According to research from the WHO (World Health Organization), Dutch kids are some of the happiest on earth. I thought of some possible causes for this, and discussed it with our charming internationals. We also talked about how they experienced their childhood outside of the Netherlands. (Want to get to know them a little bit better? Click here)
You are all familiar with hagelslag en vlokken by now. It is pretty standard for Dutch kids to eat this on bread every morning.
Margherita: No wonder they get out of bed so early.
Vivian: Is it legal to eat so much chocolate?
Margherita: Do they eat it every single day? Or just in the weekends or something?
How was breakfast at home when you were kids?
Oscar: For me it was just cereal, all the time. And a piece of fruit or something. Still eat that quite often, actually.
Margherita: We had milk with biscuits. Not the chocolate-chip cookies, but in Italy we have all these different kinds of biscuits to dip in your milk. Now, I like to eat porridge.
Me: That’s not typically Italian is it?
Margherita: Oh no, haha, my mom probably doesn’t even know what that is.
Vivian: We don’t get chocolate, but we’re spoiled. If you go the budget way you get hot chocolate with biscuits, or we have toast. Malay people eat rice at breakfast, but Chinese people would sooner go for noodles, the soup-based ones. We also have porridge, but not the type of porridge you’d expect, more like mushy rice porridge, it is called congee. Or another option is going for the Indian breakfast, which is with Roti.
Me: You don’t have something sweet with breakfast then?
Vivian: No, that’s for during the break, at nine or ten in the morning. We have like six meals a day, you know.
Hearing this, Dutch breakfast probably isn’t the reason that kids are so much happier in the Netherlands than in other countries. Although it seems like we are the only ones who get chocolate during breakfast, the other breakfasts sound pretty good as well! What is remarkable though, is that the Malay breakfast is the only one that isn’t sweet, but savoury.
Dutch kids get enough exercise by cycling everyday. How did you get to and from school when you were a kid, and what did you like to do for exercise?
Oscar: I do think there are less fat kids here. I don’t know if it’s just here in Groningen or in the entire Netherlands, but there’s definitely less fat kids.
Myself, I walked to school, but lots of people would take the bus as well. There were very few people who cycled to school, there were only about twenty parking spots for bikes.
Margherita: My school was literally right across the road, so I just walked. My secondary school was much farther away though, and it was too dangerous to cycle, since you had to share the road with cars, so then I took the bus to school, which took about an hour.
Vivian: My parents drove me to school. There isn’t really much public transport in my home town, so either parents would drive their kids to school, or you took the private school bus. It was the typically American school bus, the yellow one. But I didn’t like taking it, because it drove past my house first and then I had to wake up really early.
So this could very well be a reason as to why Dutch kids are so happy! Being healthy is important to people of all ages, but especially as a kid you want to feel fit enough to be able to run around and play with friends.
It is always “gezellig” in the homes of Dutch kids. Eating stampot together on a cold winter’s night, drinking hot chocolate after ice skating together or playing games all evening: all very gezellig. What did you find “gezellig” when you were a kid? What did you like to do with your family?
Oscar: We always ate together, don’t know if that’s a thing here in the Netherlands, but in the UK it’s pretty standard.
Margherita: We also always ate together, and always at the dinner table. Here in the Netherlands I see people eating with their plate in their lap, watching TV, but we were never allowed to do that. It was the time to talk to each other. Another thing we always did with the entire family was grocery shopping. So I guess you can see that food was a real theme for us, haha.
Vivian: My parents were really really busy, so it was not exactly normal to eat together. As I said, they were very busy and I had a lot of tutoring classes, which is pretty normal for Asian kids. Asian parents want their kids to get good grades, but also to play music, to do sports and all sorts of different things. So we have tutoring classes for all those things. My parents travelled a lot as well, so sometimes they weren’t home for quite some time.
Having a good relationship with your parents adds to your happiness as well, of course. What is important for such a relationship is seeing each other often. Although I must say that eating in front of the TV sometimes happens in the Netherlands, dinner is usually more like what Oscar and Margherita described.
Dutch kids have Nijntje. Do you know Nijntje? Did you have something similar at home when you were a kid?
Vivian: That’s Miffy! It’s called Miffy.
Me: We always called it Nijntje.
Vivian: Yes, but nobody who’s not Dutch can pronounce Nijntje. Miffy is better.
Oscar: We had Miffy as well.
Vivian: Miffy wasn’t really popular though.
Oscar: We also had Arthur, who is an aardvark. That was a cartoon I would watch when we got home from school. Oh, and I always was quite the spongebob fan as well.
Margherita: Okay don’t judge, but I used to love Hamtaro a lot when I was in primary school.
Vivian. Totoro, the Japanese cartoon, is so cute. Malaysian kids watch a lot of Cartoon Network and Disney Chanel.
Me: And is it dubbed? Or subtitled?
Vivian: Neither. Most Malay people speak really good English actually.
Margherita: In Italy, everything is dubbed. No English, ever.
Oscar: Obviously no dubbing or subtitling going on in the UK.
So having Nijntje isn’t the answer either. Besides the fact that apparently Nijntje is known in other countries as well, evidently there were enough other cartoon characters around for Oscar, Vivian and Margherita.
Though the Dutch kitchen might not be the most culinary one, dinner is a family event in the Netherlands. During dinner you have the time to go over everyone’s day. How did you experience dinner (or maybe another meal) as a kid? What was an important family moment?
Margherita & Oscar simultaneously: Dinner. Yeah.
Vivian: We used to have dinner maybe once a week. We have classes a lot, so the entire Saturday I was busy with doing classes.
Oscar: Something I would do during childhood was walking up a hill with my parents, they really liked hiking.
Margherita: What is striking to me, is that kids in little villages go play on the street here in the Netherlands. In Italy you could not just go play alone as a kid. There are simply to many cars. It might also have to do with the fact that Dutch parents are more relaxed.
Vivian: Oh yeah, definitely. Asian parents wouldn’t allow kids to play on the streets either, or even a playground because it could be dangerous. Here, I once saw a little kid who was trying to walk, then fell, and the mom just laughed and waited for the kid to get up by itself. Asian parents would never do that.
The relaxed attitude of Dutch parents could certainly be a reason for the happiness of their kids. It leaves room for making your own mistakes and learning from them. On the other hand, the concern Italian and Asian parents have for their children shows that they care about them a lot.
All in all, we are still not sure what exactly causes the happiness of Dutch kids. Whether is was the hagelslag at breakfast, or cycling to school everyday. However, it was very interesting to hear from everyone about their childhoods!
By Robin van Gammeren