Behind the Scenes of The Happiest Kids in the World

19 October 2016

“Behind the Scenes of The Happiest Kids in the World” are blog posts that give readers a sneak peak in the making of our forthcoming book The Happiest Kids in The World.

Sneak peak Happiest Kids

As I am writing this blog post in my home office, the soft autumn light from my window filters through. The leaves are beginning to turn shades of yellow, red, orange and brown – and as they fall, neighbours collect them into piles on the street which children will find themselves unable to resist jumping into.  It’s starting to get dark earlier. The crisp air officially signals the beginning of sweater-and-wool-coat-season.


For many, October is still fresh with all the back-to-school energy and momentum of work obligations and deadlines.  For me, it’s a special anniversary.  Two years ago, I received an unsolicited email from Marianne Velmans- a publisher in London. The subject heading: ” Book proposal?” A simple but life altering request.

Marianne had been following my blog and loved what she read. She asked me if I would consider turning my writing into why Dutch children are the happiest in the world into a book. She was particularly interested in me divulging the secrets of Dutch parenting.


Me? Rina Mae? The stay-at-home American mom who lives in a Dutch village, scribbling down random observations in my blog? Even more so – I didn’t know anyone who had ever written a book. Being intimately familiar with poverty, my parents – like millions of other Filipino parents – preferred their children pursuing professions with more job security and stability – medicine, law, teaching, or engineering. So wanting to be the dutiful daughter, I had my eyes set on one day becoming a doctor. But “life” happened – I fell in love with a Dutch guy and found myself living in Holland to start a family.

But I have always loved to write. Motherhood actually made me a better writer. And I also recognise that living in the Netherlands with a supportive husband, healthy kids and access to great childcare when the need arises gives me the space and freedom to develop my writing. Yet, I never imagined that what was essentially a hobby to connect with other moms on the internet could actually blossom into a real profession.


Here was my chance to have a voice as a published author, and to write about what I am passionate about – how to raise kind, self-assured, happy children using an intuitive, relaxed approach, the Dutch way.   


I managed to collect my nerves and give her a call. Unsurprising, I was a bumbling nervous idiot, rambling incoherent sentences interspersed with thank yous. But Marianne was gracious enough to see my potential. Not only had I “met” my future publishing editor, but I had gained a mentor with a generous spirit to hold my hand and show me the way.
Sneak Peak

Stay tuned for the next blog post in the series: Michele’s story. How we became a writing duo.
P.S. Can’t wait to get your hands on the book and you currently live in Europe? Pre-order here. If you happen to live in the United States, you can get your copy here.

The Netherlands- One of the Best Places to Grow Up as a Girl

12 October 2016

Holland one of the Best Places to Grow Up as a Girl


A report released on the International Day of the Girl has declared that the Netherlands is among the best places in the world to grow up as a girl. I’m not surprised. Unfortunately, the United States, my homeland, ranks in dismal thirty-two place, trailing behind Algeria and Kazkhstan. Apparently, if you are a girl and want to grab life by it’s horns, you have better chances in Holland.


The Netherlands ranks fourth place, just behind their Nordic neighbours Sweden, Finland and Norway. The Girls’ Opportunity Index is based on five indicators – rates of child marriage, adolescent fertility, maternal mortality (as an indicator of girls’ access to good-quality healthcare), Women MPs (in relation to male MPs), and lower-secondary school completion. Suffice to say, I am not surprised.


Here are my own musings as to why the Netherlands is an incredible place to grow up as a girl (and be a woman):


Rates of Child Marriage

This serious human rights violation where more than 15 million girls under the age of 18 are married is unheard in Dutch culture. The Dutch actually don’t care about marriage. As an American from a more traditional Catholic Filipino immigrant upbringing, I was surprised to learn that marriage isn’t one of the milestones that girls aspire to. The popularity of American programs like Say Yes to the Dress reveals, after all, the idea that getting married is culmination of female ambitions and dreams. Marriage, from a modern Dutch perspective, is simply not for everyone. And not marrying is not seen as a failure or a reflection of a female’s shortcomings, and definitely no longer a prerequisite for having children.


