I walked across the
Vondelpark on my way to meet a friend for dinner.
In the late afternoon of
this sunny, June day, the park was filled with
cyclists, joggers, walkers and those undertaking
many other varieties of strenuous physical
Some people sat on benches
or were lying on the grass presumably
enjoying breaks prior to their next sessions of
I had visited the
Vondelpark on many previous occasions. Today,
however, as I looked around, something seemed odd.
Unfortunately, I could not identify what that
might be as nothing was obviously different from
It was one oclock in
the morning when I left my friend and began to
retrace my steps across the park, back to my
As I walked, I became aware
of a vehicle drawing up beside me. I glanced to
my left to see a police car.
The vehicle stopped.
said the officer to me through the open car
Ah, good morning, Sir,
the policeman cheerfully continued. Its
a lovely night for a brisk, healthy walk across
It certainly is,
He opened the door of the
police car and climbed out. When he was standing
on the pavement in front of me, I noticed, in the
bright moonlight, that he was carrying bathroom
He placed them on the
ground. Would you mind stepping onto these?
he said politely, indicating the scales.
As a seasoned British
traveller, I had long ago learned that the
behaviour of foreigners could be rather strange
indeed this was often what made them so
endearing. I therefore complied with his request
without further discussion.
The policeman looked at the
dial on the scales. Seventy-nine point four
kilograms, he said, almost to himself.
He removed a chart from his
pocket. Youre about one point nine
metres tall, arent you? he guessed.
He consulted his chart.
You have a BMI of around twenty-three,
Is that good? I
fine, he replied as he picked up the scales.
The officer got back into
his police car.
Enjoy the rest of
your walk, he called to me through the open
car window. Then he waved and drove away.
Unusual though this
encounter was, I quickly attributed the incident
to routine foreigner strangeness and thought
little more about it as I continued on my way.
I had walked for another
hundred yards when I heard a rustling behind a
bush to my right. A head popped up above the
leaves. Is de politie weg? the man
said to me.
responded, have the police gone?
I think so. Are they
The man stood upright and
emerged from behind the bush.
In the moonlight, I could
see that he sported a rather rotund figure
to the point that he might be described as obese.
I like to walk in the park, he
continued, but I can only do so at night.
Even then, theres always the risk of arrest.
Why would they arrest
you? I enquired.
He looked downwards at his
own body and then up again at me. Isnt
it obvious? he replied. Ive got
a BMI of thirty-three.
He paused and looked
quizzically at me. You dont know, do
you? he finally concluded.
Have you been long in
I come here quite
often, I replied. Why?
Have you never
wondered why everyone in Amsterdam is so slim and
I pondered for several
seconds. His question had instantly brought many
things into sharp focus. It was true that I had
rarely seen anyone in the city who was not the
epitome of health and fitness. I had noticed
obese guests checking-in at my favourite hotel.
Strangely, however, I had never seen the same
I thought back to my walk
across the Vondelpark earlier in the day. I
suddenly realised why the scene had seemed
peculiar. I had unconsciously compared it to a
walk through Londons Hyde Park that I had
enjoyed just three days previously.
In England, according to
government statistics, over half the population
are overweight or obese. During my twenty minute
walk across Hyde Park, from the Royal Albert Hall
to Speakers Corner, I had noted many such
individuals struggling with mobility at
least partly related to their weight. As I was in
Britain, however, I had not thought this unusual.
Now that I reflected upon
it, I had never seen anyone like that in the
Vondelpark and very rarely elsewhere in
I looked at my new
companion. Why is everyone in Amsterdam so
slim and fit? I asked, referring back to
his previous question.
Anyone with a BMI in
excess of twenty-nine is detained, he
What happens to them
Foreigners, like you,
are taken directly to Schiphol and deported. Theyre
warned not to return until their BMIs are less
than twenty-nine. Theyre informed that if
they tell anybody about their deportation theyll
be banned for life from entry to the Netherlands.
What about those who
are resident here?
immediately taken to the Port of Amsterdam and
put on a ship. The ship takes them to Griend
Island in the Wadden Sea.
On Griend Island
there are fitness camps where they remain on a
strict diet and exercise regime until they
achieve a BMI of twenty-five. They are then
returned to the mainland at Den Helder and can
walk or cycle from there back to their homes.
But I thought the
Netherlands was very liberal? I responded
With sex, drugs, and
just about everything else, it is, my
companion answered. But everyone
must be fit. For example, all Dutch must
cycle at least fifty kilometres each day to avoid
Things were now falling
into place. This was why there were so few obese
individuals on the streets of Amsterdam, and my
companions last comment explained why so
many people were frantically cycling around the
city at all hours of the day and night.
What about you?
I, and hundreds like
me, hide in basements during the day and only
venture out in the dead of night. He
glanced cautiously around him. I have to go,
he continued. The patrols come by about
every half hour, and I must get to my basement in
Overtoom, without breaking cover, before the sun
Without another word, he
vanished into the undergrowth.
Good luck, I
called after him.
I stood for some time,
pondering on my two recent encounters. The
incident with the police officer had confirmed
that, with a BMI of twenty-three, I was safe for
the moment. I resolved in future, however, to
take an early morning run around the Vondelpark
and perhaps an evening cycle ride
just to be sure.