gross generalizations about other nations

Your standard Dutch goofball presenter

The title is non-capitalised, because I’m just writing for fun. As an academic I travelled a lot, but aside from a long stint in New York was never really exposed to a culture. In the past year this travelling bike expert racket has given me opportunities to really hang with the locals. So here’s what i think.

The Dutch like mocking themselves before anyone like the English do it before them. I guess it comes from being always reminded that they live below-sea-level, ostensibly in a hole. Nearly half of the bike related events I’ve spoken at there have had a mad-cap presenter, like this guy. If it’s not a loud suit, it’s 1970s drag. I find it annoying. Then, whenever you meet Dutch architects working abroad, they can’t wait to give their buildings basement garages. They wear cycling the way a teenager wears her flaming red hair, erroneously thinking she’s ugly.

Your standard Dutch goofball presenter


The United Statesians (I can’t call them “Americans” because some Colombian friends would just shoot me) have an inimitable way of looking right through you. You might have written the only two intellectually credible theses about cycling and built environment theory (this one and this one) but they’ll think the only reason you’re talking to them is to overstay in their country.

The Unitedstatesian and his preferred bike.

The Spanish think everyone on a bike is united in the fight against Franco. It’s hard not to love that radical flavour, especially when you realise everyone you just met at the conference will spend Sunday with you in the nude.

The Canadians are Australians, that’s easy. What are Australians? Surburbanite slobs. The bicycle is something you carry on the roof of your car, or that you use to stay fit while indulging your suburban lifestyle, or that you buy to look smug while resisting the densification of the inner suburb you were rich enough to buy into.

Proud occupiers of free standing homes just a short ride from downtown.

The Danes believe their own marketing hype, but don’t have much more than 1930s fonts on white backgrounds and a few pig farms. As they will tell you, however, they have woollen socks and ride in the snow. So while we celebrate the 500th anniversary of Luther’s Reformation, let’s pay them their dues.

God’s PreorDanes

The craziest bunch I’ve rubbed shoulders with as a result of this travelling bike evangelist show have been the Colombians. Now they are only robbed at knife point a few times a year, not every day, it’s like every day is D-Day and a time to let down their hair and go wild. I’ve never felt less likely to kill myself than during the week I spent there.

Happy Bogota… happy because things could be worse.

A really big surprise has been China. To look at, Shenzhen is a deep fried meme version of Singapore, where everything is wider, taller, denser, richer and poorer. But where Singaporeans are self-conscious about neither being Western or Eastern, free or controlled, traditional or modern, or any of the dualities they get themselves caught between, the Chinese are unashamed. They’ll never embrace British customs, like written contracts in place of getting shit faced with the company’s chairman, because China, like the US, is a world unto itself.

Last but not least, though, is Norway. I’m just smitten by that joint. They gained independence around the same time as Australia and still behave like late teens with a share house, as though some parent nation is watching. When not plagued by that thought, they’re skiing, as here in Australia we’re surfing.

Now who did I miss? I’ll happily lampoon them in the comments trough below.


  1. Nik Dow says:

    Just back from 2nd visit to China, and your description fits perfectly. I wasn’t privvy to any drinking sessions with CEOs but the confidence in their own culture is exactly as you say. Riding share bikes around the 3 biggest cities makes me want to move there, if it wasn’t for the pollution, and that is being fixed. For example all the petrol-driven 2-wheelers are now electric – quiet and clean. Their Vulnerable Road User Law makes pedestrians and cyclists feel safe – I haven’t researched this but it’s obvious just from looking at the way drivers behave. China was never colonised.

    • Steven says:

      I was impressed too. Part of me thinks, oh no. The other part thinks we’re wasting our lives being anywhere else.

  2. Tom Parr says:

    Us Brits. Sure, we got mentions, but many of us will feel aggrieved that we were overlooked for a full Flem-pooning (…and secretly worried we’re no longer important enough). Maybe if we’d worn more hi-vis you’d have noticed us?

    Hold your horses though, whilst I get the popcorn…

    • Steven says:

      Genius Tom. You should write a blog 🙂 But you know, I haven’t been to England in a very long time. Plus my wife and her family are British, so I need to be careful.

  3. troy says:

    Humans love to generalize ;P

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