Adolescent fertility

Contrary to popular belief, it’s not the alluring French that are paragons of comprehensive sexuality education but the pragmatic Dutch. Starting at the age of four, the Dutch begin age-appropriate sex education classes with an emphasis on respecting one’s feelings and others. By the time they are teenagers, Dutch girls (and their male counterparts) have a mature perspective when it comes to their sexuality, establishing boundaries and negotiating terms. They boasts one of the lowest rates of teen pregnancies in the world.


Best Place to Grow Up as Girl


Maternal mortality- Access to Good-Quality Healthcare

According to 2014 Euro Health Consumer Index ranking thirty-seven countries, the Netherlands has the best healthcare in Europe. With their long standing tradition of home births, a well-integrated hospital and midwifery system and at-home postpartum maternity nurses, giving birth in the Netherlands can be an amazing and safe experience. And as we all know that Europe takes health care seriously, being first place speaks volumes about the quality and access that can be found in Holland.


Women MPs

If there is one thing that you will learn about being with the Dutch, it’s that having an opinion is a matter of national importance. Dutch girls are encouraged to speak their minds from the moment they can babble.  Being articulate and opinionated is a trait that Dutch girls learn to aspire to – and they definitely hold their ground on the playgrounds and later in the boardrooms and in state affairs. Whether or not the Dutch actually have any idea of the subject matter is a whole other topic.


Lower-Secondary School Completion
The Dutch can proudly boast as ranking third in the world for having the most educated population, just behind Finland and Singapore according to the annual Global Competitiveness Report conducted by the World Economic Forum. And Dutch girls regularly outperform their male counterparts when it comes to high school and higher education.


As of now, I am a mother to two American-Dutch boys and intent on raising them to be men I can be proud of. But if I should ever have a daughter, I’d be celebrating being able to raise her in the Netherlands!



First photo courtesy of Peter Eiking

P.s. Did you know that we wrote a book exploring why all these Dutch children are so happy around us?


6 October 2016



“Oma Mieke, Oma Mieke” exclaims my four year old son Julius. “Let’s go to the boerderij (farm) to pick up some eggs and then the bakery to pick up croissants. Then you can make me lunch!”


Julius is on his bike on our driveway, restless and impatient while sixty-two year-old Mieke bundles up his one year-old brother Matteo in his stroller.


She hands Matteo a package of baby cookies which Matteo gobbles up happily.


“Okay, no problem.” responds Mieke. “Rina, we’re headed out. Be back soon!”


Mieke isn’t our children’s biological Oma (grandmother). Rather, she is our version of a Rent-an-Oma – a surrogate grandmother to watch our children for a couple hours during the week. She is my secret to how I get any writing done.


I was actually inspired by this idea when I lived in the sleepy, retirement community of Doorn. Everywhere around us were Dutch people of sixty years and older. They would often stop us – at the local Albert Heijn grocery store or the playground in the woods – to chat and admire the boys.


And of course, there were also lots of grandparents either toting their grandchildren around at the weekly farmer’s market, visiting the local zoo, or simply out on the sidewalks pushing babies in strollers and chasing after toddlers on their walking bicycles.


Often referred to as Omadag (though Dutch grandfathers are just as hands on and involved), many Dutch grandparents dedicate a day or two a week to help care for their grandchildren. It’s the Dutch version of the modern day village, and the Dutch take it to heart. The ideal childcare structure in Holland comprises of the responsibility spread out during the week. For example, when Michele’s children were young, her mother-in-law would take the kids a day a week, her husband Martijn on his alternate Fridays off, and she’d take them for two days and the rest went to créche.
It’s a healthy mix  allowing children to develop meaningful relationships with their grandparents but not becoming too much of a burden. Even the Dutch government fully supported the idea of Oma and Opa involvement, And I have the sneaking suspicion it’s one of the reasons why Dutch children are so happy.


