Coronavirus & the Netherlands: Thoughts from a rando American

by Janelle Hanchett

Hello, hi. Every time I post a photo of a public space in the Netherlands, people want to know why nobody is wearing masks. I end up writing the same ten sentences I’ve written twenty times before, which is getting a little old, and people seem genuinely interested in what’s happening here, so I’m writing this post.

But first, let’s get three things out of the way:

–I did not make these rules. I am not personally responsible for the manner in which the Netherlands arrived at its approach. Please do not attack the fucking messenger.

–I am not an infectious disease expert, physician, economist, or even a person who spends her whole life researching this shit. If you want exact dates and timelines on how the Dutch handled this, feel free to google. This is a general summary.

–I am a woman and mother and American living in a new country, using my own critical thinking capacity, intuition, and reasonableness to synthesize information and make decent choices. I neither believe everything I’m told nor disbelieve it all on principle. I can tell you that as a whole, I trust the Dutch government to use and accept science, support their most vulnerable citizens, and generally work toward a balanced and sane approach. This is an entirely new feeling after spending three years in the States with a regime in power that does none of these things.

Okay, so, here we go.

The Netherlands closed schools for three months but children have never been required to socially distance. As in, they were always allowed to go outside, be around whomever, play together in the park, etc. This is based on science that showed very small infection and transmission rates among children. I DID NOT CREATE THIS SCIENCE so don’t fucking blame me, and don’t email me about how it’s wrong. You can read about it here.

About eight weeks ago, they opened the schools in a slow process, and here’s how they did that:

For two weeks kids under 12 went to school two days and then three days, alternating weeks, and they were let out an hour or so early. Adults were not allowed in the school building. Kids distanced from their teachers but not from each other. Recesses were still allowed. Hand-washing was required every two hours. Masks were not required. Kids over 12 were not allowed to attend school yet.

Since corona numbers continued to drop during this time, they opened up the schools to four days and older kids could begin attending three days a week. A couple of weeks after that (July 1, I believe), distancing was no longer required between teachers and students. Restaurants opened with social distancing requirements, and masks were required on public transportation. You were not allowed to sit at a restaurant table with more than one person from outside your home. They asked questions about your health when you arrived. Our dentist’s office took our temperature in the doorway. There are big plastic panels separating customers from check-out people in almost every establishment.

Now, July 14, 2020, social distancing is still required everywhere. Any event or location where social distancing can’t be achieved has other requirements: Only allowing a certain number of people in the establishment, masks, etc. Masks on public transportation are still required. You’re allowed to sit with more people at restaurants. Testing is free and available to anyone who wants it.

It is, more or less, opened up for normal life. All of this is contingent upon the curve remaining flat. If cases increase, which everyone expects them to do in the fall/winter, there will be restrictions again.

Now, why is it so “chill” here, relatively speaking?

Here are my theories:

1.) There are 17 million people here. The USA has 328 million people. It is easier to get 17 million people to do something than nineteen times that many people. However, the Netherlands is tiny, and one of the most densely populated countries in Europe, so the potential for shitshow is vast. It is easier, however, to create a relatively unified message, approach, and understanding in a smaller country. We will get to the rest of this story shortly.

2.) The Prime Minister acted quickly and isn’t at fundamental odds with his own goddamn infectious disease experts and is not telling everybody the media is the enemy of the people and he’s the only speaker of Truth. As in, he’s not sitting there framing himself in opposition to SCIENCE, so there is, more or less, a unified approach, story, narrative, understanding coming from the Dutch government, and we can all read about this approach and the reasons behind it openly on the internet. It’s like, clear communication and shit. I know. I know. Weird.

3.) Does everyone here agree on the restrictions? Of course not, which brings us to number 3: Coronavirus is not highly politicized and thus polarizing in that fancy American black-and-white sense of: ECONOMY or LOCKDOWN. Republican or Democrat. Trump or Fauci. Fake news or real news or alternative facts, whatever the hell those are. There aren’t news stations telling half the country one thing and half the country whatever nonsense Hannity and Breitbart pulled out of their flaming neofascist assholes.

