By Your Seat Advertising in Holland

Living in another country for a period of time enables one to settle back and observe the many differences in cultures, yours and theirs, theirs and others.  Many cultural differences are readily apparent, others tend to take some time to sink in.  Certainly, the bike culture of the Netherlands is ubiquitous.  Whether in Amsterdam, Utrecht or a small hamlet, even the most unobservant dolt connects to fact that everyone in the Netherlands bikes everywhere.  On the streets, one can barely doge the bikes or negotiate crossing a roadway because everyone, it seems, is mounted on two wheels.  The Dutch even have parking lots and garages (some multi-story) for biking commuters.

A multi-story bicycle garage at the central train station in Amsterdam.

To commute by bike 20-30 miles a day is nothing.   I know people in the States who complain about a daily 30 mile commute by car.  Sure, in Holland, there are the bicycle traffic jams on the morning commute.  Yes, the bicycle parking garages in the bigger cities can be overcrowded.  Yes, people will often steal bikes.  People seem to accept the inevitable bike commute hassles and accept with resignation the thefts.  And, of course, there is usually a lot less invested in a $90 “granny bike” than an automobile.

A typical “granny bike.”

But does anyone truly think the car culture (with its traffic jams, overcrowded garages and carjackings) is superior?  Didn’t think so.

Thus, in a bicycle-dominated society, advertising by bike seat should not have come as a surprise, although truthfully, I didn’t pay too much attention to how people decorated their bicycle seats.  (Even though I wrote a whole blog on the Dutch proclivity for decorating their bikes in the most wonderful manner.)  This summer, however, I walked out of my apartment one Sunday morning to see every parked bicycle in sight (just a few hundred) blanketed with this seat cover:

A plea for stores to stay open on Sundays in downtown Utrecht.

This  bicycle equivalent of handbill dashboard advertising was an effort to mobilize grass roots support for stores to stay open on Sundays, something most do not think is necessary.  “Well, duh, I thought,” looking around with eyes freshly opened.  “This certainly makes sense.”  So I started walking around taking pictures of bicycle seat covers.  Mind you, this engendered some weird looks, but in the best photojournalistic tradition, I bravely ignored the stares.  Of course, I was somewhat used to the looks after I photographed every cleverly-decked bike in sight last summer.  (If interested in the resulting blog of that endeavor, see https://ourdistantsojourns.wordpress.com/2011/06/15/pimp-my-bike-dutch-style/)

First, some history. (Of course!  Do you expect, gentle readers, anything less from me?)

The Netherlands is a pretty rainy country.  Also, it is an “ecologically correct” country.  Among other practices, one is expected to bring one’s own bags to the grocery store, and, if you forget to bag a bag or fall victim to impulse shopping, you usually have to pay anywhere from 50 cents to over $1 for a plastic bag in which to carry your wares.  Thus, between the weather and the green thing, the Dutch usually have a spare plastic bag on hand.  Many, very practically, use their spare bags to cover their bicycle seats and keep their tushes from getting wet during or after a sudden sprinkle.  Thus, the practicality of advertising by bicycle seat:  useful, makes a point, and saves a plastic bag – which could be used to carry home whatever your new seat cover is advertising.

A typical and practical seat cover – a re-used plastic shopping bag.

So, here I’ll stop and just display a few of the covers I photographed.  Some are self-explanatory or you’ll be able to figure out, others I’ll attempt to translate if I can figure out the Dutch!

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