Three years ago my sister and I, both in our late sixties at the time, spent three days in Amsterdam as the first stop in an extended train excursion to cities of interest across northern Europe – Berlin, St Petersburg, Warsaw, Prague, etc. – and back to Amsterdam.
We chose all our hotels to be close to the town’s central railway station, which is usually in the old town centre and therefore also within walking distance of the sights we want to see – art galleries, museums, churches. Consequently, our hotel in Amsterdam was very central, and actually on the edge of the red-light district, although our walks took us away from it rather than into it – but there were lots of young men about.
I soon became aware of being brushed past and pushed aside by young men with a frequency that seemed more than accidental, and on a couple of occasions when I opened a shop or hotel door, far from it being held for me, a young man pushed through ahead of me.
My sister was experiencing the same thing, but neither of us mentioned it until an occasion when, across a street, a young man leaning against a car fixed me with a stare of such malevolence and animosity that we were both startled, and my sister remarked that she was getting the impression that Amsterdam might be “ageist”.
Later in our stay we both, independently, had the extraordinary experience of arriving at the head of a queue, only for the attendant to ignore us and attempt to serve the person behind us. As my sister said, really one got the impression that people of our age (and perhaps sex) were considered offensive for being there at all.
This being our first excursion into northern Europe, we were in some trepidation as to what we would meet with in Berlin and our other destinations, but in all these cities we encountered nothing but helpfulness, pleasantness and friendliness.
Inevitably, when I recalled that Holland is unique in having legalised euthanasia of the elderly, I could not help wondering if this step has had an insidious effect on attitudes to older people, licensing those younger to view us all as candidates for euthanasia, who should be dead.
It was not just a general Dutch rudeness, for my son, quite a young man, had visited Amsterdam only a month previously and insisted that it was one of the friendliest and most enjoyable places of his trip. It may be significant, too, that Amsterdam was the only place we visited that did not have cheaper seniors entry rates for museums and such like.
In Australia, it is my regular experience that young men are helpful and friendly to women of my age, beyond simple politeness. It is sad to think that this might change if the euthanasia lobby has its way.
Dr Lucy Sullivan has written widely on literature, cultural matters, family, taxation and poverty.