Sorry. That went south (ha ha ha) quickly. No but seriously. The virus is the virus is the virus and everybody has to work together to get this shit under control. There is a basic understanding of “Do your part and we get out of this nonsense faster.” You aren’t a fucking freedom fighter by refusing to do what the Dutch government says. There are no tweets like this one, from the President, indicating that you can choose science or you can choose Trump:


You are not “weak” for trusting science. You are not a snowflake liberal for thinking doctors know things. You are not a snowflake liberal for thinking infectious disease experts probably know more about novel viruses than a washed-up, corrupt, reality-TV star who lies a lot.

There is a humane, measured, and clear-eyed message from the Prime Minister, which is communicated through the news in a relatively objective way, and people, like, listen to it and more or less do what it says.

You and your 100-person protest in the Hague is adorable, and high five, but also, nobody cares. 

4.) There is a sense here of common good outweighing personal desire. Americans are notorious for their Me First/Fuck the Rest mentality. Get what you can then die, right? From bootstraps to Jeff-Bezos-super-capitalism, we equate selfish individualism (me first) with liberty.  Some people, especially those who endured two world wars on their own soil in a short time, understand that without collective liberation there is no individual freedom. Without looking out for the whole, there is no personal safety. Everyone is at risk if the WHOLE is not protected.

Let me remind everyone that the Netherlands was occupied by the Nazis. So Trumpers, don’t fucking talk to me about “personal liberty.” The Dutch are RABIDLY FREE. Read a book.

Anyway, my point is: You think they like the government telling them where they can and can’t go, who they can see, who they can touch? No, they do not. But most people do it anyway, or at least stay relatively quiet about it—instead of, say, licking public windows or throwing COVID parties—because they understand that while they personally may not agree, this is a virus, not an arbitrary, violent usurping of their freedom, so we have to deal with it for the larger community.

To give you an idea of how nervous the measures make some Dutchies, friends of ours said: “We’ll give them until June. If they keep us locked down past that, we’re all heading into the streets.”

This seemed reasonable: Let’s give them a chance to not fuck with us. And if they do fuck with us, let’s burn shit down. I may be paraphrasing.

5.) PAID FUCKING SICK DAYS ARE FEDERALLY FUCKING MANDATED. Whew. Let’s think about this. Every employee here—from fast-food workers to corporate suits—has guaranteed paid sick leave. They are also guaranteed paid “care days” (days to take care of others). I don’t know if we realize what a difference this makes: If you vaguely have the sniffles, you stay home. If your kid vaguely has the sniffles, you keep your kid home and stay with them. Both parents in families have this paid leave. So if a kid is sorta maybe kinda sick, you can play it safe and stay home and still get paid and your boss doesn’t really care because they, too, had this right. Scarcity breeds scarcity. Fairness breeds fairness.

Of course you’d stay home with your kid is the mentality here, and it’s been this way for a long, long time. You don’t have to give your kid Tylenol, send them to school, and hope for the best because you can’t afford, literally, financially, to miss work. You can keep your kid home the suggested days after a fever rather than fudging it. You don’t have to think about it and you aren’t penalized for it. In general, the Dutch have a ridiculously more sane and humane approach to work-life balance. I know it’s crazy talk but people do not expect you to work while ill. 

6.) Oh, and universal healthcare.

Here’s Mac and a tiny espresso.

Also, my readers, friends, and loved ones in America: I love you. I’m thinking of you constantly.


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18 Comments | Posted in 2020 deserves a category of its own | July 14, 2020
  • Miriam

    I have to say that we live in Amstelveen near Amsterdam, and we never experienced a time when the majority of people in public wore masks. My spouse has been handling the shopping, and zie does not feel that people in grocery stores were honoring social distancing, and masks were simply rare… on a given grocery trip zie might have seen zero people wearing masks. So, I want to sign on to what you’re saying, but I can’t agree.

    Also, there is increasing evidence that COVID does infect children but the symptoms are quite different. Despite that news, the Dutch government has continued to ramp up presence in school. So I remain concerned about what the future holds for the Netherlands… but, because of many of the factors you list, I agree that it can’t possibly go as poorly as it is going in the US. The US response is a nightmare.

  • Peggy McCloskey

    I am wishing I lived in a place like the Netherlands right about now!

