Everyday going about my business in Holland, I feel it. I am five feet four inches tall. Here, I am short. I am height challenged. I cannot reach the handle hanging overhead on the tram when it’s packed. I cannot reach half of the cupboards in my kitchen without the aid of my IKEA stepstool. My kitchen countertop is even with the bottom of my ribcage and my feet never touch the floor on any public transport I have taken.
As a short person, you feel the height challenge on a daily basis. It never really hinders you, but you get annoyed and frustrated, nonetheless. When in a restroom and looking in the mirror, I can only see myself from my chin up. Door handles and coat hooks are higher. You start to notice small things that you would never even think about if you were in the US. Like in the Apple store here on the Leidseplein, the tables holding all the latest and greatest machines are taller. It’s hard to type comfortably on that shiny new iPad if you are not the typical Dutch person. Even in my furnished expat apartment, the desk I am typing at is too high for me. I sit on a pillow on the chair so that I can type at a normal level.
And when you are short, your legs get an extra workout. We know the Dutch love stairs. And stairs here are measured for the height of the average Dutch person. For men, that is a little over 6 feet and for women it is 5 feet six inches. My thigh muscles have become noticeably more toned since moving here. It’s not all bad.
When shopping here in The Netherlands, I am now conscious of how many more euros I would need to add to the cost of any pants I may want to buy, for shortening them. And even some tops I cannot choose because the arms are simply way too long. Luckily, there are Italian and French (where shorter Europeans live) designers carried in most stores and I can find clothes that are just right for my height.
I have tried to understand the reasons for the Dutch being so tall and I am attributing it to their consumption of dairy products. When you are new to the Dutch grocery store, you will be surprised, amused and bewildered by the amount of yogurt drinks, milk drinks and dairy options available. It reminds me of an American cereal aisle. I had no idea when I first arrived what karne melk was and why there were so many varieties. It is buttermilk and the Dutch love it. Even adults. There is always a small mob of tall Dutch people hovered around the milk case. Everyone drinks milk products here on a daily basis and everyone eats cheese. There is a cheese store in every neighborhood. Once you have tried Dutch cheese, you will find your favorite and be among the locals standing in line asking for your hunk to be sliced from that orange wheel as well. I am curious to see if my teenage daughter will gain some height while living here, as she too has come to crave the Dutch cheese. And then she can reach the top shelves of the products I need at the top of the dairy case.
I do love the expressions on my visiting friends’ faces when we pass a really tall Dutch guy. You cannot help but notice when a six’ six” or taller guy walks past again and again. You might only see this in the US at an NBA game.
Since my toes have also received more attention in the stretching and tipping that they are doing here, my feet have grown stronger and all those heels and wedges are starting to feel pretty comfy now for longer wear. Come summer, I feel confident I will be running for the tram in heels, and will be hanging on to those overhead handles with ease.