Before watching this documentary, the most that I knew about the Netherlands involved tulips and the ceramic clogs that my mother and grandmother collected. It’s only been more recently that I’ve even begun to intentionally learn more about countries and lifestyles beyond American soil, so it made sense to me to take a look into this film and see what it could show me about a country so very different than my own.
And I left enlightened.
Sex, Drugs & Bicycles from Jonathan Blank takes us through a comedic and visually engaging journey in and around the most common (and some of the more obscure) highlights of Dutch infrastructure and lifestyles. From their healthcare, family lives, and work-life balance to the political scene, climate responsibility, and even bike riding, Blank makes sure we see all the color and drama that life in the Netherlands has to offer.
For starters, the filmography matches the vibrant content. In a style I can only describe as “paper-animation-puppet show meets no-holds-barred video,” this documentary is a fun mix of satire and insight presented in a way that kept me completely engaged. It was immediately evident that the Dutch know exactly who they are and why they do what they do. This acceptance of acting as “a salad bowl,” as opposed to “a melting pot,” seems to me to be the primary reason that they are regularly ranked in the top 5 of nations in the areas of healthcare (#3), education (#3), freedom of the press (#3), productivity (#4), and number 1 in happiest children and work-life balance.
But how does all of this actually happen? As an American, most of my education in those areas has told me: “universal healthcare doesn’t work, people take advantage of vacation time, success is dependent on how hard you work, and if people don’t earn it, they don’t deserve it, etc.” (I could go on and on). But the numbers tell a different story. And while I acknowledge that life in the U.S. is vastly different than in the Netherlands, I can’t help but wonder what we are missing out on.
The Netherlands takes the health of their citizens seriously. No one is making money off of the health care system and people have equal access to the services they need including transgender support and sexual health care. With required vacation pay AND vacation time, Dutch citizens are still some of the most productive (and prosperous) people in the world even though they are paid for 13 months and only work 11. This means families actually spend time together, with regular lines of communication between parents and children that last well beyond their challenging teenage years – which is a huge component of why those same kids are ranked as the happiest in the world. And by biking everywhere, the country as a whole seems to have a communal pace that ebbs and flows with the times.
Now this does not mean everything is perfect there, or even feasible everywhere. Racial tension is climbing as more Dutch citizens acknowledge a problematic history regarding the Dutch slave trade. While LGBTQIA rights are taken very seriously and publicly supported, the discrimination is still there. And after previously leading the way in climate change, the Netherlands is now playing catch up after years of laxed policy. Some of those interviewed in the documentary are even concerned that perhaps Dutch leadership is taking the country in the wrong direction.
Do the Dutch do things that I don’t agree with? Absolutely. I’m not comfortable with their acceptance and promotion of sex work, nor how they approach drug education and experimentation. But I maintained an open mind so that I could at least understand their why, even if I still didn’t agree with their how. To ignore the systems and structures of other countries is to actually do a disservice to my own. There is always something to learn. And Sex, Drugs & Bicycles showed me I have much learning still to do.
Sex, Drugs & Bicycles is available on Friday, February 26th, 2021.