Both the Dutch and the Portuguese have long stories as experienced sailors through history. This is, however, where the similarities end. Thinking of commuting with children in the Netherlands? Think again.
I was recently on a weekend city trip to Lisbon with my family and I was straight out shocked at how polite and welcoming people were to families with young children.
Commuting when pregnant
As a pregnant person who had to commute 40 minutes every morning, I discovered how rude people on trains can be. I already knew what train stations at peak hours look like in the Metro of Mexico city where if you want a seat you have to fight for it. But in the Netherlands, I had to develop a whole tactic where I would sneak in through the side of the doors as soon as people finished getting off and just quickly found the closest seat possible.
Many times I had to ride standing up and people would not give up a seat regardless of the huge belly popping out of my coat, and trust me, my belly was huge. There was even that time where yes, I went in front of someone to get a seat (because I knew it would not be given up for me) and that person -a working girl as well- retorted that “I was not even pregnant” – even though I was easily 7 months in.
I also clearly remember a time where just as I arrived in Leiden to get my next train, I had to lean on a wall and sit on the floor because my blood pressure went down from standing up in the train and feeling the movement. I was certain that I was going to faint.
Commuting with children in the Netherlands
Then the baby came and you would be surprised how people just don’t care. Public transportation in Holland, luckily, has designated spaces for mothers with strollers on pretty much every bus or tramway. Yet, pretty much every day I have to actually TELL people to move away because I need the space because having the stroller by the door of the bus or tramway is simply not safe.
These people are all perfectly abled people without ‘rollators’, wheelchairs or any actual NEED for this space. I am not sure if it is worse with the teenage girls who will, maybe, one day be in my place. Or with the entitled old people that feel they deserve everything.
I recently got into a fight with a lady that had her groceries trolley in the space dedicated to babies, arguing she also had a buggy. So, I had to explain I had an actual living baby in mine and point out that even if I wanted to move away, I don’t fit in the hallways of the tramway with the stroller (while she did) and there were plenty of free seats in the tramway, which I kindly pointed out for her.
Then there was a lady who thought “het is toch raar” that I was using three seats for my stroller + buggy board for the four-year-old in the designated area. I don’t know what is so weird about three people (my two kids and me) using a space specifically designated for people who need it, knowing that of those three people, two have paid tickets and one is an infant.
It is not only that people are ignorant about respecting the spaces for the elderly, disabled, pregnant or with young children; it is that they do not spontaneously give away the space when prompted and when you gently explain, they tend to act all grumpy and defensive about the fact that you would dare to ask them.
I fight this fight every single day. Sometimes I am just too tired for it, like that day last week where I had the toddler in the buggy and the baby in my arms while standing up and holding on because the two teenage girls sitting in front of us would not move and I did not feel like telling them.
It is definitely not just me. The Netherlands Institute for Human Rights (College voor de Rechten van de Mens) has reported an increase in complaints about discrimination. Out of all 4259 discrimination cases reported, 35% of all of these complaints were complaints from pregnant women.
The differences in Lisbon
So, back to Lisbon. As soon as we arrived we saw signs everywhere, and I mean everywhere (even at the Starbucks at the airport) that indicated elderly, disabled, pregnant and women with young children under 2 years old, had priority.
Not only that, but as soon as they would see our family try to navigate a bus or tramway they would make space for us or even offer a seat, with a smile. Even older people (to whom we would let keep their seat).
I do not know if it is because culturally it would seem that there is a love and respect for children and families in other countries or just basic education. Or maybe the philosophy of individualism and “get what you want” hasn’t made such an impact, but it felt like such a breath of fresh air and I definitely think a dose of everyday kindness could go a long way.
I make sure to teach my girls that if we see someone who needs the seat more than we do, we move away for them and I often find myself advocating for others because I have a big mouth.
*I do want to take this opportunity to shout out to that man who actually gave me his extra OV chipcard and a seat because he saw me with my travelling circus and noticed my OV chipcard had gone negative. It made my day and restored my faith in mankind.
What are you experiences with commuting with children in the Netherlands? Let us know in the comments!
Feature Image: Thomas van de Weerd/Flickr