On California Being the Future of America, From a Dutch Perspective
I’ve seen a lot of articles, mainly post-Trump election, echoing a sentiment that California is the future of America, and I wholeheartedly agree. As a person who moved to the US from the Netherlands in 1992 by enrolling in film school in Los Angeles, I always thought California was the place to be, even though I initially had entertained the thought of moving to New York, which felt a little more relatable somehow, maybe because New York used to be New Amsterdam, and so somehow feels more European. New Yorkers feel more similar to Dutch people than Angelenos do in their straightforwardness about things. And New York City feels much more like a real city than the sprawling Los Angeles.
I also grew up in the 80s on a lot of American films from the 70s, (which would have their first run on Dutch TV in the 80s,) and often took place in New York, a lot of Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen and Sidney Lumet films, and so I romanticized New York as the place to be quite a bit. Later on I saw a lot of TV shows that took place in California and got warmed up to the idea of being close to the beach. So I eventually decided against New York, mainly because I figured I’d be a poor, struggling artist for at least for the first years of film school and that struggling probably felt better in California temperatures. I was right about that one.
Having lived in Los Angeles for 25 years now, I find it both somewhat amusing as well as a little annoying that one has to look to California to imagine what a progressive America would look like. As a lesbian in the US I found it difficult to endure an 11 year fight to overturn the Defense Of Marriage Act of 1996, having to suffer the Proposition 8 setback in California and slowly watch same-sex marriage go through state by state, while back in my homecountry same-sex marriage went through in April of 2001, making it the first country in the world to do so. In fact, California has been heading in the “Dutch direction” for some time already, regarding some of its’ policies.
One could also easily look at my homecountry, (amongst other progressive countries,) besides California, for clues as to what works and doesn’t for people in general. (And not to say everything is perfect in the Netherlands neither of course, and they also have a few things left to improve on.)
The Netherlands legalized same-sex marriage in 2001, (with anti-sodomy laws dating back to 1811,) sex-work since 1830, (for-profit and covered by labor laws officially since 2000,) gender reassignment surgery since 1997, and legal name change without surgery requirements since 2014, abortion since 1984 (legal, with easy access and covered by insurances,) euthanasia since 2002, open borders under the Schengen Agreement since 1995, (for 26 countries within Europe,) and recreational marijuana since 1976, to name a few examples.
Also, the Netherlands is mostly atheist, while also accepting freedom of religion. Tolerance, (yet not always necessarily acceptance,) is considered one of the Netherlands’ greatest values. This hasn’t always worked out perfectly as religion in general is often used as an anti-immigrant sentiment, unlike the US where religion is seen as an American value, (although not by the Founding Fathers,) Christianity that primarily translates into, certainly not all forms of religion, although constitutionally promoting freedom of religion, but atheism is generally seen as a rather serious enemy. (Both countries, not so incidentally, use Islam as an anti-immigrant sentiment.)
And seriously US, what is up with that archaic two party system?! The Netherlands counts some 15 parties, (besides still being a monarchy, the last truly archaic system of the Dutch.) In fact, Hillary Clinton’s policies would place her somewhat on the right over there, instead of being a democrat, and Bernie Sanders would be considered a little more mainstream leftwing candidate by Dutch standards. I’m sort of estimating some these things however, because I haven’t been back home in two decades.
Dutch people hit up the gym way less than Californians I would estimate as well, certainly from memory, having spent the first 19 years of my life there, but they eat a lot healthier in turn, or at least they used to, (American fastfood chains abound over there, and the Dutch tradition of fries with mayonaise leaves a lot to be desired.) We should do away with the bio-industry altogether for sure and get rid off all these meat consuming habits, as meat is truly murder, of animals and of ourselves. (And if you don’t have the guts to slaughter an animal yourself, you really shouldn’t eat one. I say this, eating meat occasionally and am trying to become a full-time vegetarian myself, so I am guilty of partaking in this mass murder myself.) You can just as easily get your protein from beans and lentils, the secret is in the seasoning, we should cook with olive oil only, instead of vegetable oil or butter.
The Dutch work less hours per week and take longer breaks, sitting down on boundless cafe patios to drink coffee, served in porcelain cups, instead of getting it to go, in paper or plastic cups, (the cafes, often called brown bars for their abundance of cigarette and cigar smoke, would always serve always serve alcohol as well, not be be confused with the Dutch coffeeshops, which serve recreational marijuana, and coffee as well.) The Dutch healthcare system costs less than in the US, affording less hours of work in turn.
In case you’re wondering by now what I’m still doing in California, I moved here for the film industry, which is a lot weaker in the Netherlands, or at least was in 1992, and I don’t really know how it fares in the days of the internet and digital cameras. And I got sort of stuck here, still love Los Angeles after all these years, for good and for bad, and definitely still love filmmaking. The Netherlands, for the most part though, is doing alright.
