Culture At Large

What Europe’s dogs can teach us

Jeff Munroe

Europe gets a bad rap. Not only has a recent cover of Time magazine announced Europe’s decline and fall, but the church has allegedly been dead there for decades. Meanwhile, on the campaign trail, Mitt Romney regularly charges Barack Obama with being "European."

What’s wrong with Europe and Europeans? Having lived in the Netherlands in 2009 and 2010, I rather like both the place and the people. To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of Europe’s death are greatly exaggerated. Yes, there are economic problems, but for every troubled economy like Greece’s there are robust economies like Germany’s. And don’t bet against the Holy Spirit - I’ve worshiped in vibrant churches throughout the continent. On top of that, Europeans are just plain better than we are at high-speed rail, baking bread and making beverages from grains and grapes. Plus, would you believe, they seem to be better than we are at raising pets, too?

I know this sounds frivolous, but it matters. We took our American dog Maury overseas with us and in almost every encounter with a Dutch dog, Maury was the anxious one. I often would wonder how a country that doesn’t even get "The Dog Whisperer" on television could have such serene animals.

On one of our last days in the Netherlands Maury lunged at a German shepherd, only to be run over by the shepherd’s owner, who was riding a bicycle. The man was genuinely concerned and recommended I take my dog to a “vegetarian” immediately. Outside of a little tire tread up the back, Maury was fine, and I found myself more fixed on the behavior of the German shepherd throughout the whole incident. He watched all that happened with the detachment of a Buddhist monk while Maury jumped around like a squirrel with a drug problem.

Now, back in the States, Maury often keeps his cool while other dogs blow a gasket around him. Whether it’s Mercedes up the street, Jada around the corner or the seemingly insane Mr. Wriggles a block over, I find myself wondering what the deal is with dogs in our country and why they are so much more uptight than their Dutch cousins.

I suspect that our dogs don’t get enough exercise. Since most Americans don’t get enough exercise, it’s no surprise our pets are in the same boat. I’m not suggesting we’re lazier than Dutch people. Rather, our problem is we work more. Dutch people work 36- or 38-hour weeks and take four weeks of vacation every year, which frees up all sorts of time. This is the rule not only in the Netherlands but throughout Europe. They look at how much we work and ask, “What’s the use?” Good question. What is the use? Why are we working so much? I find it fascinating that “godless” Europe gives people much more time to focus on their families (and pets) than “religious” America.

What really are the indicators of a culture’s values? In the Netherlands, my dog and I would regularly walk by an elementary school at the end of the day and see loads of dads waiting to pick up their children. For being a so-called “post-Christian” culture, they sure do create time and space for both parents to be involved in the lives of their children. What do American obsessions with busyness, long hours and multitasking say about us? Is God pleased by a frantic life lived on a never-slowing treadmill?

So I don’t get it when I hear Obama is "European.” I know Romney is alluding to high tax rates and intrusive government bureaucracies. I wish he’d just say that and leave the Europeans out of it. After all, their dogs are more relaxed. That ought to count for something.

(Photo of Jeff and Maury in The Netherlands.)

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