You could say that I took my bike for granted like many husbands do to their wives, or vice versa — that its tires were fine and dandy even if they were squished to the floor, and that the squeaky chain was just a minor offense to the ears. I can still balance on the bike after all, right?
On Saturday, the rear wheel became flat.
But rather than wagging my finger and telling you that it’s important to patch holes before they become bigger, let me tell you a story about how my negligence was rewarded in an odd way.
I was walking my bike from campus to the city center where the closest working bike pump I knew about would be. The stroll isn’t too bad as the city itself is gorgeous, but there is a strong sense of envy present when you see everyone else zipping along on their bicycle while you slog away.
But my luck turned around on the intersection of Prins Hendriklaan and Jan van Scorelstraat, just fifteen minutes into the trip. I had barely finished crossing the street before a Dutch gentleman lounging outside noticed my flat tire and told me I could find a working fiets pomp inside the bar.
He tells me the magic phrase to use:
Heeft u een fiets pomp, alstublieft?
And sure enough, the bartender pulled one out of the closet. And soon enough, everyone who was sitting outside the bar was helping out, squeezing the tire and checking for air holes as I pumped. I thought it was magical.
It was 7 o’clock and I hadn’t eaten dinner yet. I could have easily just ended it there, say my thank yous and bid my farewells. But this kind of luck doesn’t happen every day, so I thought I’d stay for a while.
Two hours later I’ve been introduced to all the dogs that live inside the pub, and caught a glimpse into the daily lives of the people who come by to relax during the weekend. One guy pulled out the rock he keeps in his right pocket — a small piece of obsidian — one of the 1000+ rocks he keeps in his collection in his home around the corner. He’s still looking for a deep red colored one.
My glass is empty for less than ten minutes before another man tells me:
“I’m getting you a drink. Beer, pepsi, doesn’t matter. I’m getting you a drink.”
Oh, fine by me. Dank je wel. I feel I can use the informal je instead of the formal u at this point.
I sent the man who noticed my flat tire a message on Facebook later that night. Is this a regular evening for him — helping out random international students and having drinks with them? Are all the Dutch this helpful?
The man replied: “I have lived in this area for years, [but] I spent my childhood in small villages in Gelderland, where you greet strangers and help them if needed. So, if you ask me ‘Dutch helpfulness?’, I’d say it is rural culture. I left the countryside, but it never left me.”
And then he ended it with a winky face.