As a Dutch-American family, we are not in the privileged position to have grandparents live nearby, or who are not interested in taking care of their grandchildren a once a week.  So why not just “Rent-an-Oma”? There seemed to be a lot of older Dutch grandmotherly types who took  a lot of joy in being with my children and I obviously needed help.


Apparently, my brilliant the idea of “Rent-an-Oma” was already fashionable two to three years ago – you can either have a Oma nanny or even adopt an Oma.  And the Dutch government was behind the idea, even providing a subsidy for Omas and Opas who are registered as guest parents.


I couldn’t, however, just invite any stranger to my house of course – careful screening, a list of requirements of what we wanted,  interviews and background checks had to be conducted. When we found Mieke, we wished we had done it sooner. As a former kindergarten teacher and a nanny with over twenty-five years experience, Mieke is the Dutch Mary Poppins of our dreams (yes, she also sings). Her  authoritative but kind handling of the children and overall love for toddlers and babies puts our mind at ease.


The idea of Rent-an-Oma is more than just hiring a nanny, a babysitter or even an au pair. It’s about hopefully fostering a lifelong connection with someone who can pass down their own wisdom and culture to the next generation. It’s about sharing with my children stories from the past, of continuing the oral tradition of stories that will enrich my children’s imagination. And it’s about creating our own village, of being honest with ourselves that we cannot continue to parent alone and need the support of kind souls around us.


There’s been a lot of interest in the news lately about how the Dutch and even Americans incorporating their elderly population into modern day society. There is the story about college students living in retirement homes and even a preschool program that’s part of a nursing home.


My own friends who heard about my rent-a-oma experience on Facebook were quite positive. One friend enthusiastically responded, “Holy sh*t. I want a Rent-a-Oma here. In fact, I once made a joke about how may I should have tried to rent a grandparent.”

Let’s consider making Rent-an-Oma a trend around the world.


P.S. Did you know we have a book called The Happiest Kids in the World? If you live in the UK, you can pre-order a copy! (For American and other international readers, please wait till our American publishers gives us more info!) Thank you for the continued love and support.

American Presidential Election According to an American Expat

29 September 2016



I usually don’t address anything political in my little space on the internet. You visit Finding Dutchland, I assume, to escape from that noise, to be inspired and perhaps nostalgic about all things related to life in quaint and cozy Holland. You come here for the gezelligheid. But I feel the collective anxiety surrounding me as I am flooded by news regarding the American presidential election. The spotlight centers around a lawyer – Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton- and a salesman – Republican front runner Donald Trump.


And I am struggling to set aside all these emotions stirring inside of me. So here I am, trying to steady my quivering voice, to connect and to make a stand.


I am a proud American. And unlike many American expats who happily immigrated to Holland, I dragged my feet, second guessing and suspicious about living in a country I’d never heard of before. Couple that with the downright depressing weather, the bristling direct form of communication, and overall feelings of isolation, the temptation to book a one-way ticket back to San Francisco where I come from, lingered for quite a while. But I came here for love, and decided to stay to start a family.


Almost ten years later, I find myself well integrated in Dutch culture and have seen enough of the merits of Dutch parenting to co-author a book about it. And during the process of writing and research, it wasn’t hard to stumble upon an uncomfortable truth: the on-going struggle for a decent life in America is overwhelmingly much harder than in the rest of the modern developed world, especially compared to Europe.


Their Dutch counterparts enjoy benefits such as paid maternity leave, affordable health insurance, postpartum maternity nurses at home after each delivery, essentially free medical care for children under the age of eighteen,  a quarterly kinderbijslag (child benefit) to help cushion all the expenses and a guaranteed minimum of five weeks holiday a year.


And as much as Americans, especially mothers, love to lament about there is no such thing as a work-life balance, Dutch parents are accomplishing it en masse.  It’s done through part-time work, where the general trend is both parents dedicating one day a week to childcare, household chores and even penciling in time for themselves.