And one thing we desperately need more of in California is bike paths. Seriously. And you can look to the Netherlands for that one as well. Real bike lanes with according traffic lights, and real road dividers so cars can’t run you off the road, and tickets for those who try. And we need more regular bikes, as opposed to sporty ones for sporty types only.
This would do so much good for regular people who might feel intimidated by the way bike culture is looked at in the US, namely for sporty types only, or kids, or poor people. Bikes as a normal means of transportation, not just a hobby or a desperate measure.
I know LA is huge and I have a muscle car and fixie bike to get around myself but some decent size bike lanes along some of the main boulevards are much needed and I would definitely ride my bike more often if I felt safer doing so. California car attitude is often real nasty, feels very elitist and is just plain dangerous.
A decent lane all along Sunset Boulevard would make for a beautifully scenic route, (besides the existing famous Venice Beach bike path,) and a lane along Santa Monica Blvd. would ease some of that always existing traffic congestion. Wilshire Blvd. would lend itself perfectly to a bike path as well, and Silverlake altogether, again providing some really nice routes. And Fairfax Ave., one of my own favorite streets to take, and Pico Blvd. could use one too, well you get the idea.
And California weather lends itself perfectly to bike riding, so there’s really no excuse, as opposed to the Netherlands with its’ cold weather most of the year. The Dutch ride in sunshine or rain, hail or snow, on slippery roads and sometimes even on ice, on regular bikes, with often no more than three gears if any at all, and baby seats with toddlers in the front and back, or groceries, or even moving furniture, and some with cigarettes dangling from their mouths. I don’t even know how some manage to do all of this but the Dutch are hardcore about bike culture.
Obviously it is better for one’s health, (and could reduce gym costs even,) it would reduce car usage, and so oil usage, air pollution and parking space problems.
And think about how many jobs this would create as well, building all those paths. If you think that’s crazy, just think about all the labor it took to build this country’s railroad system, (they used up a lot of Chinese immigrants that way, and Irish immigrants as well, and they really got used up, just like black people and Latin people building the freeway systems.)
So some of those mid-westerners complaining about factory closures should just come out to California to do some of the work. They’re so challenged by immigrants, while in reality it’s mostly technology that took over their jobs, but it’s not like they have border problems, so let them come where the work is available, (the Okies had to do so during the Great Depression.) Give them some decent wages to do the work and let them experience a little culture away from home.
And if they’re worried about where to live and being away from their own culture and family, let them consider how it must feel for immigrants to have to deal with all of this. I see nothing but Latin people on scaffolds all day long, building high-rises from scratch, and which they will never live in themselves, the high-rises being part of the gentrification process that’s been going on for quite some time already.
(And no, realistically speaking poor, white people, complaining about factory closures and jobs going to immigrants, while leaving out the fact that their jobs have been replaced by technology, are not going to move to California to build anything at all anytime soon. It’s all talk that immigrants are taking their jobs, which were never owned by them to begin with, as you can’t own a job, only a business, but in reality the racist and sexist amongst mostly younger poor mid-westerners only come to Los Angeles to throw their white privilege around, then conclude they don’t like liberal California, which they’ll often write off as “gay,” and mostly go right back to their home states, where they feel at home only. I’ve seen quite a few come and go in my office building over the years, as all kinds of people try their luck in Hollywood, including poor Trump supporters. And some end up homeless on Hollywood Blvd.)
But very importantly, and this might be the best part of it all, bike culture would force people to interact with each other much more, reducing road rage from behind anonymous car windows, reduce class distinctions, (the rich and the poor alike ride bikes in the Netherlands,) and create more community across races and genders alike, in turn reducing ignorance and fear of one another, (something this country plays on so well when it comes to politics, ignorance of each other, and therefore fear of one another.)
Of course it would take time for these things to become fully accepted, and not without trial and error. And that is exactly why looking to those countries where these kind of things have worked out for a long time already is so beneficial, (and it would reduce fear of other countries as well.)
By the way, I remember in the early 90s when Angelenos complained about the metro system, (I actually moved here before the first station was even built,) and they thought it was too east coast and would corrode their car culture, meaning their California image basically. I personally think the metro, and the addition of express busses, did miracles for LA.
I remember the horrible bus rides on Santa Monica before the express bus came into existence. The MTA line (called RTD at the time) number 4 (the only Santa Monica Blvd. bus available back then,) would be jam packed at all hours of the day and you’d be happy to survive it at all. It was the ride from hell. A lot of tension would always build, and actual fights would break out in the back of the bus all the time, the bus drivers often times having to pull over and risking their own lives to break up a fight.
The buses would always be overheated as well, not just by the crowds of people but the actual engines, and roaches the length of a finger would crawl out from under the dirty, tagged up seats, sending shivers down my spine. The windows were all tagged up as well, blocking the view, and I so preferred the Blue Bus, which would mainly operate on the Westside, with their hard seats and lack of shocks, making you seriously feel every pothole and bump on the road when it would pick up speed.
