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Following and pacing on the Dutch footpath


Holland, July 2004—

Back in Ireland, I remembered by comparison what happens in the Netherlands when you walk against foot traffic....

The way that the Dutch people walk in public makes me a little crazy sometimes.*

Of course, Holland is very densely populated. It's crowded. City sidewalks and other public spaces are often tight with people.

This must have something to do with two habits the Dutch have that I don't: following and pacing.

Following

When following somebody on foot, Dutch people will walk right behind you. It doesn't get their attention. They don't notice it. My friend K_ is Dutch, and she can't believe it when I notice.

I'll move out from behind somebody. I don't like that.

Usually, in a real crowd, I'll accept somebody behind me. But I'll know they're there.

Pacing

Walking beside an unfamiliar person on a sidwalk that has plenty of space ahead and behind, I will naturally fall "out of pace." In other countries, this will happen naturally. It's not just me.

But not the Dutch. Dutch people will walk right beside you. Beside you, slightly behind or ahead of you — it makes no difference. For me, that's somebody pacing me. I mean, I'm pacing them, too. I don't imply any malevolence. It's just a simple social custom. For me, it's uncomfortable.

If somebody's pacing me, I will step out of pace. Natural, like. But that's actually a little bit difficult, at first, in the Netherlands. It requires a more conscious effort. Thinking about it, and purposefully falling out of pace, becomes a little bit uncomfortable.

Just a little. But it's noticeable.

  — 18 July, 2004, Nijmegen


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* Now, no longer in The Netherlands, I miss the way that the Dutch people walk in public, and enjoy it when I visit.

The Dutch are competent pedestrians, and one can travel in public spaces with ease if one understands their way of responsive movement.

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