I also understand the knee-jerk, hot-blooded American reaction to all these generous benefits and supportive social family policies as simply a state of socialism gone mad. My husband and I can empathize – we’re an entrepreneur and freelance writer. If we don’t work, we don’t earn a dime. And we prefer to keep our hard-earned money for ourselves thank you very much.


But America, consider this – the effective tax rate that American workers pay is essentially not that different when you add up all the other taxes – social security, state and local taxes, and real estate taxes. So the American middle class is considerably much more out of pocket and has much less benefits.


So it’s no wonder I couldn’t help but ask why more Americans aren’t revolting? Why is there no civil unrest? Why are Americans, quite frankly, so complacent? Why do we as a society perpetuate the idea that we’re all temporarily embarrassed millionaires?


Now that we’re only five weeks away from the most important American presidential election in modern history, these questions become even more relevant. After all, whoever becomes President of the United States has influence on what type of social policies will be implemented.


To be perfectly honest, I am not infatuated with Hillary Clinton. Like many of my generation – millennials between the ages of eighteen and thirty-four – I have a soft spot for Bernie Sanders. He is the crazy, unkempt uncle at Thanksgiving dinner who would directly acknowledge what had been lingering in our minds – climate change, student debt, and economic uncertainty. We loved him and respected him for it. The Democratic National party and mainstream media obviously didn’t.  


In trying to understand why exactly voters lean one way or the other, it finally dawned on me: America is going through a social revolution. It’s not how I romantically pictured it – peaceful demonstrations and inspiring speeches televised live at the Lincoln Memorial. It’s happening behind closed doors in people’s living rooms, in the modern privacy of Facebook groups, and Twitter. It resonates with similar discontentment as the Brexit.


This election if anything is a clear indication that Americans are upset and many have had enough of the status quo. Americans are desperate for change. As T.A. Frank writes in an article in Vanity Fair, “We can see that voters are exceptionally dissatisfied with how things are going in the United States. Nearly two-third of them believe the country is on the wrong track.”


If you’re an American, the best and simplest thing you can do right now is to register to vote. Your voice matters.  


With love,

Rina Mae

Why I Love Dutch Children’s Films

20 September 2016

Dutch Children's Films

My nine-year-old daughter used to watch noisy cartoons, progressing from Dora the Explorer to Pokemon and Ben 10, and watching all the Disney and Pixar hits on the way. But about a year ago there was a sea change in her viewing. She discovered serialised Dutch children’s book adaptations such as Koen Kampioen (about a young footballer), De Leeuwenkuil (about a family running a zoo) and Hoe overleef ik (about an adolescent girl). Then she moved on to the wealth of Dutch children’s films shown during the ‘Zappbios’ slot on national tv. For the first time, I started eagerly joining her in front of the telly.


Dutch cinema tends to be realist and naturalistic; films frequently deal with family and friendship issues, tackling loyalty, betrayal, failed ambitions. While this can make for dull and rather monotonous adult films with a lack of dramatic action, Dutch children’s cinema is often outstanding. The young leads act well (by this I mean subtly) and the issues treated work well within the context of childhood, growing up and learning about how the world works. For example, we recently watched the Emmy-award winning lightly comic Rhubarb about a step-brother and sister who try to fix their parents’ failing second marriage. Interestingly, relatively few of the films contain fantasy elements – examples are Dolfje (‘Alfie the Werewolf’ about a boy who becomes a werewolf on his 7th birthday) and Dummie the Mummy (about an Egyptian child mummy that  turns up in a Dutch village), but even these also feature regular children in a realist setting.