    • Megan Canterbury

      I’m off Facebook (it was sucking my will to live), so have been desperate for an update! Missing your fabulous pictures!

  • Christina W.

    I am so intensely, insanely jealous that you’re in Europe and I am stuck in this American hell-scape. My brother lives in Germany with his German wife and their children. They will never move back to the U.S. and I certainly don’t blame them. We can’t even visit them now. Happy for you/them, but damn, wish we’d gone for the escape hatch last year ::sigh::

  • Jessica Guica

    Omg. You have an incredible voice for speaking my thoughts and others I’d wish I’d had. I fucking love the Netherlands, been many times. The sanity seems so insane to people here in the US. I salivate over your pics, etc on your social media because I so badly want to get back there. Thank you for every post and every pic! Your family is awesome. And your truth is so goddamn refreshing. Thank you!! I need to write with you so I’m figuring out a way! Keep giving us your voice, please. It is so needed. You have no idea.
    -sending with love from the US Shitshow.

  • Tara

    The us vs. them over here is exhausting. I’ve seen people bitch about having to wear masks and then I’ve seen people shame others for not wearing masks. Shame culture is rampant and it pisses me off. We get nowhere when we shame others. On the other hand, I’m happy to live in a state that has been largely level headed about how to reopen. I’m encouraged by the findings that kids have low transmission rates and their transmission rates to adults is low as well. Yay science!

    I’m also skeptical and question all the data, as in …are cases going up because more people are being tested and confirmed so really what does that mean??? Lol. So, I go out, I continue to distance from my parents and people I don’t really need to see (would like to, but don’t need to) and wear my damn mask.

  • Erin

    Been in Germany almost 8 years. The spot-on sentiments in this post and it is so admirable you are able to understand relate all this after a year-ish. I will be reposting to my IG for all the people who constantly ask me why Germany is not in the same position as the US.

    And, yes, love it or hate it, a huge part of my heart is still in the US and I cant help but worry. And be sad that my newly-one-year-old may be three before he gets to meet his grandparents.

    • Erin

      Also, headed to the Hague/Wassenaar/Leiden next week for vacation. Any suggestions/recommendations greatly appreciated! Also have you been to that US store there? I hear they have Cheez-its

  • Marianne W

    Not going to lie — totally jealous of you for living somewhere that has a leader who believes in science and people who care about the common good. I’m in Arizona which is now #1 in per capita cases. yay

  • Alyson

    Thank you for reminding me that sanity and kindness are still in fact a human traits/abilities. Here in the Bay things are so polarized and not a soul sounds sane anymore.

  • Sharon

    You are brilliant and entertaining. Glad I am Canadian but still a little too close to the shit show South of us. The Netherlands is doing it right, so happy for you all

  • Joelle

    Interestingly, this is very similar to Canada, and specifically my province. We have had zero cases for WEEKS. Now, things have opened up again and people are traveling it has started to pick up again, but still very small numbers. People trust the government (both provincially and federally) because out leaders walk the walk of their talk. I do feel sorry for our friends in the south. So much confusion. So much politicalization.

  • Kristina Sherrett

    My god, woman.
    Please, please…invite me into your spare bedroom

  • Anneke van der Veen

    Great article
    Thanks so much for posting!

    I emigrated from Nederland to the states in 1968, as my the husband was part of the ‘brain drain’ in the computer industry.

    and I have lived a great life here
    Having my family here is the reason I do not move back.
    But, do I miss Nederland and my sisters there!!!!

    Anneke van der Veen

  • Cherri Porter

    We love you too. I think of your family often. Enjoy your time with Ava.

  • Amy

    Oh,this sentence: “Testing is free and available to all who want it.” Would that it could be so here in the U.S.! We don’t have health insurance right now, and all I can do is try not to go anywhere as much as possible, social distance and wear a mask when I have to go out, and keep my fingers crossed.

  • Cheryl Montgomery

    Things are soo soo bad in the U.S. Keep thinking of us, all of you who are expats or natives out in the world. Don’t think of us when you think of our leader, just keep the faith that at some point, we’ll be able to turn this absolute shit show around.

  • Rob

    This is too much science.

    Not reading.