessons were over and it was time to leave. The only other American, "Ellen" and I were the last of our friends to get to the changing rooms after the other mommies had changed and were on their way out. Ellen and I then got into a conversation about how Americans are a bit more reserved about nudity in public places. She was quite uncomfortable changing in front of everyone else but since it was just the two of us and she had a towel to stay covered she started to change. As we are changing, in walks the little boy and his grandpa. They walk over to the hook where their bags were hanging and both drop trou. Ellen and I look at smile each knowing the other is thinking something along the lines of "Welcome to Europe".

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