Some Notes on the Experiences of Travelling
4: Height

Seems an odd topic, doesn't it? Well, bear with me.

I'm the younger brother in my family. My older brother, for the vast majority of years that we were growing up, was taller than me. No, not taller. Bigger. (actually taller, but bigger is the term you use when you're a kid). He was bigger than me, and like older brothers everywhere, he lorded it over me, using his superior size to force me to do any number of painful and embarrassing things, none of which I'm getting into here. That's what electroshock therapy's for.

My mom, in an attempt to stop my young complaints, told me that when I was born, the doctor used some sort of foot measurement to determine how tall I'd be when I grew up. According to the doc, my brother would top out at about 6' 2", and I'd end up at 6' 3". I used to hug this knowledge to myself for comfort, knowing that someday, I'd be bigger than my brother.

Well, whatever measuring technique the doc used, he flubbed it. Yes, my brother hit his predicted height of 6' 2", but I stopped growing at six feet. I'm actually 5' 11" 1/2, but like manuscript word counts, I round up. Sue me. Mind you, this lack of three and a half inches doesn't bother me anymore, and I'd also like to say officially for the record, I now get along fine with my brother. Those were the terms of the court settlement and I'm sticking to them.

I have at times wished I was taller, mainly when I have to do something like kill a spider crawling along the bedroom ceiling and I'm forced to go get a chair because it's just out of reach. The point of this touching excerpt from my childhood is because of something I noticed when I was in the Netherlands: the Dutch are, as a rule, very tall. I noticed this at first when we arrived in Deventer (if I haven't mentioned it before, Deventer is the town we stayed in most of the time we were in the Netherlands. Very pretty area, by the way). After we'd been in town a few hours, I'd noticed how much taller the people seemed to be. I have no idea if basketball is popular in the Netherlands, but I certainly saw a lot of raw talent (assuming they're coordinated). I even commented on it ("gosh, people are tall here"), but I had this fact confirmed when I went to the bathroom at Ijselland University.

Please note: the following description is intended to prove my point. I don't normally notice this sort of thing, I swear.

If you're like 50% of people (50% of all people being women), you've probably never been in a men's bathroom. They're just like women's bathrooms, except they doesn't have a sofa or chairs and they do have urinals. Without getting into too much detail, a urinal is just a place where a guy can walk up, unzip and do his business with gratifying speed. Well, when I walked up to the urinal in Ijselland, I noticed it was set on the wall rather high. Not so high that I couldn't use it, but I definitely had to pay attention to what I was doing so I wouldn't make a mess. I had this confirmed by another guy in my travelling group. He's about 5' 9" and he had to stand on his tiptoes to use it.

Now, urinals are not complicated devices. The only thing about them that could affect their use is how high they're placed on the wall. Urinals in the States are set kind of low, relatively speaking. Most people wouldn't have any problem hitting their mark (so to speak), and there's always one placed for someone about Miles Vorkosigan's height (if you don't know who that is, go read some Lois Bujold McMaster). Yet in the Netherlands, my friend who's a bit under the rough average for an American male (5'10') is having to stretch to use them. I find this bizarre, and undeniable proof that most Dutch are taller than most Americans.

In a related note, a friend of mine who's from New York told me about a time a few years ago, a Japanese company won a contract to sell the NY subway system some subway cars. After the new cars were put in place it was discovered that the molded plastic seats were built too small for people to sit comfortably. American butts, as it turned out, were bigger than Japanese butts.

In an unrelated note, in the Amersterdam airport, while the urinals were set at more modest heights (for shorter international visitors), they did have a picture of a fly painted in the bowl. I can only assume this is to provide a target for those who need it.

Height is a curiously important thing for most people. A woman friend of mine told me that she would never consider dating someone that was shorter than her. She stands about 5'10", more or less, which makes her rather tall. When I asked her about the reasoning for this decision, she said that when she was with a shorter guy, she felt like some sort of hulking monster, which made her feel unromantic, and therefore unattracted to the guy. I have no idea if this is a common attitude, but I've had it confirmed by at least one other woman, so I believe it isn't that unusual.

So here's my suggestion for Americans who want to meet someone tall: go to the Netherlands, land of towering people. Hey, most of them speak English.

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