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In America, we are protected from our own stupidity. Okay, not in all cases. Sometimes it is encouraged: eat crappy things, buy more than you can afford, believe Fox News, go shopping to do your part in solving the country’s financial woes.

Yet, America is also very serious about safety and coddles us as if we are irrational beings, incapable of deciphering the obvious. For example, a cup of hot coffee may have the following label: Be Careful! The content of this cup is hot and could burn you!

If a street is closed, large signage in neon colors is placed at the entrance. In case this didn’t get our attention, or we can’t read, the area is fenced off, just to make sure we don’t trip, fall, get injured and, more importantly, sue.

If a metro line runs through a city, quite often there are guard rails along the tracks, with specified entry and exit points. We wouldn’t want someone who was, say, focused on a very important cell phone call, to accidentally walk in front of the metro.

In Holland, you’re on your own. Multiple tram lines run through the urban centers, and pedestrians, bicycles and cars cross the tracks at their own will and risk. Sure, there are flashing lights at major crossings, but no guard rails go down.

If a postman or delivery person can’t find a parking place, they will simply park half on the sidewalk  and half on the bike path–and no one cares. There are no bright orange cones placed before or after to state the obvious. It’s up to you to figure out how to go on your merry way.

In a densely populated European city with a well-integrated public transport system,  it’s just not possible to coddle the populace at every moment.  And, it isn’t necessary. People pay attention because they have to, and because lawsuits based on not paying attention are just not acceptable or common.

I’m not saying this is entirely good. The other day, we were cycling along, and discovered the road was closed. However, there was a small opening for pedestrians and cyclists. We proceeded forth and entered a construction pit. Metal panels had been laid down as a makeshift cycling or walking path and we muddled our way through the site, around tractors and drop offs. It felt adventurous in a way, but if we’d gotten hurt, we would be on our “onus.”

I suppose the European coddling comes in the form of health care, quality education and other services provided for free or at a very low cost, and the multiple, paid vacations.  I much prefer this type of coddling. And, paying attention is empowering!

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