I have a hunch that Dutch films are easy to relate to because they feature actual children as opposed to fantasy adults or animals. I’m hard-pushed to think of many Hollywood films with human kids in: Home Alone, ET, Back to the Future all hark back to the 80s, and then there are the more recent Roald Dahl adaptations, of course, but still. It’s almost as if superheroes, princesses and animals have to stand in for children most of the time. The sad reason might have something to do with the lack of freedom American children have while growing up. What makes the plots and premises of the Dutch films possible is the fact that Dutch children are free to play outdoors for hours on end in real life. The young characters portrayed in the films move around without parental supervision. They play outdoors, going off on little adventures in the way the Famous Five and Secret Seven did in the Enid Blyton books I read as a child. They have their own (head)space in which the dramatic action can take place. They aren’t followed about by hovering parents.


The other difference is that Dutch parents don’t protect their children from learning about the more challenging aspects of life. They don’t grow up in a rose-coloured bubble, shielded from knowledge of illness, death or sex. Life is not censored. The last Zappbios we watched was actually a German film called Köpfuber (Upside Down). It is about a ten year-old boy losing his joie de vivre as a side effect of ADHD medication. It was hard-hitting rather than a feel-good movie but definitely food for thought. Allowing children to watch Dutch and other European arthouse-style movies prepares them for the real world in a way that no Disney film can.


Here are my daughter’s favourite Dutch films:

  1. Achtste-Groepers Huilen Niet / Cool Kids Don’t Cry

A 12-year-old gets leukemia in the last year of primary school. I think this struck a particular chord because one of my daughter’s close friends was suffering from cancer at the time.


  1. Kauwboy / Crow-boy

A boy and a crow and a violent father, it reminds me of the Ken Loach’s Kes.


  1.  De Boskampis / The Boskampis

A comedy about a boy who pretends his dorky father is a Mafia boss.


  1. Mees Kees / Class of Fun

A trainee teacher gets put in front of the class. Comedy.


  1. Het Paard van Sinterklaas / St Nicholas’s Horse

Perennial classic about a young Chinese girl hoping for a gift in her shoe.

Trailer (no subtitles):

  1. In Oranje / In Orange

Film about a boy who dreams of playing for the Dutch football team and loses his father to a heart attack.

Trailer (no subtitles):

  1. Het Zakmes / The Pen Knife

Cute 1992 film about a six year-old trying to return a penknife to a friend who has moved away.

No trailer but here is an except:

  1. De Sterkste Man van Nederland / The Strongest Man in Holland

A single mum tells her son that his father was the strongest man in the Netherlands. He goes off in search.

Trailer (no subtitles):

  1. Minoes / The Cat That Came In From The Roof

Film of Annie MG Schmidt’s classic children’s book about a young woman who can turn into a cat


  1. Kruistocht in Spijkerbroek / Crusade in Jeans

Another film of a classic children’s book, a boy goes back to 13th century to set a few things right.


A Thank You Letter to the Strangers on the Train

14 September 2016


To the random strangers on the train,


Two months ago (July 14), I had an epileptic episode on the train traveling between Utrecht Central and Driebergen-Rijsenburg. At my most vulnerable moment, you stayed by my side and helped me.


For starters, it was clear that there was a good chance I wasn’t one of you. I’m an American of Filipino ancestry – my dark brown skin, short stature and Northern California accent a clear giveaway.  But instead of dismissing me, you all tried your best to give me solace during the most embarrassing moment of my life.


I live with epilepsy. It’s an inconvenient disorder that rarely appears, a vague constant threat that lingers around. I’m supposed to be getting plenty of rest, a solid night’s sleep, eating healthily, and avoiding epileptic triggers. Something that’s quite a challenge when you are deep in the trenches of early motherhood.


And despite my seemingly extrovert, open personality, I prefer to suffer in silence, the pick-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps mentality deeply ingrained in me.  


On that day, the air was the crisp kind, mingling with Holland’s soft light to make everything look clear, as if you were watching the world through a new lens. I was just coming home from an intense, but productive meeting with my co-author and Dutch publisher in Amsterdam.

I’m an aspiring writer, hoping to put words to all the wonderful (and challenging) aspects of bringing up American-Dutch kids in your country. To what the Dutch are actually getting right – raising the happiest kids in the world.


