Thursday, May 27, 2010

Dutch pragmatism

The Netherlands has a very pragmatic culture. Pragmatic solutions surface everywhere. Here is an interesting example, which includes both commerce (the lifeblood of the Netherlands) and the concept of 'victimless crime' (understood as a nonsensical idea in the Netherlands).

I cycled through Venlo this week, a Dutch city very close to the German border, and stopped for a nice lunch. Googled "Venlo" while I was there, to learn a bit about it -- Wikipedia is a great resource!

Lots of interesting info, including a terrific example of pragmatism in action.

As I mentioned, Venlo lies very close to the border with Germany. The Dutch have a complex relationship with the Germans, but certainly value them as trading partners, and would prefer not to lose their business.

In the late 1990s the government of Venlo decided that the coffee shops had created "a drug-related nuisance" in the beautiful downtown square (I think this translates roughly as "too many stoned Germans"). Pragmatic solution: they rezoned, and moved the coffee shops to the outskirts of town -- specifically, to a rest stop on the highway to Germany! From Wikipedia entry:
"This was a win-win solution, as the town was freed from disturbances and the coffee shops are now even closer to the expressways. Since Germany prohibits the sale and ownership of soft-drugs (weed), her citizens cross the nearby border in order to acquire substances unavailable in their own country. Venlo is connected to Germany by two motorways... allowing for citizens of Germany's largest metropolitan area to travel there in about 30 minutes."

I am an American on a bike not a German in a car, so this study in pragmatism is presented only for its academic interest.

(PS -- I've seen interesting examples here of cultural adaption and 'cross-pollenization'. For example -- the McDonalds in downtown Maastricht has stained glass windows and outdoor cafe seating. I wonder if the opposite holds true -- did the rest-stop 'coffee shops' adopt drive-thru lanes?)

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