I've been a fitness club member in the US since I was 20, going over to ride a bike, attend a class, or play some raquetball about four times a week. It was only natural to want to continue the habit here in the Netherlands. Fortunately, a Fitness Club membership was included for all employees, the center was close to the offices, and the facilities seemed shiny and clean. I did a quick comparison with other clubs around Arnhem: one turned out to be shuttered, another was under extensive reconstruction, and the third was older than I am and included a mixed-gender, clothing-optional locker room.
I happily settled for the corporate alternative, and made an appointment for an Entry Interview. This, in itself, was a change: in the US, fitness salespeople are as aggressive and annoying as those selling vacation time-shares. Here, I had to fill in a four-page questioneer, in Dutch, with questions like 'Which day of the week would you like to exercise?'
"Day?" Yes, Dutch standard membership provides for one day per week.
"And if I'd like to do more?" Furrowed brow: Silver membership: you can come twice.
"Keep going, please?"
Panicked look: Gold membership -- unlimited? Perfect, and only a 75% membership premium. Clearly the Bicycle Culture frowns on stationary exercise.
The next hurdle was the Fitness Test, a week later, involving all manner of weighing, measuring, pinching, riding, stretching, pulling, and sweating. While I cooled down, the consultant shook his head over a clipboard. "Your weight is slightly above Dutch standards", he admonished. "Your aerobic capacity does not meet Dutch averages; your body fat ratio does not match Dutch norms...". I stopped him wearily: the direction of the conversation was clear enough. I did my best Schwarzenegger, promising "I'll be back...to pass...in a month". But I felt like "MacDonalds Patron" had probably been scribbled in the margins of my report (although I swear I never go near the place).
Another week, and it was time for the Orientation (I was surprised that I was allowed in without medical supervision). We took each machine in turn: bikes, stair-climbers, rowing machines, and some novel systems for cranking and skating. Unusually, I was not allowed to spend more that ten minutes on any single machine, it was like cross-training on speed. All of the machines are deceptively simple at the outset, but somehow become progressively harder. Of course, I'm trying to look relaxed, in control, while secretly fiddling the Level button down. MacDonalds...
The first month flying solo was a challenge: the club's members police the exercise floor with all the vigor of neighbors policing the trash pickup. I was variously lectured on shoe etiquette, the ten-minute cycle limit, towel etiquette, rules against carrying book bags, and where to properly place my car keys.
However, I persisted, and eventually persevered. The turning point came when the owner asked if I could proofread his daughter's english resume: after that I've been allowed thirty continuous minutes on the bike, permission to leave my keys and reading glasses in the corner rather than upstairs in my locker, and spontaneous Dutch Language practice with the fitness guy each evening on the bike. I'm almost ready (after a year) to tackle the Spinning class. It looks terrifying: a roomful of super-fit Netherlanders peddling full tilt to deafening rock music and a screaming drill instructor. 'can't wait :)
Spinning picture credit: Crossroads Web Magazine for Expatriats in Maastricht