I struggled during my first few years in your country. It wasn’t easy. And it took me a really long time to get acclimated. The infamous Dutch directness and unsolicited advice initially clashed with my overly polite Asian American upbringing. Now I actually appreciate it and prefer the pragmatic style of communication. So I was high on life, finally feeling like I’m not only surviving in your country, but thriving.   


When I reached Amsterdam Centraal, I noticed that I had three minutes before my train would leave. So I sprinted. For my life. I was pleased with myself for having made it, not having to wait another thirty minutes. Then my stomach started hurting. A sense of panic rushed over me. I told myself if I just practiced some breathing exercises, perhaps I could prevent the attack from happening. I was wrong.  


Thank you for your random act of kindness. For not running away to the nearest polder when you witnessed a random foreign stranger lose consciousness, have violent muscle contractions and wet herself. Twice. You could have easily assumed, having never witnessed a grand mal seizure, that I was a tourist who had taken a bit too many liberties.


I’m hoping that these words will reach you.

With gratitude,
Rina Mae

The Grammar School Debate From the Outside

13 September 2016



For far too many children in Britain, the chance they have in life is determined by where they live, or how much money their parents have,’  Theresa May said last week, referring to the in-built inequities in the British school system. There is a gaping chasm between the quality of state schooling available in the south and what you can get in the rest of the country. And then there are the public (private) schools which are better than any of these anyway (though she doesn’t say that). You’re either rich or you’re f*cked in the UK is how many parents see it. Reform would be welcome to most.

But May’s first speech as Prime Minister promising plans for new grammar schools is causing a furore. ‘Theresa May entrenches segregation and privilege with her education reforms’, was one such headline. ‘We will fail as a nation if we only get the top 15 per cent to 20 per cent of our children achieving well,’ Sir Michael Wilshaw, Chief Inspector of Schools, declared on Radio 4, underlining the typically Anglo-Saxon ambition for all children to achieve great A levels.

What’s the problem with grammar schools then? In the Guardian, Sam Freedman argues that only a tiny minority of children from disadvantaged backgrounds actually attend these schools and, really they cater for the middle classes. (Hang on: what’s wrong with the middle classes? They can’t always afford private school fees either.) He goes on to state that ‘all the top education systems in the world are comprehensive,’ which is where I get all bristly. It’s patently untrue when you consider the Netherlands which does have a selective system and scores excellently in the OECD report he himself quotes from.

The Dutch system is a great improvement on the British one and it’s one of the main attractions of life here as a parent. Born into the non-affluent middle class, I attended a small-town grammar school in the Midlands myself. It wasn’t all it was cooked up to be, as I later found out when I went to uni. The privately-educated kids were way ahead academically and it took me a couple of terms to catch up. So as I see it, if you want the best education in the UK right now you have to pay for it, grammar schools or not. The Netherlands on the other hand, has a
unified school system, paid for by high taxation. You don’t need to be rich to attend the top schools.

Dutch children attend primary school from 4 to 11 years of age and are streamed into different types of secondary schools after that. I’ll explain but bear with me, it’s complicated. There are grammar schools – ‘gymnasiums’ – which provide an academic education (VWO)  including Latin and Greek in preparation for university entrance. There are mixed schools which offer the academic stream (VWO) and the professional stream (HAVO – preparation for higher non-academic education). There are schools offering just HAVO. And there are schools providing the various types of vocational education (VMBO). That’s not all though. If you want more mobility, there are large schools that offer all of the education types, the equivalent to the British comprehensives. Children are divided into these streams around the age of 12, after aptitude tests throughout primary school, and character assessment. If a child isn’t interested in knuckling down to bucketloads of Latin and Greek, they won’t be recommended for a gymnasium. You don’t want to set them up to fail. Children who do better than expected can move up a stream.

