Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Land of Really, Really Tall Elves

One of my favorite Grimm Fairytales is the story of the poor shoemaker whose financial woes are turned around thanks to elves who sneak into his shop at night and make wonderful leather shoes without leaving a trace of their presence.

I bring this story up because doing things without drawing attention to their actions seems to be the Dutch way. Once a every quarter, you might see a deposit in you bank account from the Sociale Verzekeringsbank, or Social Insurance Bank, with a one word explanation: kinderbijslag. What is this? As the SVB website says, “Babies are expensive. Nappies, clothes, the pram . . . all these things cost money. The Dutch government provides for child benefit to help you with the costs of bringing up your child.”

But it's more than just receiving benefits. The other morning while taking the alien to daycare, I saw one of the houses along the way had a bench for sale and decided to ask how much it was. The husband wasn't home and the sleepy wife told me the price as she tightened her bathrobe.

"Great!" I said, "I'll come back and get it when I can get someone to lend me a hand."

"Ok," the woman replied. "You can pay me the money then."

That afternoon I opened our door and Voilá, the bench was there, under the kitchen window. No note, no explanation as to how the person knew which house was ours. In Spain, this never happens, probably because people live in apartment buildings and put old furniture outside to be collected by whomever. Something like this might happen in the states, but you'll definitely find a note from the person bringing attention to their good deed.

Now, if this had been a one-off incident, I could say that it was just the kindness of one particular gentleman, but there have been other times. A colleague of my wife mentioned a neighbor cleaning her roof after he cleaned his out of the kindness of his heart. A remark to my better half, such as, "We need string to tie back the stock rose that blocks the path," will come to fruition without either of us doing it as if an elf had overheard our conversation and took action.


  1. It's so nice that things like that can still happen. It makes the world (and Holland) a nicer place :)

  2. Thanks Invader Stu for you comments! I appreciate them even if I don't reply. Yes, people do make the world a much nicer place. It's the politicians who ruin it