Public transportation has serious improved over the years is my point, and bike culture could add a very welcome change in the Los Angeles landscape. Not sure I’d want to ride a bike in San Francisco, the most beautiful city in California or maybe all of the US in my opinion, but those hills though. But for the most part I think this would be one of the changes California desperately needs to become an even better and more appealing state.
In case you think my bike path utopia is just that, a utopia, (and bike culture has been slowly gaining steam in Los Angeles but mainly for more hardcore riders only,) I did actually predict a major shift from horrible soda consumption towards coffee in the early 90s myself.
I used to root for an espresso machine, (and beer and wine sales, as they do in Europe,) at my job at The Laemmle’s Monica 4-Plex art house movie theater in the 90s and lower management shrugged it off as snobby European behavior, reminding me I was in the US now and soda and popcorn had been staple movie food since the drive-in theater days, (even though they specialized in foreign and independent films.)
They eventually settled for a coffee machine, but since 2016 (and the increasing competition of Pacific Theaters, which does sell espresso and alcohol,) they have re-opened as the Laemmle’s Monica Film Center, complete with adjoining restaurant, where they of course sell espresso drinks and alcohol.
(And I believe they even sell it at the concession stand itself as well now, according to their website at least. I haven’t been back since I produced a John Cassavetes Film Retrospective there in late 2001, also initially criticized by many, only to become a huge success, especially in the aftermath of 9/11.)
By the early 90s Los Angeles already counted numerous independently owned coffeehouses, complete with thrift store furniture and sunk in couches, chess boards and card games behind the counter and available upon request, (no internet back then of course,) original paintings by local artists on the walls and for sale, a lot of The Cranberries and Portishead playing over the radio, and a lot of paperback novel reading, notebook scribbling, and of course cigarette smoking allowed on the patios in those days.
Most of these places closed their doors after chain coffeehouses like The Coffee Bean and especially Starbucks exploded on the scene, (Van Gogh’s Ear and Wednesday’s Coffeehouse in Venice, Congo Square and Anastasia’s Asylum in Santa Monica, Lulu’s Alibi and Cafe Balcony in West LA, Buzz Coffee and Little Frida’s in West Hollywood, the only existing lesbian coffeehouse, to name a few, are all long gone. I spent most of the 90s on the Westside, and moved to Hollywood in 2002, where I still am today.)
Those 90s style coffeehouses did a lot of good for local community building, and then corporate Starbucks, (where I’ve admittedly been a frequent customer myself since,) came along and basically ruined it all, with their ice blended ice-cream tasting coffee and phony imitation of coffeehouse culture.
Coffee is not ideal and has its’ roots in colonialism from the start, but beats soda consumption any day, in terms of health. I, as a Dutch person with Indonesian heritage ought to know about its’ colonial roots and still cringe at the term “cup of Java,” (Java being one of the major islands in Indonesia and having suffered the most at the hands of Dutch colonials,) since 350 years of colonialism, including mostly coffee plantations, ruined my mother’s home country, where she was annexed as a Dutch Citizen from birth. Indonesia was called the Dutch Indies, until they claimed independence in 1949, (the Netherlands having been weakened by WWII,) and pushed my mother’s whole mixed race family out, and into the Netherlands. The Dutch-Indonesian colonialist period has a very lengthy and complicated history, not very well known in the US at all, and does tie directly into the trans-atlantic slave trade, as no slavery was possible without colonialism first, and the Dutch are very guilty of both colonialism and slavery.
And so I personally do long for a serious coffee culture in Los Angeles, complete with filled up patios, in “hole in the wall”-type of places, instead of the uptight, polished, elitist coffee places that took its place, (Starbucks itself feels mostly regular now compared to some of the more fancy places one can find here in Los Angeles and it’s only getting worse.) I do not wish to exploit coffee bean pickers in other countries and want fair wages and fair trade coffee exactly. I just want the community feeling that was around in the early 90s coffeehouses back, and personally cannot stand soda, which is nothing but syrup mixed with high carbonation and causes a host of health problems.
Having mostly come to terms with my European past (as a bi-racial Dutch and Indonesian-Dutch person on top that is,) and my own lengthy history in California, having lived here for most of my life now, 25 years in 2017, I have a pretty good idea how to combine the best of both worlds, and I found that certain European habits, at California temperatures, make for ideal living.
(I’m actually working on some ideas to increase much needed lesbian, as well as gender-nonconforming, visibility in Los Angeles at the time of this writing. I identify as a gender-nonconforming lesbian myself.)
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Gender-Binary System notes (2016)
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My name is Gabriella Bregman, I am a Hollywood-based writer, filmmaker, producer, currently in post-production of a feature documentary called ‘The Queer Case for Individual Rights,’ through my film production company ‘Queer Women Filmmakers Center, Los Angeles.’
You can find me mostly on Facebook for right now, (facebook.com/gabriellabregman,) where I also maintain a Facebook Group called ‘Queer Women Filmmakers Center, Los Angeles’