‘Achievement’, ‘academic’ and ‘meritocracy’ seem to be the catchwords of the grammar school debate. ‘In a true meritocracy, we should not be apologetic about stretching the most academically able to the very highest standards of excellence,’ May says. ‘Every child should be given the opportunity to develop the crucial academic core.’ Everyone must achieve is the subtext and academic studies are preferable to any other kind. But it’s not like that in Holland. The Dutch school system aims to keep pupils engaged and happy and as a result achieves high attendance figures and good pass records. Although the upper middle classes can get hung up about getting their kids into gymnasiums, in general, there is no shame in going to the HAVO or attending a vocational school. The point is, the other schools provide a good education too! There’s a vocational school a couple of hundred yards from my house that teaches plant and animal science.  It’s got its own greenhouses and mini-farm out the back. My son and I often peer over the fence in envy at kids grooming ponies and planting bulbs.

The thing is, the British have become trapped in their own ideology – a utopian desire to believe that a meritocratic society might be possible, while having one of the most entrenched class systems in the world. Surely the point should not just be to build more grammar schools, but to provide a better range of education across the board and do away with the socially-divisive private school system? This seems to be what May herself wants: ‘Because if the central concern ordinary working class people have is that their children will not enjoy the same opportunities they have had in life, we need to ensure that there is a good school place for every child, and education provision that caters to the individual needs and abilities of every pupil.’ (Though she should certainly add the middle classes to the working classes.) She also makes it clear she doesn’t support the binary system of secondary moderns picking up the slack once grammar schools have taken the pick of the crop, but welcomes a more diverse selection of schools. Come and take a look at the Dutch system, I say. Don’t just build grammar schools but other types of successful schools that kids actually want to go to.

The Happiest Kids in the World, Bringing Up Children the Dutch Way

5 September 2016


It’s time to fess up. We’ve been keeping something from you. Nothing bad. We haven’t cheated on you or anything, but we thought it best to wait until everything was official. We’ve written a book and it’s called The Happiest Kids in the World: Bringing up children the Dutch way. The British edition is now available for pre-order on Amazon. Doubleday UK commissioned the book, Dutch rights have been sold to Nijgh & Van Ditmar for publication in the spring, and we have an American publisher too – The Experiment who do cool non-fiction books. They’ll be publishing next spring too.

As expats bringing up our kids here – Rina Mae Acosta is American and Michele Hutchison is British – we realized that something truly wonderful was going on. UNICEF had already confirmed our suspicions: according to the Child Well-Being Studies, the Dutch are raising the happiest children in the world. We’re talking about well-adjusted and healthy kids who rate themselves happy, get on well with their friends and parents and enjoy school. . . And these children have managed to come top the two times the comprehensive study into childhood happiness was conducted.

What exactly are Dutch parents doing differently? Could it really just be all the hagelslag, chocolate sprinkles, that Dutch kids eat for breakfast? Or perhaps it’s because of the chilled-out Dutch babies who sleep through the night and the under ten crowd who are free to play after school because they have no homework. And why isn’t anyone else making a fuss about this? Shouldn’t more parents know about this parenting style that’s actually working?




So we put our heads together to figure out exactly why Dutch children are rated the happiest kids in the world.



In the meantime, come join us on our Facebook page. And if you’d like to support us in letting more people know about our book, please do.

Stuff Dutch People Think Is Dutch

23 August 2016



I’ve long been a fan of Colleen Geske’s entertaining blog Colleen, who is Canadian, has lived in the Netherlands as long as I have and has spent time cataloguing all the peculiarities of the Lowlands. Topics include: ‘Speaking in expressions’, ‘Impossibly steep stairs’, ‘White leggings’ and ‘Borrels’. In 2013, she self-published a book of the same title with 60 of these blog posts. It’s fun and recognizable and I definitely recommend it. Just recently I bought her follow-up book Stuff Dutch People Say, which being a linguist, is right up my street. The Dutch language is riddled with often peculiar idiom (they speak in expressions, after all) and Colleen sets about explaining where some of these things come from, as well as discussing Dutch words that have made their way into the English language (coleslaw – kool-sla, for example).  

