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Commentary on a different Social System

Visiting Rotterdam from Germany, Cathy's mother had made an appointment to visit the kids' great grandmother.   I had some unease in this, since "Oma" lived in an old-age home, and I didn't think it would be a good idea for the kids to see such a place.

However, that was my "American bias" showing; a European old-age home is NOTHING like the horror-stories that go by the same name in the US.

The home was a high-rise apartment building in the city, surrounded with parks, shops, and plenty of public transportation at the front door.   Right inside the door was a concierge counter, which made it look more like a hotel than a home.   The ground floor had a large central ballroom/cafeteria, used in the evenings for dances, movie screenings, and other entertainment.   They served three meals daily there, but the meal could be sent up to the room, instead.   (Many residents had breakfast in their rooms, with lunch and dinner downstairs.)   Each room received a pot of coffee or tea and a plateful of great pastries each morning at 10:00.

Upstairs, the hallways looked very much like a modern, expensive apartment building; the only concession to its role being convenient, but unobtrusive hand railings along the wall.   At the center of each floor was what military folks would call a "dayroom" - a large area with plenty of comfortable chairs, couches, tables and large-screen TV.   Strangely, the walls were lined with grand china cabinets and curio shelves, each chock full of personal treasures, just like someone's living room.   As it turned out - that is precisely what they were; familiar personal objects too precious to part with, when moving to the home.   Too large an object to fit comfortably in the residents' rooms, these items were placed in the lounge for everyone to admire.

In the room, all of the furnishings (except the mandatory hospital-style bed and a small refrigerator) were the resident's own, brought from home.   Oma's cherished dining room table and her fine old china were central to the room; you can see her "stuff" in the photos.   It was a fine place to live.

The place had some twists though: the residents HAD TO take a ten-day "vacation" from the home every year - no ifs, ands, or buts.   During that month, the retiree's normal pension was boosted by 1500 guilders to pay for the trip; they might as well go visit their children, or a favorite nephew - or take that trip to Greece they have always wanted to accomplish.   It was a great way to ensure people led active lives, away from the possible loneliness of their room.

The cost for all this?   Free.   It is every Dutch citizen's right to such accomodations at retirement.   And they aren't alone... most of the European nations protect their own citizens in very similar ways.   It's hard for an old hard-line Conservative like me to accept the obvious, but I have, and totally embrace "Universal/National Health Care" and Social Security programs in the European mold.   They are A LOT better off (including a higher average standard of living and wages than us), even after subtracting the seemingly-higher tax bite.
We have a lot to learn about stuff like this in the US - but I'm afraid that you have to have lived a while in Europe to fully understand why their system is more sound.

Text © 1999 John P. Tomany