Unclenching

Last week, I was in the Netherlands. It was my first trip to Europe. At the risk of sounding like that person, it was an absolutely incredible four days.

I don’t think I realized how angry Americans are — how much of our time we spend clenching — until I saw the conspicuous absence of that anger.

In the view of several Nederlanders with whom I spoke, Americans wrap everything up in identity. We don’t vote republican or democrat, we are republican or democrat. The Dutch have several political parties and a given citizen might well vote for a different party each election, because they are looking at the issues instead of signaling an alliance. It probably helps that their most conservative party resembles our liberal party.

We don’t hold a view, we live and breathe it, we argue it, we express our desire to annihilate the people who don’t espouse it (and of course, we have enough guns to make good on our threats). In the view of at least two women with whom I spoke, Northern Europeans handle disagreement by literally shrugging. They hear your view. They are confident in their own. They don’t worry about it.

The word that kept coming to my mind for them was grace.

The Dutch will talk about religion and politics at the drop of a hat, as far as I can tell, because they can. They don’t have to steer clear of these topics because they don’t make enemies of those with whom they speak about them. They will talk about Trump and then they will talk about mayonnaise-and-garlic-covered fries. I detected no change in their blood pressure as they moved between these topics.

The mayonnaise-and-garlic-covered fries were delicious, for the record.

I met a young a woman in her early twenties who escaped civil war in Libya and moved to Scandinavia. She regularly braves gunfire to cross the border in order to fight for women’s civil rights. She is a badass and she does not have time for your shit.

I met a man who survived the Breivik attack in Norway. He corralled children and led them to safety. He now spends his time in a snow-covered cabin in the wilderness.

I met a law student concerned about the ethical ramifications of a virtual reality now technically advanced enough to blur the brain’s ability to distinguish reality from (potentially violent) fantasy.

People who aren’t busy proving themselves to the masses are free to take up important and interesting work.

On Saturday, I left Maastricht to spend the day in Amsterdam. I arrived a bit late thanks to transportation difficulties and was worried I’d missed all the fun. But the weather was temperate and I got a bit of walking in before returning to my airbnb. There, the lovely lesbian couple who hosted me immediately shoved a tumbler of Jameson into my hand and plied me with brilliant, uninhibited conversation well into the night.

I bonded with a number of people quickly because none of them were afraid to get real.

I think living in Europe could be really good for my health.