It’s probably easier for an outsider moving into a particular culture to isolate the things that seem typically Dutch, than for a Dutch person themselves. It’s easy to assume particular behaviours or objects are normal, until a foreigner points them out to you. The same thing happens to me with Englishness sometimes.  A Dutch friend pointed out to me last week that fumbling teenage sex at a bus-stop or in the back of a parked car was not something many Dutch people had ever experienced since most of them lost their virginity at home. A more obvious example of cultural difference is English people abroad constantly having to ask for milk to put in their tea (and then: regular milk, please, not coffee creamer!).

All that said, a new book has just come out in which the Dutch have a go at explaining themselves. The Netherlands in 26 Iconic Objects, edited by Wim Brands and Jeroen van Kan and published by Uitgeverij Balans contains 26 short essays each by a different Dutch writer. I confess to having been an insider on the project since I translated two of the essays myself (‘Ice-Skates’ by Maarten t Hart and ‘Biscuit Tin’ by Maartje Wortel). Although many of the objects chosen weren’t invented by the Dutch, their adoption into Dutch culture highlights something about the natural character. In the case of the essays I translated, ice-skates were probably invented in Scandinavia but became particularly useful in a water-filled country that froze over in the winter. Skating on natural ice in a pair of noren is especially Dutch. Us Brits have got biscuit tins too, of course, but we don’t do that thing of offering our guests just a single biscuit. It’s the single biscuit that exemplifies Dutch frugality.

I’d never heard of a Bolknak (Maarten Asscher’s contribution). It turns out to be a Dutch-produced cigar for the bourgeois classes (not something us foreigners associate with the Dutch – where’s that flat society?). But it also fell out of production many years ago. Clogs, bulbs, herring carts, stroopwafels sure, but ecstacy pills? The writer Renee Kelder claims that cargo-bike mums even take them on occasion, as do Dutch people in their sixties. A ‘drugs holiday’ from the straitjacket of Calvinism. And what to think of geraniums which I always associate with the Greek islands myself? According to Bram Bakker, geraniums are a Dutch cipher for old age as it used to be – ‘sitting behind the geraniums’ as the Dutch expression goes. It’s something modern Dutch oldies wouldn’t be seen dead doing, apparently.

Dutch Youth Are Happy – What’s Going On?

22 August 2016




I’m convinced that when Pharrell Williams sang “Clap along if you know what happiness is to you”, he was actually addressing the millions of Dutch youth growing up happy. After all, Dutch children are the happiest kids in the world. And recent research from the Central Bureau of Statistics, once again confirms the sentiment. Dutch people between the ages of twelve and twenty five are quite happy and satisfied with their lives. In particular, they are quite content with:


And contrary to the infamous reputation of Amsterdam being the capital of mayhem (prostitution, alcohol, and drugs), Dutch youth are are less likely to engage in underage smoking, drinking, cannabis use and sex. Apparently, for these happy, well-adjusted and satisfied youth, being square is the latest trend.


It’s in stark contrast with the current state of affairs with their Anglophone counterparts. British teenagers are among the unhappiest – they feel they face too much pressure at school, are concerned that they are too fat, and engage in unhealthy drinking behaviors. And alarmingly, more and more American teens – about one out of nine – experience a major depressive episode.


When studies come up stating overall well being, the knee-jerk reaction is for many to simply attribute the main reason as a government with family friendly social policies. Even the Dutch are vocally envious of their Scandinavian neighbors, especially in terms of parental leave for fathers.


But here is the caveat – it simply can’t all be because of family-friendly social policies. Scandinavian countries have much more generous social policies, yet it’s the Dutch youth that come out on top time and time again.  Don’t get me wrong, generous parental benefits are quite helpful.  But I’m also pragmatic and chances are, it may take some time before this actually happens. So in the meantime, I’d love to know exactly what Dutch parents are doing right. We all can’t move to the Netherlands, but we can learn from them. What do you think are the reasons for all the happy youth in Holland?